Two of her four collections are Gravida and False Horizon, both from Four Way Books. I hope that you’ll consider reading them after enjoying the stunning poems from Northeastern poets featured here in the poetry section, chosen by Sue Standing.
What did I come into
this room for?
The name of that restaurant?
The street where she lives?
What was it no one told me?
The post office box
won’t open with my house key.
I thought it was still August
but this is where I live.
Who gifted me that carved
wooden monk on the window sill?
Her first name started with a G.
What was it he said
that made me leave him?
Wasn’t there a grudge?
That shrub was mock orange,
until I remember it’s honeysuckle.
But weren’t there countless
Is my password still swallowtail?
Did we see that movie?
Did I enjoy it?
Were his dying words to me,
or joy everlasting?
The Thought of a Hat
spoken & offered & communicated to
me on the phone in a distant city
is intact now in my mind, too,
the glazier’s art helping to show to
advantage its insouciance,
its pliable Panama straw, its brim
to shade a skin derived
from a northern fogbound people,
people of words & fish
& work, always, laughing
& singing & crying or
their pallor suffused with pleasure
by thoughts like this,
the thoughtful gesture, some
tone in the voice, the thought
of a hat
Venus at Łódź
Across the years we gesture, woman to woman
our silence absolute, our faces captured
in oils and cellulose nitrate, goddess, woman,
years and stairways cleaving our looks
out in the undeserving world.
They know my model, Simonetta Vespucci,
the beauty from Portovenere.
You, unnamed, may be from Łódź or Vienna or Prague
but your breast pocket stitched R R purrs,
immodestly, a pen vibrating in your hand
above unreadable paper. My right hand drapes
the rise of my breast. Our eyebrows are painted over bone.
We both perished and are both imperishable.
Behind me is a dark wall and the winds no longer blow me flowers
while you, decaying sister, suffer darkness eating at your frame.
They paraded my open coffin through the streets
to celebrate my beauty one last time while you, my darling, entered the dark
of the gas vans at Chelmno. I have never been out of sight.
You entered the tar-brushed iron-rimmed box as a grave
sighing I’ll descend to the innermost pit
until the word “forever” makes sense to me
then free men will turn their faces toward mine
and I face theirs.
photo by Mark Hillringhouse
Why My Eyelids Twitch
I’d like a potting shed. A mud room.
But my garden is all illusion – false
cosmos, illusory lady slippers
and peonies. A team of imaginary
workers comes on Tuesdays in their old
green truck. I’m at the garden club
for the cookies. (I love the ones frosted
with ultramarine like Monet’s water lilies.)
I’m wearing a necklace I say isn’t ivory,
miniature elephants walking a ring, nose
to tail, a gift of the aunt with friends
on each continent. Mom warned me.
It’s dodgy. I swear my fur coat isn’t
real (though its feral smell came from
the depths of that aunt’s closet).
The guitar I inherited sprang apart
like a shot duck, bits rattling across
my shelves. I look at my hand
as if a Luna moth landed there. What
stretches ahead seems lit by blue
spotlights – me lying, a group
of women turning away. Even the ghosts
rise from their chairs and move on,
scarves trailing through potting dirt.
Bathhouse, Brighton Beach, 1958
The way my grandmother’s belly sagged
when she peeled her swim suit off
her shoulders, over hips and knees,
confused me: that pale flesh looked so much
like a second, smaller pair of breasts.
But what made a navel grow there?
Or could that pinched-in spot be a secret
extra eye that studied me
watching her towel her thighs
and bottom and smooth on powder
like lilacs blooming in bunches
over the fish-cold cement floor?
Headman – 1969
He was the headman.
Wisdom sat on his head
as a mynah bird on the prow of his canoe,
a true sign the gods approved
the tattoo on his neck,
the most elaborate and painful in the village.
He knew the looping brown rivers
as the veins on the back of his hand,
knew when the watery elbows were swollen
with fish he could catch in a basket,
knew where the belian trees grew
and the nipa palm for thatch.
The wild boar, King Cobra and the crocodile
had fallen by his parang.
Each pathway through the swampy woods—
as changeable as clouds—
his feet remembered.
The exact moment to begin
burning his fields was a part of him.
He knew the songs of his people,
Had almost been a manang once…
Knowing so many secrets: of the dead,
of the rivers and trees, of the power
of the sun at noon,
of the youngest child in his village,
he could believe, as the radio said,
that man had walked on the moon.
Now, but a day’s journey from home,
he balks at the door
of the metal box that wants to hold him in
to carry him to the next floor.
Among the ten thousand things
I don’t tell my children is how
I once spent four days in the
Brussels Airport on standby,
long before TSA checks and
bombings, how access to fields
was easy then, just walk out the
door with a sleeping bag, how
I was with a mime who’d made
wads of cash that summer doing
whiteface on Zurich boulevards,
while I’d ridden the trains up and
down Europe from Bodo to Brindisi
and ferried to Greece where
I’d slept on the rooftop of an
abandoned prison, wrote poems
to the oracle at Delphi, sailed up
mountains on the back of a moped,
ate a smashed watermelon
with my hands, how the mime and
I silently unrolled our bag close
to the hum of the runway lights
with a view of the jets’ underbellies,
how no one disturbed us out there,
how wingtip strobes glowed all night,
how the next morning the mime
paid extra to get on the first plane,
how I was still stuck at the airport,
out of money, how I filched crackers
from a café and washed myself off
in the women’s room, how forty years
later I found a vimeo of the mime,
now famous, fidgety, and sad,
how this poem is an accordion
of time that swoons with ache and
sounds in me like a dolphin in water.
