A CLOSER LOOK: Jane Shore





Jane Shore is the author of six books of poems: Eye Level, winner of the Juniper Prize (University of Massachusetts Press, 1977); The Minute Hand, winner of the Lamont Prize (University of Massachusetts Press, 1987); Music Minus One, a finalist for the National Book Critic Circle Award (Picador USA, 1996); Happy Family (Picador USA, 1999); A Yes-or-No Answer (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008), winner of the 2010 Poets' Prize; and That Said, New and Selected Poems (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012). Her poems have been published in numerous anthologies and magazines, including The Norton Anthology, The New Yorker, Poetry, The New Republic, The Yale Review, Slate, and Ploughshares (where she has twice served as a guest poetry editor). She is a Professor of English at The George Washington University. See her profile on the Poetry Foundation's website: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/jane-shore.


When Ms. Shore's volume of new and selected poems, That Said, was published in 2012, the poet Stanley Plumly responded as follows:

Jane Shore's That Said, New and Selected Poems represents the idiom of a recovery, a reconstituting of a personal past in a collective of fully realized, richly addressed moments, beautifully and indelibly spoken in its larger claims on the quotidian, ranging in insight from playing the good child-mother to "Thumbelina" to being the bad child to her own mother, calling her, "under my breath," "Mrs. Hitler." Shore's poem-narratives have long been praised for their juxtapositions of wit with quiet wisdom. Yet her poems of these past three and a half decades also speak through a Talmudic knowledge as ancient as the archetype. Her work is deep because its small worlds become so whole, exacting, and inclusive.

As a reviewer in Poetry magazine wrote, Shore writes poems that are "memorabilia; they cultivate the leisure and faceted pleasure of retrospection; they favor the miniature and the artifactual; they are tender toward kitsch."


And in a wonderful profile published in Ploughshares, Lorrie Goldensohn observed:

When Jane Shore met Elizabeth Bishop at Harvard during the seventies, the older artist confirmed the odd and original angle at which the younger poet met the world and its artifacts. But like Bishop's, Jane Shore's later poems bloom overtly into dramatic narrative, grasping with an almost blind but instinctive trust for the smallest tentacle of memory, to haul forward from past time the whole huge load from which we reconstruct a life and a meaning.

Please see the entire profile here: About Jane Shore.



Jane Shore: A Selection of Poems 


(all from That Said

unless otherwise noted)



Willow

 

It didn't weep the way a willow should.

Planted all alone in the middle of the field

by the bachelor who sold our house to us,

shoulder height when our daughter was born,

it grew eight feet a year until it blocked

the view through the first-, then the second-

story windows, its straggly canopy obstructing

our sunrise and moonrise over Max Gray Road.

I gave it the evil eye, hoping lightning

would strike it, the way a bolt had split

the butternut by the barn. And if leaf blight

or crown gall or cankers didn't kill it, then

I'd gladly pay someone to chop it down.

My daughter said no, she loved that tree,

and my husband agreed. One wet Sunday

the rainiest July since 1885

husband napping, daughter at a matinee

in towna wind shear barreled up the hill

so loud I glanced up from my mystery

the moment the willow leaned, bowed,

and fell over flat on its back, roots and all,

splayed on the ground like Gulliver.

The house shook, just once.

Later, when the sun came out, neighbors

came to gawk; they chain-sawed thicker

branches, wrapped chains around the trunk,

their backhoe ripped out pieces of stump

and root as if extracting a rotten tooth.

I'm not sorry that tree is gone. No one

ever sat under it for shade or contemplation.

Yet spring after spring it reliably leafed out.

It was always the last to lose its leaves

in fall. It should have died a decade ago

for all the grief I gave it, my dirty looks

apparently the fuel on which it thrived.

It must have done its weeping in private.

But now I can see the slope of the hill.

Did my wishful thinking cast a spell?

I was the only one on earth who saw it fall.

