for Catherine Scherer
"I’ll go to Santiago
in a coach of black water”
- Federico Garcia Lorca
In answer to your question: Yes,
time does go faster here.
The light above the Hudson changes
with a scintillating rapidity.
Such a display, I am told,
can cause seizures in the susceptible few.
Dogs do well though, chasing
their ever-changing shadows
and squirrels quickly learn to sit
open-mouthed beneath a tree
while November shakes acorns
and the season earns its name.
With cats, however, it’s an entirely
different story. My own Emily
has found a suitcase which smells
of that place we most recently left.
She’s wrapped herself around it
in the dark corner of a closet,
waiting to be returned. I check the mirror
each morning to assure myself
that it is not I who hovers there.
Thank you for the note from Lorca.
We have those same black water coaches here.
When it rains the herringbone pattern
of the red brick fills and obliterates
the sense of space. This can be confusing.
Just yesterday I wrongly connected
two people in the laundromat - a man
reading a newspaper and a woman
folding clothes. I myself avoid
the washers with the small windows.
I want no one here to see the worn,
the ragged, the missing.
Published in Salmagundi #108 (Fall 1995)
"No matter what, nobody can take away the dances you’ve already had."
-Gabriel García Márquez
Taking into consideration all your loveliness
why can’t you burn your bootsoles and your
draft card? How can you sit there saying yes
to war? You’ll be a pauper when you die, sore
boy. Dead, while I still live at our address.
Oh my brother, why do you keep making plans
when I am at seizures of hearts and hands.
Come dance the dance, the Papa-Mama dance;
bring costumes from the suitcase pasted Ile de France,
The S.S. Grvpsholm. Papa’s London Harness case
he took abroad and kept in our attic laced
with old leather straps for storage and his
scholar’s robes, black licorice - that metamorphosis
with its crimson hood. Remember we played costume . .
bride black and black, black, black the groom?
Taking into consideration all your loveliness,
the mad hours where once we danced on the sofa
screaming Papa, Papa, Papa. Me in my dress,
my nun’s habit and you black as a hammer, a bourgeois
priest who kept leaping and leaping and leaping.
Oh brother, Mr. Gunman, why were you weeping,
inventing curses for your sister’s pink, pink ear?
Taking aim and then, as usual, being sincere,
saying something dangerous, something egg-spotted
like I love you, ignoring the room where we danced,
ignoring the gin that could get us honestly potted,
and crying Mama, Mama, Mama, that old romance:
I tell you the dances we had were really enough,
your hands on my breast and all that sort of stuff.
Remember the yellow leaves that October day
when we married the tree hut and I didn’t go away?
Now I sit here burying the attic and all of your
loveliness. If I jump on the sofa you just sit
in the corner and then you just bang on the door.
YOU WON’T REMEMBER! Yes, Mr. Gunman, that’s it!
Isn’t the attic familiar? Doesn’t the season
trample your mind? War, you say. War, you reason.
Please, Mr. Gunman, dance once more, commenting
on costumes, holding them to your breast, lamenting
our black love and putting on that Papa dress.
Papa and Mama did so. Can we do less?
Published in Salmagundi #9 (Spring 1969)
Dark herald, self-conceived in the desert waste,
What yang or yin enfolds your enigma best?
Memory, whose wing of fire displaces the past -
Or the present, brooding in its ashen nest?
Singing in the flames of Hell, triumphant Christ
Harrowing with Being the Nihil of the Beast -
Or, one foot lifted, one foot planted in dust,
Lord Shiva dancing, hammer in his fist?
You are the emblem of emigrants who crossed
Ocean and continent on their long flight West,
And Entropy’s immobile image: chaste
And labile, fluent at rest and saved when lost.
Is time your circle that never comes to rest,
Or the long flight of an arrow Brahma released?
Shakespeare appoints the swan your funeral priest,
The dove your spouse, at rites that you outlast -
Your true counterpart is Speech, the profane ghost:
The quick boy brandishing his lightning-burst.
Published in Salmagundi #124/125 (Fall 1999- Winter 2000)
RB: With your recent birthday (your 49th), you are entering what Mac Neice called “the middle stretch.” Do you feel you are at a pivotal point in your work?
SH: Ever since I published a book, I have felt at a pivotal point. Publication is rather like pushing the boat out; then the boat/book turns into a melting ice floe and you have to conjure a second boat which again turns into a melting floe under your feet. All the stepping stones that you conjure disappear under the water behind you. So the condition of being on a moving stair that gets you only as far as you are is constant. But like everyone else, I have the sense of two special moments, in your 30s, and then some where later down the line-in your 40s or 50s; in fact, you have to start three times. First, you start to write and that’s one initiation, the sine qua non of the other two, obviously.
