Holding the bobbins taut as she moves the pins,
She leans in close, inches away from the fabric
Fretted and framed on the wooden work board.
A young woman in a yellow dress
Whose lighter hair, bound tight to her head
But flowing about one shoulder,
Suggests the self-forgetful beauty of service,
Service to a discipline. Just so the painting
Forgets the background to focus on her.
Here she is, so close to the surface
The painter could touch her if he stretched his hand.
Close work in sympathy with close work.
The sewing cushion holding the colored threads
Suggests a painter’s palette. So Vermeer
Offers a silent tribute to another artist
Who’s increasing the number of beautiful
Useless things available in a world
That would be darker and smaller without them.
This is no time to ask if the woman
Wishes she were rich enough to buy the likeness,
If Vermeer can afford the lace she’s making;
No time to consider them bandying compliments.
They work in silence, and you may look on
Only if you quiet your thoughts enough
To hear the click of her needles as you lean in close
(But not so close that you cast a shadow)
And the light touch of his brush on canvas.
-Carl Dennis, “The Lace Maker” from Salmagundi Nos. 130-131 (Spring-Summer 2001)
Read an excerpt from Paul Claudel on Vermeer from Salmagundi Spring-Summer 1979 here.
He still trolled books, films, gossip, his own
past, searching not just for
ideas that dissect the mountain that
in his early old age he is almost convinced
cannot be dissected:
he searched for stories:
stories the pattern of whose
knot dimly traces the pattern of his own:
what is intolerable in
the world, which is to say
intolerable in himself, ingested, digested:
the stories that
haunt each of us
for each of us rip open the mountain
the creature smothered in death clothes
dragging into the forest
bodies he killed to make meaning
the woman who found that she
to her bewilderment and horror
had a body
As if certain algae
that keep islands of skeletons
alive, that make living rock from
trash, from carcasses left behind by others
as if algae
were to produce out of
themselves and what they most fear
the detritus over whose
kingdom they preside: the burning
fountain is the imagination
within us that ingests and by its
what is most antithetical to itself:
it returns the intolerable as
brilliant dream, visible, opaque,
makes from what you find hardest to
swallow, most indigestible, your food.
-Frank Bidart, “Of His Bones Are Coral Made” from Salmagundi Nos. 168-169 (Fall 2010-Winter 2011)
When the phone rings down the hall, I let it ring.
I sit still in my study chair and go on reading
About Cézanne. Sarah will answer it.
Most likely it’s for her, an old boy friend
From high school, or her first husband,
Calling for more advice, attentive still.
Only this evening I learned that Zola and Cézanne
Grew up together in Aix-en-Provence,
Friends through their boyhood and beyond.
What a great log of a fact
To throw on an autumn fire and muse on
When my books grow dull, to think what encouragement
Passed between them on their day-long rambles.
Why should I worry if her heart is large enough
For them all? I should be proud
To hear her voice through the wall
Grow sad when the caller’s voice grows sad
Or brighten as his brightens.
Though Cézanne in Paris found few friends
To be open with, he found a tribe of painters
To learn from, and that was enough,
The silent encouragement of high examples.
She’d tell me who the callers are
If I ever asked her, but why should I pry?
Why sift the soil if her roots sink deep enough
And the tree is flourishing?
It’s too dark to see from my window
The dogwood we planted this year.
A breeze blows in the curtains.
It carries the smell of dry leaves
Falling on a street in Paris outside the Salon.
Zola and Cézanne are glad to walk out there
And breathe the fresh air of fall.
They’re not surprised that the judges
Threw out all the entries that were dazzling.
They laugh as they walk on the leafy side-street.
They pass the shop where a woman behind the counter,
Smelling the leaves too, remembers hay
Back in the provinces and thinks of the girl
Jolting along the road on her first hay ride.
— Carl Dennis, “At Home with Cézanne” in Salmagundi No. 61 (Fall 1983)
You have broken me up into pieces.
Chunks of flesh hand-sized
and bite-sized have fallen from
one another in surprise.
Look, they are pulsing.
You have broken me up into jigsaw
They don’t lie flat but are smeared everywhere
on the walls and ceiling and floor of this
room and in the air of this room
which we do not own.
All this mess, this bleeding
of puzzle-parts, will have to
be cleaned up.
The parts must be forced back together.
They must add up to the shape
of a woman, a topographical map,
with proper directions of North and South.
— Joyce Carol Oates, “Jigsaw Puzzle” in Salmagundi No. 13 (Summer 1970)
Happy birthday to Louise Glück! Here is a poem of hers, entitled “Pomegranate”:
by Louise Glück
First he gave me
his heart. It was
red fruit containing
many seeds, the skin
to starve, bearing
out my training.
Then he said Behold
how the world looks, minding
your mother. I
peered under his arm:
What had she done
with color & odor?
Whereupon he said
Now there is a woman who loves
with a vengeance, adding
Consider she is in her element:
the trees turning to her, whole
villages going under
although in hell
the bushes are still
burning with pomegranates.
he cut one open & began
to suck. When he looked up at last
it was to say My dear
you are your own
woman, finally, but examine
this grief your mother
parades over our heads
that she is one to whom
these depths were not offered.
-From Salmagundi Nos. 22-23 (Spring-Summer 1973)
The great poet came to me in a dream, walking toward me in a house
drenched with August light. It was late afternoon and he was old,
past a hundred, but virile, fit, leonine. I loved that my seducer
had lived more than a century and a quarter. What a difference
does age make? We began to talk about the making of poems, how
I craved his green cockatoo when I was young, named my Key West
after his, like a parent naming a child “George Washington.” He was
not wearing the business suit I’d expected, nor did he have the bored
Rushmore countenance of the familiar portrait. His white tee shirt
was snug over robust chest and belly, his golden hair long, his beard
full as a biker’s. How many great poets ride a motorcycle? We
were discussing the limits of image, how impossible for word
to personate entirely thing: “sea,” ocean, an August afternoon; “elm,”
heartbreak of American boulevards after the slaughter
of sick old beautiful trees. “I have given up language,” he said.