 

 

Eau de Joy

 

I never opened the spare bottle of Joy
she bought at a duty-free shop in Paris
that, for years, lorded it over her Chanel No 5
& Je Reviens. One whiff of those eaux
de cologne on my wrist evokes her world,
but Joy was my mother's signature scent
 
long before I packed my Jersey accent
& bell bottoms for my summer joy-
ride's hippie grand tour of the world
the quintessential American in Paris
reading Hemingway & nursing a cafe au
lait. It was different then, back in '75,
 
when you could actually do Europe on Five
Dollars A Day, pre-euro, give or take a cent,
using a Student Eurail Pass & the Metro,
& if "Born to Run" was your "Ode to Joy."
My parents & I rendezvoused in Paris.
Au revoir, hostel (toilet down the hall). World
 
my oyster, I unfolded the roll-away & whirled
in their jumbo tub, treated like royalty at the 5-
star Hotel Ritz (1st arrondissement, Paris)
where Princess Di began her final descent
the night she died. Death's an awful killjoy.
What killed my mother also killed Jackie O.
 
Though I lost my dear one two decades ago,
I held on to her souvenir of "the world's
most expensive perfume": an ounce of Joy
= 28 dozen roses & 10,000 jasmine blooms. If I've 
forgotten her every so often, I'm innocent
my grief's bottled up, vintage Evening in Paris.
 
If only Joy's glass bottle were plaster of Paris.
I twisted the stopper, the bottle slipped, & oh!,
it broke in the sink & her absence, a present,
rose from the shards. Precious gold essence whorled

through my fingers & down the drain in five
seconds flat like the dish soap, liquid Joy.
 
We'll always have Paris, but that lost world
I owe herher Saks Fifth Avenue & my five
& dimeexists in a present too late to enjoy.

 

first published in The New Republic

 

 

Mirror/Mirror

 

You can't step twice into the same mirror,

said Heraclitus, of the river's mirror.

 

A vessel holding water was the first mirror.

A mirror held to nostrils, life's last mirror.

 

"Who is fairest?" the queen asked her mirror.

A vampire has no reflection in a mirror.

 

Those backward letters without a mirror

spell AMBULANCE in your rear-view mirror.

 

After Mom died, I covered all the mirrors

with cloth, sat seven days without mirrors.

 

Staring at myself staring in my mirror,

"I" became the "other" in the mirror.

 

Watching themselves making love in the mirror,

they were aroused by the couple in the mirror.

 

The amputee stood at an angle that mirrored

his phantom limb, now visible, mirrored.

 

In the Arnolfini Wedding Portrait's mirror,

its painter's captive in that convex mirror.


A palindrome is another kind of mirror

like the couplets in a ghazal's mirror.

 

Her beloved's eyes were her only mirror.

Seven bad years when he broke a mirror.

 

I avoid, when I can, cruel three-way mirrors.

"Mute surfaces,'' Borges called mirrors.

 

As Vanity combs her long hair in the mirror,

an old bald skull awaits in the mirror.

 

Standing between two facing mirrors,

I shrank down a long hallway of mirrors.

 

Which Jane are you? I asked my mirror.

My mirror answered, Ask another mirror.

 

first published in The New Republic

 


This One

 

This One got to keep the Warhol.

That One got an S.T.D.

 

This One left & kept on walking,

making That One his Penelope.

 

Friends at first sided with This One.

Later they jumped to That One's side.

 

Razor, pills, noose, & tailpipe

for Thisor ThatOne's suicide.

 

"Fifty-fifty's fair!" shouted That One.

So This One cut their dog in half.

 

X marks the spot on That One's cheek

where This One slapped his autograph.

 

That One drinks hot tears for breakfast;

This One whiskey-on-the-rocks.

 

When This One got the seven-year itch,

That One scratched her chicken pox.

 

Since This One left, That One's singing.

How should they divide the pelf?

 

Now This One's alone & so is That One.

Each One wants a couplet to himself.

 

            first published in The New Yorker

 

 

Shit Soup*

 

Other mothers have their ''Everything Stew,"

''Icebox Ragout," ''Kitchen-Sink Casserole."

