The Innisfree Poetry Journal
by Edwin Zimmerman
from A Piercing Happiness:
In Pontresina the Swiss hotelier,
sleek in his casing as any sausage,
prays from his schedule of clockwork trains
that whirr around and under mountains,
finds the dispositive text, and preaches
In Pontresina café-au-lait cattle,
wreathed in bells like copper leis,
bong from springtime pasture to summer pasture,
drop their steaming calling-cards
on pristine streets, and emanate
In Pontresina in the long twilight
of early summer the citizenry gather
—grocer, cobbler, innkeeper, clerk—
in workaday clothes and sturdy shoes,
but harnessed in silver: trumpets, tubas,
flutes that shine and drums that glitter
with each whack. A whistle-blast
arrays them in orderly formation
to march to the end of town and back,
until the Alpine dusk transforms them
into young ghost soldiers who sing
to grieving sweethearts of battles won
and battles lost, of the grassy beds
in which they wait, and the sad horns
echo in Pontresina.
I am authorized to tell you
that we can not live forever,
that our cells will not forget to die.
I am, like you, disconsolate.
I had intended a permanent existence
with time to relish every crystal truth
the computer, retrieving and retrieving,
ever sang, with time for every delta
on the coastline of Brazil, with time
at Svalbard where the ice is blue
and indolent seals flop unconcerned
until they push off, lazy, to the Pole.
But now I know that lovely A.
who once presided in a black silk sheath
lies disarranged—a loose necklace
of bone in the earth in Queens.
Der Rosenkavalier, Last Scene
Almost everything that was to happen has happened.
The treacherous girl has skittered to the wings
bawled at by Baron Ochs, supplicant pronger.
The waiters, constables, and thieves have disappeared
and Ochs himself has lugged his great need
off-stage. Only these three remain behind
to sing—boy, girl, exquisite Marschallin
who we know already has had her session
of meditation with her boudoir mirror,
who has looked and looked at her ivory face
until every line that seamed the ivory was mourned.
As we expect the youthful lovers sing
of their prospective coupling, an off-stage thing.
The Marschallin, subdued, bemused, alone,
still beautiful, sings that everything
of moment she can hope to happen has happened,
sings of the nothing that is all that is to happen.
And we, flawed and aging in our darkened seats,
almost mount the stage to share her grief.
You say the poem is done.
But it is not done.
A chicken in the oven's done.
A lover who has come is done,
at least for the while. But a poem
is never done. It is at best
a gasping, beached creature
while what it was we truly wanted
dives out of reach, out of sight,
down to where a single
humpback whale sings
in the depths of the dark sea,
its song reverberating
a hundred miles until
it is repeated and passed on
by other humpbacks off the coast of Spain
who sing it again and again
trying to get it right.
What did you do with your life, Sadie?
I escaped the Cossacks' random murders,
married a gentle but unschooled man
who worked all his life like a beast,
birthed three children, one a son,
sewed, cleaned, cooked, worried, loved
my husband once he was dead (cried
when they buried him at the back of the plot
close to the expressway in farthest Queens),
died in a daughter's California bed,
lay buried alone near movie stars.
We are sending your son to you, Sadie.
He is cleansed and crated and at eighty eight
he weighs little more than he did at twelve.
He will lie forever near your grave.
Does this please you, Sadie?
Here we are but bone and earth—
even the stars in their mausoleums.
The freeway is close, just over the hill,
and sometimes at night it can be heard.
I'll be pleased to have my big boy back.
We can listen together to the traffic noise.
A Report to Captain Higgins
Sir, in this tinder house, tilted on rock,
there rides this stormy night a varied crew
of sentient small beings: a potent chameleon,
green for the time and seemingly kind
but with a cache of live crickets for food,
a gap-toothed girl who hungers for horses,
two whirling gerbils in constant prayer,
their mistress who embraces a bear, a boy
who loves lizards, a hungry gray cat
that peers around corners and slaughters shadows.
The wind howls, the rain attacks, the house
creaks, and in a week of years a white horse
will die in circles, the lizard disappear,
the gerbils freeze, the cat grow old as Noah,
and the children—where will the children be?
But tonight the timbers hold, and they sleep,
they all sleep, except the doomed crickets—
And a new poem:
(from the New York Times obituary of Clyde Tombaugh, the astronomer who located Pluto, whose father had admonished him: Clyde, make yourself useful and beware of easy women.)
He left Kansas for the night skies of Flagstaff
and began to interrogate ten million dots,
sifting them over and over and over again
until he caught a twitching residue of light—
the missing planet, once X, now Pluto—
making himself useful. As for easy women
surely there must have been one or two
gentle, dazzled, longing souls for whom
the young sky-searcher was a prince of star light,
at least one who, had she been at his side
while he looked and looked and looked,
might have edged close to ward off the chill
of the night's vast loneliness and who
in a flush of urgency might have been easy,
though he, no doubt, would have stayed useful,
leaving her, who cared not a whit
which smudge harbored Pluto, to confront alone
the terrible enormity of the desert sky.
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