Moira Egan

These new poems are from Synæsthesium, Moira Egans latest collection, which won The New Criterion Prize and will be published by Criterion Books this fall. Synæsthesium is an unusual exploration of ekphrasis—poetry that takes as its muse a real or imagined work of art. The first half of the book, Olfactorium, is inspired by various fragrances, and the real and imagined olfactory flashbacks induced by them. The second part, Love and Work, is a more traditional ekphrastic sequence, based on the drawings and paintings of Suzanne Valadon, the bold and unconventional model-turned-artist, peer and probable lover of Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, and other Impressionists.

Magnolia Romana

The girl has never seen such plants and trees,
the swaying, pointy cypresses;
the lemons with their shiny, dark green leaves
and fruit as big as fists;
the fragrant basil in the garden near
the lotus pond. Those blossoms, pink
and white, so orderly, mystify her,
how roots can delve so deep in mud. To sink
into it, squelch and play, she longs—another day.
For now she knows to keep her shoes pristine,
the years unsullied,

                                  till that white-hot urge
will waft, like sweet magnolia on the breeze.
She’ll hold the flowers to her face,
æstival; greedy love nests in the back
of fields or barns, where slivers of sunlight warm
the cedar planks. Forever she’ll perceive
the scent of hay as aphrodisiac.

Cuir de Russie

I used to curl up on my west side ledge
and watch the river alchemize from gold
to lead, and spirits sink from hope to dread
as evening, ever earlier, took hold.

The brittle birches with their ghostly white
and spiky branches, waving in controlled
formation with the wind, the anthracite
of winter sky. Their beauty left me cold.

Tonight, years later, I think of those trees
in other ways, the paper white of bark
he peeled to make a Valentine for me;
the smirchy-luscious fragrance of the tar
the Russians used to tan their leather boots.

He comes home, kisses me, then straightaway
goes to the bedroom to take off his shoes.
The cat bee-lines behind him, plays with the laces.
I make us tea with whiskey and some honey
just as the wind kicks up and howls outside.
I say to him, Old shoe, it’s really funny.
I never thought I’d learn to love the night.

Au Lac
                      for Giuliano and Giuseppina

He’s planks and angles; she’s all liquid curves,
diaphanous, a water lily floating
(a surface to belie tough roots and nerves
of adamant). He guides her to the boat,
unsteady both, they hold hands on the bow.
Her hair, osmanthus, eddies in the breeze,
freshwater spray. He bends to kiss her, Now,
he says, his shyness vanished, as if leaves
of fig and bitter orange could mask the fear.
Her face goes rose, her lips are soft, a bud
just waiting for its blossoming.

                                                   The years
accrete, seasons of jasmine, cedar wood,
the ancient story traced on brittle pages.
Papyrus lost, shipwreck of memory,
her amber eyes have dimmed, her voice has faded.

She’s ever sweet, and every night he weeps.

Portrait de Miss Lily Walton
(after the painting by Suzanne Valadon, 1922)
Miss Lily Walton sits
composed on the Empire chair,
her day’s work over.

Miss Lily Walton takes
pride in her work,
the clever arrangements:
a house plant between
an extravagant doll
and the painted oval box,
the dust-free sheen
of the marble sideboard,
and the curtain
draped gracefully down.

Miss Lily Walton, in
her starched white blouse
plain black jumper
and very sensible shoes,
is almost a part
of the family. And after all,
England is not that far.

Miss Lily Walton, with
silver-red hair pinned up
and eyes of intelligent blue,
looks quite comfortable
holding the family’s
favorite cat, the prepossessing
ginger, Raminou.

Moira Egan is an American poet/translator who lives in Rome. She has published six volumes of poetry (four in the U.S., two in Italy). With her husband, Damiano Abeni, she has published, in Italy, more than a dozen volumes in translation by such authors as John Ashbery, John Barth, Aimee Bender, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Anthony Hecht, Charles Simic, Mark Strand, and Charles Wright.



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