Mine had ''Shit Soup,'' a recipe she told me

standing in her kitchen in New Jersey.

''Find a big pot, the biggest pot you have.

Shit a quartered chicken into the pot.

If you have an old carcass lying around,

shit it in. Add three quarts of cold water

and salt, and bring to a boil. Skim off

the foam as it collects on the surface.

Slice one large or two medium onions.

Shit them in. Shit in some dill and parsley.

Dried is okay but fresh tastes better.

Cut into bit e-size pieces some carrots,

a couple celery stalks. Shit them in.

Those lousy-looking zucchini squash,

withered wedges of cabbage, puckered peas.

In other words, anything in the fridge.

If you have fresh or frozen string beans,

shit them in. Shit in a few potatoes.

Peel the skin, dig out the eyes, cut off

the bad parts and shit them in anyway,

they're filled with vitamins and minerals.

Friday's leftovers, oh, what the hell.

Shit them in, shit in twelve black peppercorns.

Want to know my secret ingredient?

One ripe tomato makes the broth taste sweet.

What's under that aluminum foil?

Shit it in. A little mold won't kill you.

My recipe? I don't measure. I just shit

a little of this in, a little of that.

Your Mama's Shit Soup. Enough for a week.

With a pot of this you'll never go hungry."

Shit in ''There wasn't time for me to go

to the Shop Rite and buy steaks to broil

for your father's and your dinner."

Shit in ''I'd like to sell the store someday

and move to Florida." Shit in the Recession,

the Second World War, the Great Depression.

Shit in ''There's no rest for the weary."                                          

Shit in her bunions, her itchy skin.

Shit in ''Rich or poor, it's nice to have money."

Shit in ''Marriage isn't made in heaven."

Shit in the Republicans. Shit in her tumor.

Shit in where it spread to her liver

''like grains of rice," the doctor said.

Shit in her daughters at the cemetery

crying over the hole when they lowered

her in. Shit in one last handful of dirt.

Cover the pot and reduce heat to low.

Simmer on the lowest possible flame

for two hours, or until vegetables

are fork tender, meat falls off the bone.

 

*In Yiddish, shit-arein means ''to pour in."

 

 

Reprise

 

Rummaging through the old cassettes my father

taped off the classical radio station,

my daughter finds, among Mozart and Bach,

catalogued and labeled in his elegant hand,

Jane and Howard's Wedding: 1984.

I didn't know my father taped that, too!

Disappearing with the boom box, my daughter

shuts the master bedroom's door. An hour later, 

I walk in on her gate-crashing our wedding,

sprawling on our marriage bed, ear to the speaker.

When she was younger, she used to insist

she was there, at our wedding, and we've told her

it's impossible, she wasn't born yet, that she

was there in spirit. She's not convincedhasn't she

always been with us, even when she wasn't?

 

She laughs at the Wedding March while her dad

and I shakily walk down the aisle

under the rented  yellow-and-white tent

filling Mike and Gail's Walnut Ave. backyard.

Eavesdropping on the prayers we repeat

after the rabbi, phrase by Hebrew phrase,

she claps when the rabbi pronounces us

husband and wife and we kiss to applause,

her future father stomps on the goblet

wrapped in the caterer's cloth napkin,

and glass shatters safely underfoot.


She rewinds the tape back to the beginning,

to what she calls the "really funny part,"

back to before our murmuring guests

sit down in the rented chairs on that

sweltering June Sunday, 96 degrees,

freesia wilting, family close to fainting,

whipped cream on the cake about to turn,

back to before we stand under the canopy,

back to before the ceremony, back to when

my father presses the Record button, clears

his throat and says into the microphone:

''Testing, testing"a voice I last heard

years ago, a few days before he died.

 

Shocked, I hear my dead mother say,

"George, are you sure the tape recorder's

working?" And my father says, I'm sure."

My mother says, "George, are you sure

the batteries aren't dead?" And my father

answers patiently at first, then wearily,

"Essie, I'm sure." She asks him again,

and he answers again, and here they are,

arguing in my bedroom, in the house

my mother never set foot in.

