Section 2 [ Section 3 ] Section 4 [Book reviews ]
CONTENTS - Click on blue title to read
This Is Just One Of Those Days
when you want to hide away in a little upstairs room
with a mug of hot chocolate,
when you want to think out things
like highways to Wichita, and Planck’s Law,
and the mysteries of evergreens. It’s not a day
for rolling out your life on a red carpet,
but for the smell and tiny flame of a votive candle,
for you to look at your ring finger seriously
as you haven’t done for years. If you relax enough
you might let into your mind a few old favorite songs,
Hey There , or Blueberry Hill or Mountain Greenery .
And this is one of those days when politics
are far flings on distant hills. Stretch.
Twist your shoulders, do at least one knee bend,
make a face in the mirror. . . . In a mountain greenery
where God paints the scenery. . . . This is not that other day
when the phone started ringing at seven a.m.,
emails came at you like swarms of bees, and two as buzzards,
everyone but you had a new joke. Nor is it the day before that,
when no matter what you were doing
you could always hear yourself screaming inside
as if something had slithered loose and begun dragging itself toward you.
This is not one of those days. This is a time
when you want to take an idea and calm it down,
caress it, smooth it out on a plywood clipboard,
engage a new quantum problem. Today,
you want to stroll back and forth, hands behind your back,
humming, “ You with the stars in your eyes”
and “the wind stood still.” You want hot chocolate
to have a slight froth—and its container
should be thick with a wide thick handle.
From the questions you’ve let into your mind,
on this day you should find at least one answer
and then take a nap on the single bed
beside the chair with the soft plaid comforter,
pulling the blankets up around your neck
as you settle your head into the goosedown pillow
and sleep, utterly relaxed. This is a day like this.
This is just one of those days.
Bad but fascinated Press
follows its doings,
leers at its conical bras
and its ballet codpieces.
Shocking to the Max, blatant, presumptuous
as a mirror on a Wheaties box,
it squares off with its timid enemies,
shouting, “Who cares!”
like the Presley mansion, like a hump
of wound spaghetti in a silver spoon,
Lenny Bruce of the Fifties,
spangles and glitter. It parades
itself around itself. It’s shameless, bold.
It never knows when to stop
and holds nothing back
but how afraid it is that we won’t notice
it’s performing for us,
impudent, arrogant, taking up our slack,
giving us completely of its gaudy self.
out of it,” my best friend always said. “There are whole other
the way the tongue lingers over indigo,
for instance. The hue of indigo’s nanometers,
the country and the river it evokes.
But don’t fight with lilies.” He was like that,
always taking conversations into corner drugstores
or onto a chessboard, where he followed bishops and rooks
roaming green pastures, and then, inexplicably,
parachuting into lands of galloping horses.
In the years I knew him,
the Kennedy years, followed by the Johnson ones,
snap , he was here; snap , he was there. Following him
was a fantasy obstacle course. Targets would pop up before us,
high fevers, cliffs to rappel down,
and then a Mickey Mouse statue in a deserted wheatfield,
a miniature gift shop on the head of some rocker,
ten dancing lobsters. “Life is suspicions,” he’d say,
“most of them bobbing just below the surface,
the few coming true defining who we are. For instance,
you know that book of poems you’re always looking for,
the one that will change your life?
I think it exists. Right now. It’s on the bottom shelf
in the back of a Saratoga used book store,
and a second copy’s in Texas, gathering dust. But you,
you’re still standing here. Go. Go. Go. What are you waiting for?
. . . . the ability
to take off my shoulders,
to stare at a plain white bathroom tile for hours,
that swift brushstroke, that kicked soccer ball,
V-8 juice in a Coca-Cola glass
with its wonderful pale green and its corseted ribs,
“No. No. No. Snap!” he said. “Snap out of it”
and off we’d go again, to Washington, to Chicago,
L.A., San Francisco, Dallas, New Orleans,
from protest to protest to protest to protest
until his death on the Long Island Expressway,
and the 80s and 90s dragged on like nobody’s business
and the century ended, awash on a sea of hard cash.