RB: Are you drawing here on the Wordsworthian format you mention in your TLS piece on Plath?
The first word is: open for me, I come
out of the cold, give me writing
to burn away emphasis and free me, today
on the verge of the sleepwalker’s ladder,
at the 26th turn, precisely,
of this fight to the finish with death
Because time works in me now, transfigured
to matter, because I divine in the air
that bears my veins upward that the flight is not mine
but another’s, a saggitarian animal abroad in the streets,
alcohol and syllables
celebrating the birthday of bedlam in the worst syntax
of December, foreseeing all things in
the mirrorless doorframe, the love
and the vertigo, the simultaneous state
of being everywhere always:
Is there a God
in this breaking of vessels, or a world
about to explode?
Published in Salmagundi #82/83 (Spring- Summer 1989)
but the saplings, bush and grass inch closer
every season. Trees towering up the hill
lean down and speak their aphorisms now.
No need to measure one leafs discolor,
a haze, the height of corn. This shift
in earth and air we fear has brought us
to each other. We’ll close the windows;
winter birds will gather on the feeder.
At night the cats won’t sit beside the door
waiting to go out and hunt; in fact, today I woke
to find them both: the black one curved
against my stomach, the white one draped
upon my hip like arms. The nakedness past
loss, the body’s lapse, the monumental winds,
some seven days. We will listen to the night sky
begin its dreadful grind into a new command.
In May I wasn’t dreaming crickets and cicadas
hauling up long evenings from the wet lands.
Young people filled the empty chairs with rites….
Fecundity consumes. Who’d think that our reward
is knowing this? Milkweed stiffens, body-husks
reverse their genuflections, burst, convert themselves.
Published in Salmagundi #126/127 (Spring-Summer 2000)
The rhubarb king sits in the garden,
resting under the arms of a hackthorn,
that ancient tree, while the court photographer-
my sister, his daughter- snaps him there.
His curved-handled cane leans
like a good dog against his leg.
His cap is slanted, his cheeks shaved,
his moustache- once fine and black, sleek
and mean- has turned into an old king’s
cowcatcher. His eyes, guarded, defying,
run to blue, as if his kingdom was not
always as bountiful or beautiful as wanted,
not as smashing as the rhubarb stalks
he grips, like nightsticks, giant, leaf-topped
scepters on his left and right, clubs that
furl into heart-shapes; toxic, oil-tough
with ruffled edges. Like the kingdom
I ran from.
In the window behind this instant,
among suncatchers and a row of snakeplants
withering in crockery, I see the ethereal
form in the palace, the rhubarb queen.
I can make out a wing, her chest,
her garlanded head. She’s
peering past the king as if calling,
calling for her hands. His are there, brown,
strong. How is she to make something
sweet of his kingdom, without hands?
And hers were dear, very dear and deft.
My sister, long after the king’s death,
sends me this photo. I take it upon myself
to write the caption: All history is myth.
Published in Salmagundi #139/140 (Summer- Fall 2003)
"I Wish It Would Rain" the song referred to by poet Reginald Shepherd in our most recent poem post of the day, "While the Temptations Are Singing ‘I Wish It Would Rain’"
Steal all you can from the gods,
chloroplasts are sipping sunlight
through green elliptic leaves
from a sky sown with stars that can’t
be seen right now, except for that one, vacant
incidental wind’s escorting light
across the street of lunchtime traffic
jams, a world of worshipped injury
and hour-long delays due to an accident
in the express lane. Step over
bees in the parking lot swarming
across a glaze of spilled soda
on asphalt, step over these crumpled
and smeared headlines. The particular
can burn up, noon streets
are paved with water, a distortion
in the visual field. Waxy live oak leaves
insist propose, propose, while one dissents
dispose; rustle restively. We don’t know what
that dream is for, we don’t know when
the heat will break, some clouds will huddle,
mutter, snap, and spill, pour out the poor
in torrents, with only bones to break their fall.
(Their lives are brackish water, pour
it out.) Look, one has landed in the median
on Nine Mile Road, less colorful
than the flowering crepe myrtle
bushes, holding up a cardboard sign: I’m a
war vet, discarded evidence
of empire, the shadow the present
casts. Pull down the visor, shut down
the glare (don’t stare). “Thus gods
and anti-gods conspired against them.”
The hours ask Are you a wheel or are you
a spoke?, hubcaps flash their
chrome blurs and flourishes, wheel past
him, green light, turn here. Hunger says
cheeseburgers two for one today, says will work
for any change. So this
is history, one thing damning
another, hurrying past the speed limit
through Car City, Fun City next right,
not the same road at all.
Published in Salmagundi #150/151 (Spring-Summer 2006)