My daughter's eyes shine with laughter;

mine with tears. Although I'd give anything

to have them back, even for a moment, I clamp

my hands over my ears (just as I used to

when I was growing up) and shut them out again.

 

 

The Russian Doll

 

after Elder Olson

 

Six inches tall, the Russian doll

stands like a wooden bowling pin.

The red babushka on her painted head

melts into her shawl and scarlet

peasant dress, and spreading over that,

the creamy lacquer of her apron.

A hairline crack fractures the equator

of her copious belly,

that when twisted and pulled apart,

reveals a second doll inside,

exactly like her, but smaller,

with a blue babushka and matching dress.

An identical crack circles her middle.

 

Did Faberge fashion a doll like her

for a czar's daughter? Hers would be

more elaborate, of course, and not a toy­

emerald eyes, twenty-four-karat hair,

and with filigreed petticoats

like a chanterelle's gills blown inside out.

An almost invisible fault line

would undermine her waist,

and a platinum button that springs her body open.

 

Now I have two dolls: mother and daughter.

Inside the daughter, a third doll is waiting.

She has the same face,

the same figure,

the same fault she can't seem to correct.

Inside her solitary shell

where her duplicate selves are breathing,

she can't be sure

whose heart is beating, whose ears

are hearing her own heart beat.

 

Each doll breaks into

a northern and a southern hemisphere.

I line them up in descending order,

careful to match each womb

with the proper heada clean split,

for once, between the body and the mind.

A fourth head rises over the rim

of the third doll's waist,

an egg cup in which her descendants grow

in concentric circles.

 

Until last, at last, the two littlest dolls,

too wobbly to stand upright,

are cradled in her cavity as if waiting to be born.

Like two dried beans, they rattle inside her,

twin faces painted in cruder detail,

bearing the family resemblance

and the same unmistakable design.

 

The line of succession stops here.

I can pluck them from her belly like a surgeon,

thus making the choice between fullness

and emptiness; the way our planet itself

is rooted in repetitions, formal reductions,

the whole and its fractions.

Generations of women emptying themselves

like one-celled  animals; each reproducing,

apparently, without a mate.

 

I thought the first, the largest, doll

contained nothing but herself,

but I was wrong.

I assumed that she was young

because I could not read her face.

Is she the oldest in this matriarchy­

holding within her hollow each daughter's

daughter? Or the youngest

 

carrying the embryo of the old woman

she will become? Is she an onion

all the way through? Maybe,

like memory shedding its skin,

she remembers all the way back to when

 

her body broke open for the first time,

to the child of twelve who fits inside her still;

who has yet to discover that self,

always hidden, who grows and shrinks,

who multiplies and divides.

 

 

Dummy

 

He lolled on my twin bed waiting for me

to get home from Girl Scouts or ballet,

but I couldn't really play with him

the way I'd played with my other dolls­

buttoning their dresses, buckling their shoes,

brushing and braiding their long, rooted curls.

He had the one crummy green gabardine suit.

His ketchup-colored hair was painted on.

And while my baby dolls could drink

from a bottle, cry real tears, blow bubbles,

and pee when I squeezed their tummies,

my dummy didn't have the plumbing.

 

The water bottles I'd jam in his mouth

scuffed his lipstick, mildewed his stuffing.

Prying his smile apart, I'd run my finger

along the seven milk teeth lining his jaw.

But look inside his head. Completely empty!

No tongue, no tonsils, no brain.

No wonder he had to wear his own name

on a label sewn above his jacket pocket

to remind himself that he was Jerry Mahoney

and his straight man an eleven-year-old girl

who jerked the dirty pull string at the back

of his neck, making his jaw  drop open,

 

his chin clack like the Nutcracker's.

That lazy good-for-nothing! I had to put

words in his mouth. His legs hung limp,

his arms flopped at his sides. He couldn't

wink or blink or quit staring to the left;

brown eyes painted open, perpetually

surprised at what he'd blurt out next:

"Grandma Fanny has a big fat fanny!

