Edwin Zimmerman

from A Piercing Happiness:

In Pontresina


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.



Lovely A.


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.



Pursuing Whales


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.



Burial Arrangements


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—

who sing.

And a new poem:

Easy Women


(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.


In addition to Edwin Zimmerman's lifelong love of poetry (including service on the Poetry Board of the Folger Shakespeare Library), he has pursued strong interests in other art forms, such as music, dance, and Turkoman textiles (including service as President of the Washington Textile Museum for ten years).  In his professional life, he served as a Supreme Court clerk to Justice Stanley Reed, a Professor of Law at Stanford Law School, an Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Antitrust Division at the U.S. Department of Justice, and since 1969, practiced law at Covington & Burlington in Washington, D.C.  His poems have appeared in Partisan Review and elsewhere.  He is the author of a book of poems, A Piercing Happiness.



Current Issue
Contributors' Notes

Email this poem Printer friendly page

A CLOSER LOOK: Philip Dacey

Javy Awan

Ann Gilligan Bond

Shirley J. Brewer

Rick Bursky

Abigail Carroll

Bill Christophersen

Maryann Corbett

Dana Crum

Maureen Donatelli

Karen Greenbaum-Maya on Judy Kronenfeld

Kirsten Hampton

Maryanne Hannan on Kim Roberts

Kathleen Hellen

Paul Hopper

Gray Jacobik on Anne Harding Woodworth

Michael Jones

Remembering Ann Knox

Jean L. Kreiling

Dane Kuttler

Merrill Leffler

Gregory Luce

Greg McBride on Rick Bursky

Bob Meszaros

John Milbury-Steen

Rosanna Oh

Richard Peabody

Roger Pfingston

Heddy Reid

Oliver Rice

Elisavietta Ritchie

W.M. Rivera

Karen Sagstetter

David Sloan

Michael Spring

Naomi Thiers

Michele Wolf

Anne Harding Woodworth

P. Ivan Young

Edwin Zimmerman














Last Updated: Mar 10, 2021 - 2:35:35 PM

Copyright 2005 - 2021 Cook Communication.