Jean Nordhaus



Scherzo

 

The conductor has lost his baton.

In a fit of passion, he hurled it skywards

and now the orchestra is galloping on

without him, the trumpets stampeding,

the oboes braying, the tubas

galumphing their elephant polkas.

A fistfight has broken out in the chorus,

the tenor has fallen in love with a flute,

and the violins are caterwauling, Woe

is me. Is me. O, love, the cellos sob.

Mother is hiding in the flugelhorn,

the children are sliding trombones,

and Grampa has jumped on a kettledrum

and dances a jig with his wooden leg.

The soprano is weeping: Musickers, back

to your stations!

Too late. The maestro

is dead. The bassoon has run off

with a piccolo and the hump-backed piano

has folded her lid and is waddling away.



Stanzas for My Brother

 

You and I are the only ones

who still remember the blue car

he pedaled up and down the walk—

our baby brother with the huge teeth

and straggly bangs. We seldom

talk of him now, the absence

builds an empty room between us.

He’d be 56 today, rabbit-life

hurtling away—the boy,

the car, the pebbled walk.

 

                        *

You drew a map of Grandma’s old

apartment and we walked our fingers

through the tiny rooms: pocket kitchen,

hall, the parlor with its console radio

and nodding Buddha Herbert

brought home from the war. The long

pink tongue rolled in and out

of its hungry porcelain smile. I’ll

eat you up, said the smile. I’ll eat you up.

 

                        *

Time eats everything up. Eats boys.     

Eats grief. Sometimes when you laugh,

I hear our father’s sharp, staccato yelp

of glee. Some of him that lives for me

in you. Memory fills the final room.

A stripe of sun. My hand moves

across the page, in and out of the light.

That’s how the past comes back,

how it all comes back when you laugh.



The Weavers

 

Nowhere in the legend

do we learn what Helen wanted.

Was there will or wish or mind

behind the face, the blinding breast?

 

As if she were an island

or a strategic peninsula—

 

We’re told she was a weaver,

faithfully inscribing on her loom

the war she witnessed

on the plain before her,

 

not unlike Penelope,

 

that plainer wife, whose story

was all about waiting, the one

who unraveled her work each night—

her canvas, a field of erasures.



At the Emily Dickinson Marathon Reading

At the sign-in, they handed us marking pens

and those ugly, stick-on name-tags

so ruinous to clothing.  

 

I was tempted to write “Nobody”

on mine, but it seemed wrong

to draw attention to myself

 

that way, so I wrote my own  

anonymous name on the badge

and joined my voice to the others.




Jean Nordhaus was the subject of our Closer Look in Innisfree 13. Her fourth volume of poetry, Innocence, won the Charles B. Wheeler Prize and was published by The Ohio State University Press in 2006.  Her other books include The Porcelain Apes of Moses Mendelssohn (Milkweed Editions, 2002), My Life in Hiding (Quarterly Review of Literature, 1991), A Bracelet of Lies (Washington Writers’ Publishing House, 1987) and two chapbooks, A Purchase of Porcelain and A Language of Hands










                                    

 

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A CLOSER LOOK: Betty Adcock

Grace Cavalieri

Patricia L. Hamilton

Sonja James

Rod Jellema

Robert Krenz

Miles David Moore

Jean Nordhaus

Kyle Norwood

Stephen Oliver

Barbara J. Orton

William Page

Patric Pepper

Oliver Rice

W.M. Rivera

Peter Serchuk

M.R. Smith

Ellen Steinbaum

Myrna Stone

Robert Joe Stout

Tim Suermondt

Ayten Tartici

Rodney Torreson

Buff Whitman-Bradley

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