Uncle Fred should lose that lousy toupee!

Aunt Shirley dresses like a goddamn tramp!

That son of hers, Moe, a moron!"

what they said behind each other's backs!

 

He did a slow one-eighty of my bedroom.

"How the hell did I wind up in this joint?"

that low, unnatural voice straining through

my own locked teeth. "Good evening, ladies,"

he leered at the dolls propped on the shelf,

cocking his head to see their underpants.

How old was that wiseacre supposed to be?

thirteen? thirty? my father's age?the little

man sitting on my lap, telling dirty jokes

until his pull string snapped, a fraying ganglion

lost inside his neck beyond the tweezers' reach,

a string of words unraveling down his throat.

 

After that, we practiced our act in the dark

where I couldn't see his imperfections.

We'd talk, long after the others were asleep:

I'd move my lips, lower my voice an octave;

and it almost sounded like a conversation

between a husband and a wife.

I tweaked his bow tie, smoothed his satin dickie,

rapped on his skull. Knock, knock. "Who's there? "

just like in the old days when he was in mint

condition, a smart aleck; before he became

slack-jawed, dumba dummy foreverand I                          

grew up, went solo, learned to speak for myself.

 

 

A Luna Moth

 

for Elizabeth Bishop

 

For six days and nights

a luna moth, pale green,

pinned herself to the sliding screen

a prize specimen in a lepidopterist's dream.

 

Tuesday's wind knocked her off the deck.

She tacked herself back up again.

During Wednesday's rain she disappeared

and reappeared on Thursday                   

to meditate and sun herself,

recharging her dreams from dawn to dusk,

and all night draining the current from

the deck's electric lantern.

 

A kimono just wider than my hand,

her two pairs of flattened wings were pale

gray-green panels of the sheerest crêpe de Chine.

Embroidered on each sleeve, a drowsing eye

appeared to watch the pair of eyes

on the wings below quite wide awake.

But they're all fake.

Nature's trompe l'oeil gives the luna

eyes of a creature twice her size.

 

The head was covered with snow-white fur.

Once, I got so close

it rippled when I breathed on her.

She held herself so still,

she looked dead. I stroked

the hem of her long, sweeping tail;

her wings dosed my fingers with a green-gold dust.

I touched her feathery antennae.

She twitched and calmly

reattached herself a quarter inch west,

tuning into the valley miles away

a moment-by-moment weather report

broadcast by a compatriot,

catching the scent of a purely

sexual call; hearing sounds

I never hear, having

the more primitive ear.

 

Serene

in the middle of the screen,

she ruled the grid of her domain

oblivious to her collected kin

the homely brown varieties of moth

tranced-out and immobile,

or madly fanning their paper wings,

bashing their brains out on the bulb.

Surrounded by her dull-witted cousins,

she is herself a sort of bulb,

and Beauty is a kind of brilliance,

burning self-absorbed, giving little,

indifferent as a reflecting moon.

 

Clinging to the screen despite my comings

and goings, she never seemed to mind the ride.

At night, when I slid the glass door shut,

I liked to think I introduced her

to her perfect match

hatched from an illusion

like something out of the Brothers Grimm

who, mirroring her dreamy stillness,

pining for a long-lost twin,

regarded her exactly as she regarded him.

 

This morning,

a weekend guest sunbathing on the deck,

sun-blind, thought the wind had blown

a five-dollar bill against the screen.

He grabbed the luna, gasped,

and flung her to the ground.

She lay a long moment in the grass,

then fluttered slowly to the edge of the woods

where, sometimes at dawn,

deer nibble the wild raspberry bushes. 

 

Meat

 

The year I had the affair with X,

he lived downtown on Gansevoort Street

in a sublet apartment over a warehouse.

It was considered a chic place to live.

He was wavering over whether to divorce

his wife, and I'd fly down

every other week to help him decide.