At the start of each lesson, I hammer out scales, triads, arpeggios
she sits beside the bench, not on, watching my keystrokes, the arch
of my hand, the lift of my wrist, curve of each finger
Try it again, dear. Fingers higher. Don’t drop the wrist!
Her wooden rosary trails to the floor from the belt of her black habit
beads clacking an odd percussion to complement my chords
I stretch third-grader hands that barely reach the octave
try to please this soft-voiced elegant lady, tall remote and ancient
as the grandfather clock, male mahogany sentinel by her door
I march through Bach Beginners, fingers stiff and straight as cadets
she whispers My Jesus mercy My Jesus mercy, then louder Curve the fingers!
She demonstrates with long strong fingers curved like capital “Cs”
The thin skin on the back of her hand is glossy as grace, blue veins
like little tunnels filled with song spill down to keys she strikes with reverence
I wonder why she never plays for me. My Jesus mercy My Jesus mercy
Who gets the mercy an old lady longs for? Does she beg forgiveness
from ivory keys for the daily soil of small sticky palms and playground nails?
for grime that offends like stain of what great sin on her starched white guimp?
Does she bless the lines of children who grace her music room like half-notes
here for two short beats then on to lives she dreams about, we children
who may never know our need for mercy upon mercy through a lifetime?
Years later I will study Portia’s quality of mercy in a classroom down that hall
say aloud its gentle rain, its mighty power, double blessing give and take
and hear again My Jesus mercy! between the measures of a minuet
The Isles of Shoals, Maine
Of course, Celia Thaxter ordered the gulls shot.
Childe Hassam should not be harassed.
Then she brought him to her island, planting poppies,
daisies, rose campion, to please him, engage him.
And he loved the poet, Celia’s verses pensive
and sentient, maudlin and generally esteemed.
Her life had annexed tracks next to his,
the two of them, alas, chaste romantics.
This century, the ferry deposits us on Appledore,
day-trippers destined to be dive-bombed
by black-backed gulls shrieking to protect their young,
beige fluff-balls with legs.
Lugging easel, brushes, tubes of paint, Hassam studied
the tide working its way into and over the rocks, painted
Celia’s complex garden, the moon rising, his canvases alive
with the unruly, the disruptive. But not the gulls.
When she died, he stopped coming to Appledore.
Five years it took for the courage to return.
Three Paintings by Tabitha Vevers
(oil & gold leaf on clam shells)
Between the woman’s parted thighs
a giant squid surges from its tide-pool
writhing around her waist, its eyes
wild with the taste of her—
hidden inside her gilded shell,
how did she learn to dream such total sensuality?
Like a chandelier, the sea clam’s golden hinge
glows above a six-foot lobster
devouring the woman on his dinner plate
—claws in her hair, weighted seine
trailing from her toes as she draws him
down to kiss his face—sweet, succulent thick-shelled lover!
What were the chances he’d crawl ashore again
on the same beach and cover her naked torso with his carapace?
one leg holds down his armored tail,
the other stretches toward the tide—
she cries out, clasps his head,
his huge cutter claw creeping behind her back
The outrageous orange sweater I bought to cheer her up.
The dark blue fleece she ordered for herself.
At the pond the leaves spin their annual color wheel,
the chill wind today setting them off. I must stay here.
Fading slides of all of us in the back yard, at Christmas,
and with Las Vegas neon, Old Faithful, Badlands barrens.
A framed photo of herself, patient while I shot a double view,
she reflected exactly on the pond’s smooth surface.
A friend’s advice – See all of this as sharing her with others.
But I don’t. I expect her to walk in at any time. I hoard.
Bound for the pond, noisy Canada Geese fly over her roof.
She’d notice them. And she’d notice what I’ve been dismissing.
A box of Hummels, empty holy water bottles, funeral prayer cards,
an Atomic alarm clock I gave her for blasting her awake.
I wonder how long the young swans trail their mothers,
if they ever revisit their frozen nests, claim them.
I keep three teacups with matching saucers –
Belleek, Waterford, English Bone. I don’t drink tea.
Two days with nothing
but rice water,
I arrive early
but she sleeps late
while I wait in the outer yard.
Now she moves like the silks
unrolled by the sampan merchants
as she opens the box
containing the pearls
luminous and almost pink.
All morning while she explains her design
for a pearl-covered gown
she eats rice cakes and sweet sesame wine
feeding her song bird
those wonderful crumbs.
She stays to watch
my first stitches.
Her eyes narrow to buttonhole slits
but she does not mention the amount
she will pay.
At four I must refuse
the fragrant green tea
as custom requires
until it is offered twice
but somehow she misunderstands
and sends it away.
At dusk she returns
with only a taper.
Her wide sleeves seem to sigh
as she stoops to stroke the pearls.
They are beautiful
are they not, she asks or says
but I cannot answer
thinking only of the shells
left on the sand
like mouths of children
open and empty.
Let this jittery brass needle lead us to Al-Arkam,
where the tower – almost a palace – will interpret
the lexicon of winds. Let the chergui find us there,
and let it cover us with eight shades of red earth
that will hide in the seams of our clothes, cracked soles
of our shoes, and the infinite whorls of our ears.
Let the needle guide us on to Tinzert, past yoked mules
threshing a circle of grain beneath their hooves,
past Karima and Fatima – two sisters bent under their load
of juniper and thyme, past their mother embroidering shawls
of cactus silk, and past their father mending the roof
where laundry dries in swirls of dust and scents of sour milk.
Let the needle point us to this deep-veined village,
a compass rose ancient and obdurate as Atlas quartz.