Jan C. Grossman

Two Trees

At the library door
two trees
are thrown into sudden desperate bloom
by early rainfalls and too much sun,
so that people walking by, halt,
to look and take in
the amazing births, midair— 
a canopy of white velvet and lace,
tufts of cotton, or a small glade of snow.
From here though, across the street,
with my eyes half-closed,
the billowing white and the curving boughs
are reduced to a spare ink drawing,
thin, sharp lines and a colorless wash.
But I can bring it all back again,
just by opening my eyes,
as if I am seeing what I need
and making it revive,
as if I stood below those tender branches
in the milky spill of petals,
and the trees reached down to hold me.

The Painter’s Wife

The painter’s wife is bathing.
It is her sixth bath of the day.
She sits in her round tub
behind the bamboo screen,
for this one moment,
Here submerged in the colorless expanse
of water which is never high enough,
she breathes.
But she must hold so still
make no waves
for he can appear silently
leaning lightly against the screen
the charcoal furtive against the white
as he studies her, the tub,
the heap of her skirt, blouse and boots   
on the wooden chair.
Sometimes she does not even know
he has been there
until she sees herself in color, bold,
her arm curving over the edge, fingers clenched,
her eyes closed.
There is so much to purify,
the touch of hands,
the thoughts that beat and will not stop.
She has washed away the woman in Paris,
forgiven her now that she has died,
wishing almost that they had met.
She thinks she has seen her reflected in his eyes.
The surface is glass and she curls deeper below it
making herself as clear and small as she can
until she believes she is just a drop of water
too hard to see
even for the eyes that are everywhere
too fluid
for the thinnest brush to follow.


Family is like that.
A heaviness falling,
coming at you from all directions,
covering you with frozen blankets.

Other times, it’s the rocking chair and fireplace;
all reaching at once for the white shelves,
choosing from colorful bindings while the radio plays,
and sitting then on the blue rug, well-worn and warm.

Weather is like that.
A spring wind hovering,
and one day, green and giddy bursts,
hints of the lavender crocus, the sunlit daffodil.
But the next day, sudden hail and the flakes sticking,
that recurrence of dry wintry air,
and above the slippery, invisible path,
snow gathers and grows, ready to slide.

On the Bridge
(After “Women on a Bridge Tossing Fans into a River,” early 17th century, Japan, six-panel folding screen; ink, color, and gold leaf on paper)
It is the day for throwing the fans of summer into the river.
The women gather on the bridge, young girl attendants by their sides.
They laugh as they cast away the fans they used all summer,
tossing them over the sides of the gilded bridge.
Each fan, brilliantly colored, or as pale as plum blossoms,
illustrates a scene from a well-known story.
It is as if a little library made of silk is opening in the air.

There are so many women, their hair shining
lacquer black in the afternoon light,
enough of them to fill six panels of a screen
if an artist had been waiting on the bank to see them there. 

They do this at the end of every summer,
to move on from one season to the next.
They still feel the summer’s warmth and breathe in cherry and pear,
but their thoughts are already with autumn.
More fans open, flying through the air like eager wings,
red and gold, of butterflies or birds.

One young girl slips a fan up the sleeve of her kimono.
She has coveted this fan for months,
can imagine how she will imitate the lady whom she dresses,
learn to make her own coy breezes.

A woman, a little older than the rest,
leans over the railing of the bridge.
She hesitates, as she always does,
whether it is a question of what to eat, which robe to wear or man to love.
The others laugh and call to her. They are ready to go.
It feels to her as if what she has in her hand is the summer itself,
that she is throwing away
its languid days and the lights of lanterns at dusk,
all the things said and unsaid.
She needs to close her eyes
to drop it over the edge.

Unlike the other fans, it does not open and sail.
It slides down the evening air
and lies folded on the surface of the black water,
like an autumn leaf or twig.

Jan C. Grossman’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Poet Lore, Salmagundi, The South Carolina Review, Potomac Review, Slant, Poetry East, The Midwest Quarterly, Atlanta Review, Third Wednesday, THINK, Plainsongs, Tampa Review, and The Worcester Review, among other journals. She was recently named a finalist for the 2019 Gerald Cable Book Award.



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