Most nights, we'd drop in for cocktails

on the Upper East Side and hobnob

with his journalist  friends, then taxi

down to SoHo for an opening and eat

late dinner in restaurants whose diners

wore leather and basic black.

We'd come home at four in the morning,

just as it was starting to get light

and huge refrigerator trucks were backing up

to the loading docks and delivering

every kind of fresh and frozen meat.

Through locked window grates I could see

them carrying stiff carcasses, dripping crates

of iced chickens. We'd try to sleep

through the racket of engines and men

shouting and heavy doors being slammed.

By three in the afternoon the street would be

completely deserted, locked up tight;

at twilight they'd start their rounds again.

The street always smelled of meat.

The smell drifted past the gay bars

and parked motorcycles; it smelled

like meat all the way to the Hudson.

And though they hosed it down as best

they could, it still smelled as though

a massacre had occurred earlier that day,

day after day. We saw odd things

in the gutterlengths of chain, torn

undershirts, a single shoe, and sometimes

even pieces of fleshhuman or animal,

you couldn't telland blood puddling

around the cobbles and broken curbstones.

On weekends, we'd ask the taxi

to drop us off at the door

so that no one could follow and rob us.

We'd climb to our love nest

and drape a sheet over the bedroom window

the barred window to the fire escape

which faced across the airshaft the window

of  a warehouseempty, we  assumed,

because we'd never seen lights on

behind  the cracked and painted panes.

In the morning, we'd sleep late,

we'd take the sheet down and walk

around the apartment naked,

and eat breakfast in bed, and read,

and get back to our great reunions . . . .

One Sunday, we felt something creepy

a shadow, a flickermove  behind  a corner

of broken glass. And we never knew

they were, or how many,

or for how many months they had been

watching us, the spectacle we'd become.

Because that's what we were to them

two animals in a cage fucking:

arms and backs and muscle

and flanks and sinew and gristle.

 

 

A Yes-or-No Answer

 

Have you read The Story of O?

Will Buffalo sink under all that snow?

Do you double-dip your Oreo?

Please answer the question yes or no.

 

The surgerywas it touch-and-go?

Does a corpse's hair continue to grow?

Remember when we were simpatico?

Answer my question: yes or no.

 

Do you want another cup of joe?

If I touch you, is it apropos?

Are you certain that you're hetero?

Is your answer yes or no?

 

Did you lie to me like Pinocchio?

Was forbidden fruit the cause of woe?

Did you ever sleep with that so-and-so?

Just answer the question: yes or no.

 

Did you nail her under the mistletoe?

Will you spare me the details, blow by blow?

Did she sing sweeter than a vireo?

I need an answer. Yes or no?

 

Are we still a dog-and-pony show?

Shall we change partners and do-si-do?

Are you planning on the old heave-ho?

Check an answer:  Yes __  No __

 

Was something blue in my trousseau?

Do you take this man, this woman? Oh,

but that was very long ago.

Did we say yes? Did we say no?

 

For better or for worse? Ergo,

shall we play it over, in slow mo?

Do you love me? Do you know?

Maybe yes. Maybe no.

 

 

The Streak

 

Because she wanted it so much, because

she'd campaigned all spring and half the summer,

because she was twelve and was old enough,

because she would be responsible and pay for it herself,

because it was her mantra, breakfast, lunch, and dinner,

because she would do it even if we said no

 

her father and I argued until we finally said

okay, just a little one in the front

and don't ask for any more, and, also,

no double pierces in the future, is that a deal?

 

She couldn't wait, we drove straight to town,

not to our regular beauty parlor, but the freaky one­ half

halfway house, half community center

where they showed her the sample card of swatches,

each silky hank a flame-tipped paintbrush dipped in dye.

 

I said no to Deadly Nightshade. No to Purple Haze.

No to Atomic Turquoise. To Green Envy. To Electric Lava

that glows neon orange under black light.

No to Fuchsia Shock. To Black-and-Blue.

To Pomegranate Punk. I vetoed Virgin Snow.