The room was crowded and noisy, so I thought I’d misheard.
“Given up words?” “Yes, but not poems,” he said, whereupon
he turned away, walking into darkness. Then it was cooler, and
we were alone in the gold room. “Here is a poem,” he said, proffering
a dry precisely formed leaf, on it two dead insects I recognized
as termites, next to them a tiny flag of scarlet silk no larger than
the price sticker on an antique brooch. Dusky red, though once
bright, frayed but vivid. Minute replica of a matador’s provocation?
Since he could read my spin of association, he was smiling, the glee
of genius. “Yes,” he said, “that is the poem.” A dead leaf? His grin was
implacable. Dead, my spinner brain continued, but beautiful. Edge
curling, carp-shaped, color of bronze or verdigris. Not one, but two
termites—dead. To the pleasures of dining on sill or floor joist, of
eating a house, and I have sold my house. I think of my friend finding
termites when she reached, shelf suddenly dust on her fingers,
library tumbling, the exterminator’s bill. Rapacious bugs devour,
a red flag calls up the poem: Blood. Zinnia. Emergency. Blackbird’s
vermillion epaulet. Crimson of manicure. Large red man reading,
handkerchief red as a clitoris peeking from his deep tweed pocket—
Suddenly he was gone, gold draining from the walls, but the leaf,
the leaf was in my hand, and in the silence I heard an engine howl,
and through the night that darkened behind the window, I saw
light bolt forward, the tail of a comet smudge black winter sky.
—Honor Moore, “Wallace Stevens” in Salmagundi Nos. 146-147 (Spring-Summer 2005)
by Dick Allen
The phrase has a teacup in it,
one of those thin Chinese rose teacups on a delicate saucer,
and a rose garden,
long white gowns and pinned-back hair,
white trellises, women’s voices;
and down in the meadow
painters wearing straw derbies or huge sunbonnets
set up their easels—in Dutch, ‘esels,’
meaning ‘painters’ asses‘—beside picnic baskets. Lazy day.
Lovely afternoon. Just saying it
is languid, liquid, lolling, languished, lapping,
like that gesture with the right hand in which the hand
turns palm up and slowly floats with little dips and swells
off to the side where it just hangs for a moment,
its questions unanswered.
And what did we do to deserve this lovely afternoon?
It’s an amusement. It’s a fortune cookie on a plate of scones.
It’s Victorian Zen. On such an afternoon
“Bridge” and “Hearts” were invented,
croquet, park strolls, pastels, wicker chairs,
rowboats on lily ponds,
God help us, even New Age Music with its little birdcalls
and brooks running lazily between the notes.
Our fledgling century’s gone retrospect!
“Lovely,” we say. “Lovely afternoon.”
—in Salmagundi Nos. 150-151 (Spring-Summer 2006)
(Above: Claude Monet’s Adolphe Monet Reading in the Garden, 1866)
We’d like to congratulate Sharon Olds for winning the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for her collection of poems “Stag’s Leap.” Below is her poem “The Urn,” published in Salmagundi in 1992.
by Sharon Olds
I had thought it would be tapered, with a small
waist and a pair of handles, silver-
plated, like a loving cup
or tennis trophy, but there on the table
was a smooth, square box, with a military
look, the stainless steel corners
soldered up, a container that could bury
radium waste. I turned it till I turned the
name to me, that elegant animal
label like a name on a box of coarse salt—
this is who he was now, four or five
pounds of bone in a box, which I lifted
and rocked. There are people who swallow whole
cars, piece by piece, but the minister
was walking over, my stepmother approaching, I
held him and rocked him, I had not known
exactly where he was, or felt
the weight of him since I had lifted up
his head by its warm nape to get the
fine tube of oxygen harness
off his face after his death.
Now I had him back, I rubbed my
thumb over and over again
along the stainless steel. Whoever has
turned away from us, or could not
look at us, just the pressure of their weight is a blessing.
The way mushrooms settle
in a cup of light,
the way the dust
of bean vines culled
summer after summer
gathers in her breath—
she knows the untouched
circle of pine needles
beneath the tree.
Her hands are indian pipes,
the twigs of leafless trees,
white against the black
of her curved shoulders
sloping to the ground.
Tendrils of her shawl take root.
She knows the smell of moss
and violets, unravels the dark,
a stick poked in a wasp nest.
She will wander deeper,
but who would lead her back
once they saw the constellation—
lattice, fanlight, oriel—
a grid of light
grazing her face.
—Sue Standing, “A Blind Woman In the Wood” from Salmagundi No. 41 (Spring 1978)
(Above: Charles Burchfield’s Untitled)
I found a baby shark on the beach.
Seagulls had eaten his eyes. His throat was bleeding.
Lying on shell and sand, he looked smaller than he was.
The ocean had scraped his insides clean.
When I poked his stomach, darkness rose up in him,
like black water. Later, I saw a boy,
aroused and elated, beckoning from a dune.
Like me, he was alone. Something tumbled between us––
not quite emotion. I could see the pink
interior flesh of his eyes. “I got lost. Where am I?”
he asked, like a debt owed to death.
I was pressing my face to its spear-hafts.
We fall, we fell, we are falling. Nothing mitigates it.
The dark embryo bares its teeth and we move on.
-Henri Cole, “Beach Walk” from Salmagundi Nos. 153-154 (Winter-Spring 2007)