old car trapped in weeds
twisting sideways like a wreck
so dusty and hot to sit in
pretending to drive it
no tires on its wheels
its seats like cracked hide of elephants
fun to hold the steering wheel
make driving sounds and
look in the sun-stained rear-view mirror
the vacant lot recedes to a plain in Africa
shapes of gold animals watching through the weeds
through the gentle elephants who are
lifting their trunks above their heads
you’re not afraid
alone on this yellow plain as far as you can see
you at the lurching wheel
driving toward some kill
(After “Seated Man” by Peter Max, 1981)
He sits so long he is fading into his chair.
The room droops around him with a musty color.
The flowers on the wall wilt and are forgotten.
He never seems to close his eyes.
He and the windows stare at each other.
Someone comes in and gives a nod of greeting.
He shifts a little and disturbs his shadow.
He has to begin again. He thinks in questions :
what time for this? what time for that?
His watch ticks in his pocket.
Someone comes down the stair and
goes out the door which closes with a wheeze.
A rain begins, as if on time.
He watches the rain stream down the window.
His reflection blurs.
His clothes begin to rumple.
His hat is getting wet.
He wishes he had his umbrella.
SUMMER’S DEAD GERANIUM
The plant is in need of water.
It gasps in the sun-hot window
and curls its leaves in the feverish air.
If she, in her chair, rocking and staring,
should hear a dry, green moaning,
would she think of water?
(first pub. in Acorn, 1996, and nominated
STARING AT SUMMER
out in the dusty day where old dog sleeps
insects die against sunlight
I lie under lethargy like a rag
the mailbox holds up a metal red flag and
inside in the hot darkness
the letter regrets itself
nothing of summer is ready for
such distortion that drone in the air
takes so long to pass makes a
long dagger of blindness of its metal wing
turns to dark speck in wavery distance
but it takes all day
OF THE MIND’S HOTEL
(After “Portrait of Anna Akhmatov” by Nathan Altman, 1914)
She is waiting by the blue snowballs on the mural.
She is becoming part of the mural
facing the window light.
Her pink shawl falls to the arms of the chair.
Her legs are crossed.
She wears black stockings to go with
her black dress
and her black hair,
worn in a bun.
She taps her foot.
She looks to the left
to be in profile.
A shaft of sunlight
strikes the wall
and her face changes. A shadow
creeps around the legs of the chair
which is growing out of the wall.
Her dress turns to satin.
Her hands remain still,
but one shoulder lifts a little higher.
The mauve flowers
open a little fuller to contain
the blue dampness of the engulfing shadows.
The afternoon grows late
and still she waits
as though expecting someone still to come.
WHERE WOULD I BE
(After “The Message of the Rain” by Norman H. Russell)
Anywhere there is rain after a dry day of
long hot hours, with the slow clock
turning on its upside-down numerals,
as if time made no sense at all
and has forgotten
how to read or hold onto its private reasons
for winding around like that.
I would like to fill the town with rain,
for I like that sound,
and the wetness and the coolness,
and how it suits my thought of it
in summer, which has grown
long and tiresome, and I feel heavy as a stone
at the edge of watering, and all the
trees are dusty and whispering for rain.
(After “Ghazal of the Better-Unbegun” by Heather McHugh)
I have never been one for vanity, but have often been
moved to consult my woeful countenance in the doleful
Times when my face hated my face, I would have to
endure the indifferent punishing gaze of the truthful
Certain drunken times would find me searching my
wavering, duplicating face in the beveled, many-
Needing rescue from bad-face days, I would always
seek commiseration from the sympathetically en-
Something always provokes me to seek the rejoicing
of my inner / outer self in the ever-patient, time-
It is always
mad on Thursday, Ann.
The end of seven days
and the fear begins.
You turn your mixer on
and other clever drinks
to save yourself.
your booze is gone.
You call me
so that you won’t die.
“My eyes are wet,” you tell me
through a laugh.
“I know,” I say;
“they call it sadness.”
You read three poems
made of three disturbances.
My ground-beef sits in the kitchen
by the stove,
the burner on.
I catch your mood
and promise to pour
myself a drink
when I get off the telephone.
And now I peel
this hot, sad onion
and match your eyes
and write this poem.
(first pub. in Bogg, 1989)
39 MERMAID PLACE
(Long Beach, California, circa 1939)
How to arrive at the myth
of this small doorway
with its familiar number;
a rustle of sound on the other side;
a movement of curtain,
and rain on its one-step-
up; and twilight at all the edges—
as if you had just stepped out
of a wrong page in time.
What do you want here,
trailing your old nostalgia back
by a long shadow,
shivering with revision?
You must not enter;
someone else lives here,
someone nervous at your presence,
their replacement of you—
in your own flashback:
Is the old couch still there,
and the gas heater,
and the small tight rooms,
no smaller; can you still escape
through its tiny breezeway
to the ocean, one block away?
There the seventh-waves remember
how you escaped them;
and they reach for you now
even as you reach for the doorknob
with a wet, slow-turning hand.
This is not an ending you can use.
Go back. Pretend
you never made this journey.
Let it be.
AS IF ALL TIME
my death sits waiting
with gifts of apples
in his lap
smiling into the direction
from which i will come
the word he will say
it is a brimming afternoon
everything lazy and green
and he has eloquent eyes
for me to enter
when i see him waiting there
as if all time
were his to have
beneath that tree
(first pub. in Sou’wester, 1971, Southern Illinois Univ.)
—Medusa, with thanks to Joyce Odam for today’s wonderful poems and pix, and a note that our new Seed of the Week is Fathers. Send your poems, photos and artwork about this (or any other) subject to firstname.lastname@example.org. No deadline on SOWs, though, and for a peek at our past ones, click on “Calliope’s Closet”, the link at the top of this column, for more SOWs than you can shake a pencil at.
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