And so she pulled a five out of her wallet, plus the tax,

and chose the bottle of dye she carried carefully

all the car ride home, like a little glass vial

of blood drawn warm from her arm.

 

Oh she was hurrying me! Darting up the stairs,

double-locking the bathroom door,

opening it an hour later, sidling up to me, saying, "Well?"

For a second, I thought that she'd somehow

gashed her scalp. But it was only her streak,Vampire Red.

 

Later, brushing my teeth, I saw her mess

the splotches where dye splashed

and stained the porcelain, and in the waste bin,

Kleenex wadded up like bloodied sanitary napkins.

I saw my girlPersephone carried off to Hell,

who left behind a mash of petals on the trampled soil.

 

 

Possession

 

Nesting in my nest, she slept on my side

of the double bed, stacked the bookmy books

she was reading on my nightstand.

In the closet, her dresses pressed

against my husband's pants.

These I boxed up for her mother,

with the baby's toys.

I tossed her blue toothbrush

and her tortoiseshell comb in the trash.

 

Police took away a rug. My two best knives.

 

But the kitchen still smells of her spices

her cinnamon, curry, cloves.

The house an aromatic maze of incense and sachet.

Almost every day now something of hers

turns up. The way La Brea tar pits

keep disgorging ancient bones squeezing them

through the oily black muscles of earth

to the surface.

 

A yoga mat.

I don't need it. I already have my own.

Prayer beads. A strapless bra.

A gold ring. It's pretty.

It fits my pinkie.

 

I wash my face with her special soap,

a cool oval of white clay,

one thick black hair still glued to it.

And is it wrong to brew her herbal teas, try her

aromatherapies, her homeopathic cures,

the Rescue Remedy she'd told me

really worked? The amber bottle's full.

Why waste it? So I deposit

four bitter drops on my own tongue.

 

            first published in The New Yorker

 

 

Fortunes Pantoum

 

You will go on a long journey

You will have a happy and healthy life

You will recover valuables thought lost

You will marry and have many children

 

You will have a happy and healthy life

Your sweetheart will always be faithful

You will marry and have many children

You will have many friends when you need them

 

Your sweetheart will always be faithful

Soon you will come into a large inheritance

You will have many friends when you need them

You will succeed in your line of work

 

Soon you will come into a large inheritance

You will travel to many new places

You will succeed in your line of work

Be suspicious of well-meaning strangers

 

You will travel to many new places

A message from a distance is soon to be received

Be suspicious of well-meaning strangers

Important news from an unexpected source!

 

A message from a distance is soon to be received

You will meet a dark and handsome foreigner

Important news from an unexpected source!

Do not take unnecessary chances

 

You will meet a dark and handsome foreigner

You have a fear of visiting high places

Do not take unnecessary chances

Your misunderstanding will be cleared up in time

 

You have a fear of visiting high places

Grasp at the shadow and lose the substance

Your misunderstanding will be cleared up in time

Sometimes you worry too much about death

 

Grasp at the shadow and lose the substance

You will recover valuables thought lost

Sometimes you worry too much about death

You will go on a long journey

 

 

Blue Address Book

 

Like the other useless

things I can't bear       

to get rid ofher

nylon nightgowns,     

 

his gold-plated           

cufflinks, his wooden

shoetrees, in a size

no one I know can use

 

I'm stuck with their blue        

pleather address book,           

its twenty-six chapters

printed in ballpoint pen,

 

X'd out, penciled in,   

and after she passed away,

amended in his hand,

recording, as in a family


Bible, those generations         

born, married, and since

relocated to their graves:

Abramowitz to Zimmerman.

 

Great-uncles, aunts,

cousins once removed,

whose cheeks I kissed,

whose food I ate,

 

are in this book still

alive, immortal, each

name accompanied

by a face:

 

Fogel (Rose and Murray),

474 13th St., Brooklyn,

moved to a condo

in Boca Raton; Stein

 

(Minnie, sister of Rose),

left her Jerome Ave.

walk-up for the Yonkers

Jewish Nursing Home.