Nor Is 82
Forty isn’t bad at all. Nor is 82.
e-mail birthday greeting
and her fingers are strong as the vines that seal our shutters
in the northeast wind. Iron is no match
for her steel-gray hair. Her voice, when it cracks,
is a bedrock fault, and when it holds,
it holds like a trestle. Her body’s been refined to one
breasts to hips, and her mind to acupuncture koans
to be followed at risk. Nor cries, laughs and moans
as if there was no difference,
sleeps like a curtain descending, may live to be a hundred
or might die today, dunks her toast like a lady,
takes her sweet tea in a snifter and her whiskey in a stein,
supports two churches, a temple and a mosque--
when Nor prays, Nor prays soft, and when Nor curses,
God listens. Her husband Neither’s been gone for a while
so if you visit, bring tobacco. That’s what he smelled of,
L. N. Allen
The Matrushka Maker
Tradition is an
egg, he used to tell
his Sasha, break it, even
crack it and it’s gone. First he
carves the seed that doesn’t come
apart, and puts its silhouette upon
a second block of wood,
then cuts like
He does the same to
another and another. Each
fits inside the one who came before
but is not the one who came before, as a glove
in winter air is not the storm. When twelve are carved,
he starts to paint dark eyelashes so long they reach to circle
cheeks so pink they’re almost setting suns. As size goes down,
some things will be left out—bits of lace, curlicues, the high
points of a smile, eventually the smile itself. One will be a
ghost of what she was, a seed. Then skin, flesh, muscle,
bone-- he’ll peel back layers of himself to find the
man he might have been--the men he might
have been, if not for the cold, the drink
and this damn small talent.
After the Honeymoon
After John Singer Sargent Painting, Landscape
with Two Figures and Tree , 1897
Long before the fall
she must have felt alone
so static—the landscape barren —and
her shadowy husband turned
crow-like and massive
cradling an instrument she believed
would fell the tree
she indeterminately stood before.
But what did she know of crow
the shimmer of plumage
soft and something concealing
that tempted her from the tree
his dark form desiring flesh
and darker still his human heart
wanting only to pluck and eat
her proffered fruit.
The Pole of Relative Inaccessibility
Before he died, Harry Houdini
told his wife, “After I--
if I’ve escaped death
I’ll send you a message
from the afterlife.
I will sing
'Everybody wants to go to heaven
but nobody wants to die'
backwards, in Hungarian,
so you’ll know
it’s me, Harry Houdini.”
on the long flat roof
of the Knickerbocker Hotel
his wife waited. And sighed.
One Halloween she extinguished
the candleflame, saying, “Ten years
is long enough to wait
for any damn escapologist.”
Actually, she said “any man”
but surely you, Harry Houdini,
slipped the grasp of so small
Rain on the roof,
a sudden downpour
flooding the gutters,
gushing over the eaves,
flattening the grass,
and washing away
the childhood bruises
you felt again last night.
the gray light says
it’s okay to go outside
looking like this.
Grendel in the City
He’s always run hot and this summer evening
finds him slumped in front of the open window
of his cramped second-story apartment, lights out,
dressed only in his underwear as he stares down
at the patrons spilling out of the pizza joint
just across the street, the voices coming to him
alien and unintelligible. “What kind of monster am I?”
he mutters to himself over and over. “What kind
of monster?” thinking of the girl he’s lately pursued,
the girl who kept trying to flee, delicate and pale,
so beautiful he could just devour her. And did.
Now with the off-shore breeze bringing no scent
of the ocean, he belches a wet belch of regret,
scratches himself, and trudges off into the kitchen
to see what mother’s dragged home for supper.
At this turn of trail, a eucalyptus:
upper torso smooth, ashen-barked,
arches away from a gripping fig.
It seems the Sabine Woman--her arc
frantic, surging from the rapist's clasp.
Her branches, entangled with that spoiler
strain, still, to bear green.
The fatal seed fell
with figbird guano,
bedding in her crotch.
fingered air down
month by month lengthening
toward their ultimate connection
with forest floor.
She serves as scaffold,
he drains nothing from her
yet his trusses thicken,
sinews braid, fuse on her trunk.
All clad by him,
she vanishes inside that vestment.
He will flourish centuries,
his drape about her phantom form.
*the "curtain fig" found in Queensland forests: a massive
fusion of trunk sinews enclosing the space once inhabited
by a supporting host tree.
The Funny-Looking Man
There is a funny-looking man
climbing up to the capitol,
or a sequence of steps that look
as if they lead to a capitol.
He has short hair because it is
straight and would be monstrous were it
long. His nose is French like Cyrano’s.
