Michele Wolf

A selection of poems from Michele Wolf's new book, Immersion:

Arranging the Books


The shelves start out with Ai, move on to the coral

Spine of Miss Bishop. In my new home, in a new city, I rip

Open my next carton and stop. I have somehow misplaced

Mr. Merwin before Mr. Merrill, which has to be fixed.


I am again at Scribner's, a bastion—with its Beaux Arts bookstore,

Frilled with curly cast iron and gilt—at this site on Fifth since

Engines edged out hoofbeats on the avenue. I had just been

Promoted from editorial assistant to associate editor. The rooms

Displayed the relics of their ghosts: a bust of Hemingway,

The lectern of Max Perkins—who elected to stand, as if addressing

His authors, to edit. The wood-walled library featured fringed

Lampshades; reception, a scuffed and tack-studded tobacco-brown

Leather couch. Young Charlie, newly ensconced in the coveted

Corner Perkins office, brought in a piano, serenaded Scottie

Fitzgerald as my colleagues and I rolled our eyes, pretended to work.


Soon Atheneum arrived, a doomed move to keep the two companies

Private. On weeknights I raced off to readings, attempted to write,

Paged through my textbooks—stacks of jacketed works by Atheneum

Poets: the pedestaled Justice, Levine, Merrill, Merwin, and Strand.

Now, two and some decades later, I have divorced New York.

My soul mate, it understands and forgives me. We are on
Friendly terms. I did not get to cart off the Metropolitan Museum
When I left, or the halting schools of yellow cabs, or the window

Booth at the local diner, or the all-night neon of 86th Street,

But I did get to take the books, to keep their voices, vital, intact.

I have Mr. Merrill, diminutive, regal at the podium, infinitely

Wry, regaling the audience—gasping with laughter—with a vision

Of an uncapped lipstick and a randy, panting Labrador, 1935.

I have Mr. Merwin, rumpled, just in from Hawaii, surrounded

By five writers summoned to a table at the 92nd Street Y,

Focused on his eyes, a crystal blue like captured starlight,

On the crux of his message, the sound and essence of his life:

"We don't write poems," he maintained. "We listen for them."


 Cherry Blossom Festival

The cloud banks of blossoms—the sudden eruption
Off three thousand century-old trees—surround us at eye level,
Their hint of pink the pigment of plush toys and knitted

Blankets for infant girls. As we stroll the pathway, infused
With this fluff, we just about sprout petals ourselves, embody
Spring as a verb. It was here, in the midst of these blooms, that you

Asked me a question that changed my life, presented a blue
Velveteen box that held up a hard, faceted stone. A woman next to us
Crumpled, in tears. The couple of strangers we approached refused

To stop grinning while taking our pictures: our arms entwined around
Each other, eyes luminous, the backdrop of cherry blossoms
A sheer, lit scrim that fronts what's permanent. What withers, leaves,

Returns, and returns.

Tropical Drink


It was frothy. It was silken.

It was icy on the tongue—fresh coconut

Milk, fresh pineapple juice, and the Appleton's.

We sipped one apiece on the terrace overlooking

The peaked gazebo cresting the dock, and the glinty

Turquoise waters of our crescent beach, while a big-eyed

Doctor bird—a shimmering long-tailed hummingbird—

Hovered like a miniature copter in front of a blood-red

Hibiscus. When we rocked in the hammock,

The only sound we could hear was the breeze

Fanning the palm fronds. In the pool, on a pair of rafts,

As we closed our eyes in the late-day sun, the whole of our

World turned turquoise, hoisting us, floating us along.

We never drifted far, tethered by the length of your arm,

Of mine, by the buoy of our two hands joined.

And we knew we had tasted the edge of something sweet.




The storm had bitten away the shoreline,
Leaving behind a whiskered nine-foot cliff,
And underneath it the hard-packed sand
Was littered with starfish. Jutting
Out of the cliff bottom, stripped
Free of its tomb at water's edge,
Was the back third of a tan
Metallic 1952 Buick, license lost.
No cars, aside from jeeps, were allowed
On the island. The ocean darted
Forward and back, inspecting its find.

This morning the splintering ribs
Of the hull of an eighteenth-century ship
Arose in the spongy crater of mud
At the site of the World Trade Center,
Twenty feet below street level. Artifacts
Are the accounts we leave behind.
We leave them buried beneath what is buried,

Much as we live in our beauty now.
We may expose only the husk of ourselves,
But embedded and patient in our subterranean
Core, removed from use for so long that most
Have become forgotten, are every memory,
Every gesture, every meandering
Thought. And that's just the library. Jammed
Into the great room—some wearing boots,
Some barefoot—our ancestors are dancing.
We can feel them in our bones.
They're stomping the floorboards.

Michele Wolf is the author of Immersion, selected by Denise Duhamel for the Hilary Tham Capital Collection, published by The Word Works. Her other books are Conversations During Sleep, winner of the Anhinga Prize for Poetry, and the chapbook The Keeper of Light. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, The Hudson Review, Boulevard, North American Review, The Antioch Review, and elsewhere, including Poetry Daily and Verse Daily. She teaches at The Writer's Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Her website is http://michelewolf.com.



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