 

The baby-blue cover

has a patina of grease,

the pages steeped

in cigarette smoke

 

from years spent in my

parents' junk drawer.

Though scattered

in different  graveyards,

 

here they're all

accounted for.

Their souls disperse,

dust motes in the air

 

that I inhale.

 

 

Gelato

 

When Caravaggio's Saint Thomas pokes his index finger

past the first knuckle, into the living flesh of the conscious

perfectly upright Jesus Christ, His bloodless wound

like a mouth that has opened slightly to receive it, the vaginal folds

of parting flesh close over the man's finger as if to suck,

 

that moment after Christ, flickering compassion,

helps Thomas touch the wound, calmly guiding

the right hand of His apostle with His own immortal left,

into the warm cavity, body that died and returned to the world,

bloodless and clean, inured to the operation at hand

and not in any apparent pain

 

to accidentally brush against His arm

would have been enough, but to enter the miraculous flesh,

casually, as if fishing around in one's pocket for a coin

 

because it's in our natures to doubt,

I'd doubt what I was seeing, too.

 

Drawing closer, Thomas widens his eyes

as if to better absorb the injury, his three companions also

strain forward, I do, too,

and so would you, all our gazes straining toward

the exquisite right nipple so beautifully painted I ache to touch

or to kiss it, press my lips to the hairless chest of a god.

His long hippie auburn hair falls in loose

girlish corkscrew curls, the hairs of His sparse mustache

straggle over His upper lip, face so close that Thomas must surely

feel Christ's breath ruffling his brow.

 

The lecturer closes his notebook and we exit the auditorium.

Conveyed smoothly on the moving sidewalk, as if on water,

but not water,

whooshed through the long, shimmery tunnel connecting

the east and west wings of the National Gallery,

my friend and I hurtle away from the past, that open wound,

and toward the future

 

the dark winter colors saturating my eyes suddenly

blossom into the breezy pastels of Italy's gelato,

milk sherbet quick-frozen and swirled

into narrow ribbons of cold rainbow

unbraided into separate chilled stainless steel tubs set

under glass in a cooler case:

 

tiramisu, zabaglione, zuppa inglese,

milky breasts whipped, rippled peach and mango, pistachio,

vanilla flecked with brown dizzying splinters of bean,

coffee, caramel, hazelnut, stracciatella,

raspberry, orange, chocolate, chocolate mint; silken peaked

nipple risen from the middle of the just barely opened

undisturbed tub of lemon so pale it's almost white,

scraped with a plastic doll's spoon;

scooped and deposited on the tongue,

then melting its soothing cooling balm.

 

 












                                    

 

Home
Current Issue
Submissions
Contributors' Notes


Email this poem Printer friendly page

A CLOSER LOOK: Jane Shore

Indran Amirthanayagam

Nan Becker

C. Wade Bentley

Gigi Bradford on Hailey Leithauser

Patricia Davis

Stephen Devereux

Gail Rudd Entrekin

C.M. Foltz

Anton Frost

Paul Grayson

Hedy Habra

Patricia L. Hamilton

Maryanne Hannan on Suzette Marie Bishop

Donald Illich

Sonja James

Judy Kronenfeld

Hiram Larew

Jeanne Larsen

Sean Lause

Mark Mansfield

Laura Manuelidis

David McAleavey on Terence Winch

Mark McBride

George Moore

Christopher Norris

Barry North

Andrew Oerke

Al Ortolani

Jef Otte

William Page

Rebecca Parson

Beth Paulson

Patric Pepper

Simon Perchik

Heddy Reid

Oliver Rice

William Rivera

Joseph Saling

Dave Seter

Felicity Sheehy

Robert Joe Stout

Paul Tayyar

Jennifer Wallace

Robert Wexelblatt

Anne Harding Woodworth on Jody Bolz

Katherine E. Young

Sally Zakariya

Burgi Zenhaeusern

More

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

       

 

 

 

 

 


Last Updated: Feb 24, 2017 - 9:01:52 AM

Copyright 2005 - 2016 Cook Communication.