He is a funny-looking man
because he is not from our town,
or at least not ours; he is like
a man in the murder scene
of a movie before we know the plot.
I am a funny-looking man
and you, too, are a funny-looking
man or woman to someone,
not everyday, of course, but at least
once when you were walking up some
steps or making angel’s wings
in the park, someone stopped to think,
How awful that person looks, oh god!
Perhaps it is something we need
to make us feel that we belong
somewhere, that there is one person
at least we’re glad we don’t look like.
He is one we know we should give
a chance, but won’t, like that one from
our youth whose laugh broke our heart, who
wouldn’t have touched us with a cross.
4 a.m. in Gravesend
A simple peace has overtaken
the night. The fading light
of the very last car is gone.
Soft winds talk, of where
to blow the papers that skip
about an empty sidewalk,
move gently on to waken
the shapers of a new tomorrow,
stealing the dreams they can
not borrow. Keen ears can hear
a milkman’s words and soon,
the whistling of the birds.
Testament from the North Forty
When you find me waste no fanfare.
Save your sweat for the corn.
Toss me in a fruit cart, fertilize the field
with me if times are hard.
Wash my smell from your hands.
Your back, slightly bent under a whispery blue shirt,
will ache a little, you’ll say, but not too bad
and my knuckle ball big fingers, unaware of their curve,
will calm it.
Your eyes, barely breaking through
the folds of skin
will gray and cloud
your perception into believing mine are still green.
Your lips will heal
and chap, thousands of times,
the lines deepening until your kisses
are like cotton balls, only wet.
Your voice will hoarse
around without your consent on good mornings
but will still utter the same remarks about
table saws and snow.
Your will will work hard:
Loving me is as simple as chewing nails,
as dainty as stealing a car.
My hips will groan as I make coffee.
My voice drowned by the grinds grinding,
I will shout about how much it hurts.
In truth, it will only ache a little.
It is the image, over
and over, the towers collapsing
on flickering television screens,
like the children who build
tall thin towers, a delicate balance,
until an angry fist sends
It is the hand lettered signs,
Have you seen my mother,
father, daughter, friend ?
The hours of waiting,
the brooding silence
It is the river of names, first
a stream, then the rapids,
names bobbing up
and down in the swift
current, drowning out
the cries of the
It is the shroud of silence
that cloaks the ground
the zero, a void,
The Fall of Troy is All Your Fault:
A Message to Hector
Nobody listens to poor Cassandra—
“Oh no, the face that launched a thousand”
Angry men against us “is too beautiful
to be so dangerous, as you say, Cass”—
I should contradict you, but you won’t care, because
Nobody listens to poor Cassandra.
I’m just your younger sister, not overly
troubled by the comings and goings
Of my brothers’ girlfriends (and believe me,
Paris has had more than he can even remember),
Because nobody has ever listened to poor Cassandra,
and therefore when I point out the rift
growing in our family—and all of Troy—over that
woman so blatantly disrupting our family life,
you will merely think I’m acting jealous.
But whom do you think Helen came to
when she was homesick for her ladies’ maids
and the scented baths of Menelaus’ court?
To whom but the younger sister—“she’ll never tell,
because nobody ever listens to poor Cassandra!”
But maybe you would hear me if I told you
she came into my bed, and curled up
like a kitten among the cool silken sheets,
doing her best to find comfort next to the one
whom no one ever listens to: Poor Cassandra.
But nobody will ever listen to poor Cassandra,
even when she says “let Helen go home!”
And Helen agrees, mewing so meekly that
you and Paris will scoff and admire her more than ever.
And that is why the fall of Troy is not Helen’s fault.
I will open my mouth in a parable.
And it came to pass that we were set upon
By a people of strange language,
And I fell into a pit of their device.
And one among them came to me and said,
“I have come to free you.
But I cannot free you yet,
For you must open your mouth
And pour forth praises of the Lord.”
And I could not praise the Lord,
For he had placed me in the pit,
And I languished in the pit for four years.
But after four years, my mouth was empty
And my heart was dry,
And I opened my mouth to praise the Lord
That I would no longer languish in the pit.
And one among the people of strange language
Came to me and said to me
“You are free, and thus you are delivered
From the snare of the fowler,”
And I thanked him for answering me and being my salvation.
But he did not release me from the pit.
And I was captured in their snare.
And the pit closed its mouth over me.
In the lull between idle brains,
is it possible to avoid
the topic of weather?
Is it that hard to listen?
Is silence so bamboo and white sand,
Why do we want
our pets to talk, then?
Is their wordlessness too detached,
What could possibly be gained?
Words come from inside.
They are always revelatory.
“You’re the best” stands for
“I like that.”
“Thank you” is “Do it again.”
Pets don’t speak
because they can’t lie.
All words are about
begging not to die.
I love you means
don’t leave me.
The Five Moons of Venus
My married sons, who went out on a whim
with a telescope that neither of them
had figured out, set it up in a spot
near the barn, where the leaves were thin.
There was lunacy about their game,
but not mine. I was in a daze
from chasing children when they came in—
We’ve sighted the five moons of Venus!
I pulled on boots. A crescent hung
among the stars. With the scope I could
demonstrate Orion, my only trick,
and they showed me an orange unblinking orb
shining in a gap between the trees
and around it a spoke of four white specks—
Jupiter! And its four moons that didn’t fit
the scheme and set Galileo thinking
that God might be more complicated than
we imagine and less like a larger
version of us, and how much of the known
might be wrong, and the truth hidden.
Anyhow, I said, you can’t expect
to see the five moons of Venus the first time.
But you can caress them. My sons laughed—
as usual, convinced I was teasing.
Holidays float to the ends of months.
I turn the clock back, then ahead,
forget my ex-husband’s birthday,
the date of the divorce. Night comes,
then day with its yellow roses. My friend
the accountant knows the tax on each
mistake. He asks how many books I buy
myself, how many days I spend alone.
This happens in many lives – passion
fierce as a wall of dark water
crashes in, carries the body,
then dies in quick rough breaths.
I burn candles scented with lavender. Taut
wicks hiss, lighting the backs of rooms.
Someone has to look out at the ocean
All the time. It might as well be me.
Fooling the Angels
A six-million-dollar roller coaster,The Shock Wave,
goes 65 miles an hour carrying people upside down and backward
over a 170 foot hill and seven loops. The New York Times
The Shock Wave spins through;
our necks snap in a noose of air,
eyes flatten like nickels
placed on the tracks.
Hair lifts into space like a curtain
On I-95 a Volvo skids;
a Ford truck rams the driver’s door.
A half-mile back cars slow.
By the time they pass, the driver’s wife
holds the lightness of his body
in her arms.
Our throats lift into themselves;
words swell and are swallowed again.
Dry, deaf, blind, our bodies move
into the loop like gliding into sleep
The man is dying, and his angels fly up
from the fuming debris,
lift him above the park.
From the Shock Wave we see them,
their gauzy ribbons, their lovely wings
beating above us.
We imagine their blank faces
joyful, caring. Our souls ascend
into our throats with a soft rustle,
and they think we are calling.
The loop falls away like a soprano’s
“ Do they want us?” the angels ask,
resting in a nearby tree,
watching the seventh loop and our faces
that stare up with longing. In the street,
EMTs arrive and thread the man
with strands of tubing,
force oxygen into his throat,
squeeze his heart between breastbone
and spine until the angel
catches her breath and lifts her skirt,
pries his arms from her arms, his mouth
from her mouth.
The Shock Wave grovels to the gate.
We file away, silent with the silence
of divers rising. Air hisses
into our lungs. Lights flare, radios
play again. We recognize our friends
and kiss them.
The Flower Vendors
Flower vendors assemble in the empty lot across the street
to wait in the spring’s green mist with the portion of roses
they will spin in tissue paper, sell from their roadside
Here in the clinic, I wait for the lovely Maribels and Kims,
Shaundas and Jennifers. They arrive shaking off rain-glaze,
small shoots of children trailing at their feet, still evolving
from the simple beginnings of fused limb-bud, fish spine.
In the street, roses are so abundant they overspill the vendors’
In the humid exam rooms, Miranda and Aida and Luna
trust me. All around me, lush petals open,
my gentle hand always in awe of the transient, fragile
Notes On Another Generation
Our mothers wore aprons
over their housedresses
stuffed bags with rags
boxes with buttons
into their refrigerators
Just in case, they'd say
You never know
They could fix anything
hems cars hearts
and when we unravel
or our bright lights dim
or our lovers bolt
we find a recipe
or a memory
to help us
3rd place - 2008 Connecticut River Review Contest;
Judge Kim Bridgford
for Anna Akhmatova
Autumn is surely the crust of the year,
Its pieces scattered for chickens that
Lurch like matrons with cranky hips.
Anna, you are understandably morose
In a nation of fried and boiled meat.
In the pantry of your cottage in exile,
Old potatoes have the obstinate eyes
And callous skin of your ex-husband.
Outside, the cackle of falling leaves may be
White noise or the very message you desire.
Meanwhile, for dinner you dream of foie gras
And a smuggled morsel of hope from the city
Of your sentiments. By morning the coop may
Produce a few eggs which some say contain the
Biographies of martyrs, for they taste unbearably
Sublime when accompanied by a pillar of salt.
Shake the rain from your clothes before entering this room.
Sit in a chair; submit to the drudgery. Sit in a chair and await
detonation. Consider now your many regrets: failing to park
your shoes on a doormat; feeding bread to invincible pigeons;
discussing alternatives with the surgeon, then forgetting each
one in an instant. Outside, the sky spills a rainbow of grease
upon a restaurant known for cheap Oriental lunch. Your car
squats in the brick shadow of an abandoned school in which
alert pupils once glowed with an amber glow. Half-awake
in a sturdy chair yet half-asleep in a stiff-legged moment of
tedium, you finger the sleeves of your own fatigue. There is
someone else in this room, ticking, wrapped in a thin husk of
cotton folded into the umbra of electronics. Who is that figure
lying there as frail as disposable chopsticks? Who is that man
in bed with a plastic fuse blooming from his punctured throat?
Pause En Route
You open your eyes:
it’s the middle of your life.
Morning manifests itself
with flimsy light, a rain
Last day of your vacation.
You can’t recall a memorable
moment of your stay
in this city you chose
by looking away and
jabbing a finger on a map.
“I just wanted to go someplace,”
you’ll explain too often
to people who haven’t asked.
In the Greyhound station
the paraplegic girl
in the wheelchair ignores
the man who keeps staring--
the one in the exterminator’s suit,
SLUG-A-BUG printed on the back--
by perfecting pirouettes
in her imagination.
A bus pulls out and there’s something
in the shifting gears,
the deep thrum of motor.
You wonder whether you’re arrivingt
blares out over the loudspeaker.
You must change your life
“Yeah, sure,” you mutter,
dropping coins in the broken
vending machine, humming
lines to poems that haven’t
been written, while someone,
disguised as himself, waves
to you from the crowd
dispersing in all directions
to pursue those solitary
engagements, the ones
we call our lives.
How Many Ghosts Can Gather in One House?
Late afternoon, five p.m., that half-light when night
is about to fall but hasn’t yet. That’s when loneliness
creeps in. Even in a houseful of people, loneliness
is like a scarf that wraps itself around my neck
until I cannot breathe.
My house now is full of nurse’s aides and wheelchairs,
walkers and medicine bottles and handymen tramping
up the cellar stairs and through the kitchen in their heavy
boots that leave tracks of dirt and plaster across the floor
But even with all these people, the clatter of pots,
the splash of water in the sink, the clinking of plates
and cups, at five p.m. I am always beset by loneliness,
those moments when I count off all that I’ve lost—my
mother, father, sister, all claimed by the big hand of death
and without them, these people whose love and care
always kept me safe, how can I keep these dark
shadows from creeping out of the corners of the room,
how can I keep from shivering?
Maria Mazziotti Gillan
There we are caught
in a color photograph. Jennifer at seven,
thin and rangy , her hair recently chopped
off by my sister has lost all its curls
and now hangs straight around her face.
After that haircut, her hair went from
platinum blonde to a darker color,
like honey. Jennifer never forgave my sister, still mourns
those ringlets springing off her head.
I am thirty-four, wearing the fake leather jacket
my neighbor sewed for me. It is a deep chocolate
brown. I am thin and curvy at the same time;
my hair the color of burnished mahogany, is piled
on top of my head. I look like my daughter does today,
but I don’t know it then. When I look at myself
in the mirror, I see only dark skin, dark hair, nothing
beautiful, only a face like a wound. If I could,
I would go back and tell that young woman
how I came to plant my feet
solidly on the ground, to claim my place
as I never could have then, who saw myself
as fragile and easily broken, an outline
yet to be filled in. I try to tell my daughter
now grown and older than I was then,
to find what you love,
what defines you, what turns an insubstantial girl
into a woman certain she knows where
she’s going and where she’s been.