Mini-Chap from WDS
Poetry I (from Severe)
- Things To Listen For
- A Letter Home
- The Suburban Zoo
- Improved Conversations
- The Aquarium
- Hansel And Gretel
- Fossa Nova
- Sic et Non
THINGS TO LISTEN FOR
When you go there, here's what to listen for:
The snap of rubber gloves, the clink of steel,
The sweeping breaths your cheek and lashes feel.
Then listen for the inward cry, learn what
The muffled striving in the office means
Above the burping of the mild machines.
Then listen for the darkness in the leaves,
The troughs of light and dark that alternate
Beyond the droning windows where you wait.
Then when you look from bed the final time
And these sounds do not reach you any more
They'll be as lovely not to listen for.
A LETTER HOME
(originally published in the NEW YORKER)
They do not make it all that easy here
To know the city trains or how to wear
The latest look or decorate a store.
Tough luck if you're not smart and beautiful
And don't work hard in order not to fail
At that long-dreamt-of job in some hotel.
What virtues have they got? They're practical
And fast, they sweep the snow, deliver mail,
Get rid of trash, and keep the budget small,
The little girls are dressed without a patch
Each boy has got good sneakers and a watch,
And of the past no one remembers much.
The streets are what you've heard about before;
The noise is somewhat less than one can bear.
The beggars aren't as broke as they appear.
Somehow the institutions stand intact;
The church and modern art remain well liked
And no one's liberties have been revoked.
If you are young and looking there are lanes
And parks with lanterns like a hundred moons
And eyes that swim upon the flowing lawns.
And if you are run over by a tram
Its bells will ring and one or two will come
To shake their heads and say it was a shame.
But, having written that,I feet ashamed
To suddenly regret the door I slammed
Upon the face this country has assumed,
Because I've listened to the breath and voice
Beyond my door, which tried but could not pass
Within my heart, whose latch I now release
At last to silence, to a caller gone
Already out into the mincing rain
Of this strange land where the virtues are our own.
(originally published in the NEW YORKER)
The swans like wrecks in battle run
Aground upon this beach,
And bending bathers reach
For them with half a breakfast bun.
The fifty swans of Starnberger See
Have lost their dignity
And it is sad to see
Them flock beneath the Strand Cafe.
I linger on this shore defiled
By waste and cannot tell
The lame swans from the well
Or know the tame ones from the wild.
Perhaps there is no difference left,
Unless in summary things:
A blurring of the wings,
A different smell where they have slept.
All day I look for one that keeps
Away from shore and brings
The vessel of his wings
Into the far ravine, which leaps
Around these waters like a hand;
Like him I'd hold apart,
Refuse the sticky tart
They have uprooted from the sand.
Their loveliness is all a braid
Of everything I love-
What I'm complaining of
Is how we stoop and try to trade
A crust against that white estate
Which is forever lost
To everyone who tossed
Them bread and sat out talking late.
This transit of the trees and light
Whose changing crystal hones
The quality of stones
Into their evening, glancing height,
These stars asleep in chrome and keys
On shores where lovers park
And elevate the dark
With shadows onto rowing knees,
These things themselves, and rays that link
In commerce every end
Of human sight, descend
Back to their surfaces and sink,
As fifty swans compete for bread
From hands incautious of
The human way they shove
Into their circus to be fed.
The Suburban Zoo
It excludes more animals than it contains
though it monkeys and leopards the woodland pasture.
Here the familiar is wild, the exotic tame
on the margins that sylvan its culture of mildness
where the fluent sloping of the ambulant carnivores
follows the fences protecting the patrons.
The elk and gazelle savannah the somnolent hay field
and fastidious trunks rescue the glowing
alfalfa in the bough of the feeding stand
from a glimmering unfetched by elephants.
The lizards flake from branches like thirsty bark
and the python bellies its abrupt horizons.
Beyond the graveled parking spaces,
our own deer complete the shadows.
Relieved of their salience, they are heedless
of all we look at and all we are doing,
as if there were an ocean between us,
where the thistles purple the bank of the highway
and cows greet the dusk with a more ululant mooing.
The spinach in the microwave window
is popping in its pouch
as lights go out in office windows.
We should work shorter
hours in the winter.
The pain in the shoulders
which is the need to be angry
is hard to massage away
and the kitchen is draughty
where the children scrape their chairs.
There's a constant pressure in the boy,
and in the lifting curtains there are folds
with the elusiveness of the girl.
Where everything is a tool or a toy
many gifts weigh less than the flip of a curl
and everyone is doing well.
It would be so lonely
if there were nothing to sell,
if things were not always
about to go to hell!
How many offices are there
for the lights to go out in?
Eyes are not windows
to what we have doubt in.
So many things can be improved!
Shampoo, cereal, one's outlook on life...
And I take so long in the shower because of
the conversations of twenty years ago
that I keep diligently improving.
And that's why I took so long
choosing my socks, because a face
I could have jolted twenty years ago
with simple recognition keeps
impassively receding as I remember
what I should have said, and it would
seem logical that if x equals what would have
consoled a person twenty years ago, then
20x really ought to equal what might
reach him after he is gone,
especially since that distance is small enough
that a molecule of his breath or person
might yet linger in my clothes
or in the atmosphere that clowns
so wildly with the merest atoms
in the aurora or the evening smog.
And I take so long when getting dressed
because, when reaching for my shirt, my eyes
sometimes get caught where the glow
from twenty years ago patches the semi-darkness
with a disappointed, retinal ghost
that chokes the flow of motion to the hands
and will let go only if I can remember
the formula, the set piece, that we
are never done rehearsing.
Why do we sit and stare at the fishes?
Water is angriest, though seeming least like carpet
knives and razor wire or the funnels deep
in the night that flatten nursing homes as the fire
crew is dreaming of more beautiful emergencies
that one would actually want
to remember. Yet in the aquarium how
mesmerically the tetra sails, the mollies
school, the catfish scour the pebbled bottom,
beneficial bacteria having blossomed, the faint
brush of algae having rubbed the castle
and smeared that inner sward on the cool glass.
How pleasant to watch those
movements, themselves like fire: free
of repetition and development, but haunted
by an imperceptible degradation,
to watch those bubbles the inexpensive
pump, for now, anyway, is churning into the water.
Some might call it a vice, or, at best, an avoidant
behavior, gazing for hours into the aquarium.
It is easy to say so. Yet,
outside this window, the streets of the wide
world are themselves but stages of lateral
movement, documentaries in which pre-social
motives--far from ponds, rivers, and oceans--
endlessly commute from there
to there, and those faces that cannot
fill the spaces they are poured into,
though not as placid and angry as water,
yet, when they are still, glow like wind-scoured
landscapes, or, when moving, like blunted instruments
useful for only the most vehement cutting.
HANSEL AND GRETEL
(originally published in the CUMBERLAND POETRY REVIEW)
I cannot remember when I was there, or for how long.
How is it that I, a normal person, can remember so little
Of last year's vacation or my sister's visit
(I think it was Easter, though I could be wrong).
It's not someone else's life I'm so forgetful of.
Like Hansel and Gretel crumbling the loaf,
I marked a trail the birds mark only with song.
They swallowed song lyrics and baseball averages--
And terribly I begrudge them even those--
And the way the little kid looked when he bent down close
To me and loosed that undamaged smile of his.
Important images. Still, there's good in forgetting,
Elegizing old photographs is hardly fitting,
Better to leave them alone, whatever this poem says.
But maybe there's something between remembering and forgetting,
And that is what you find when you can't go home,
Can't quite remember your old friend's name,
But you follow the winding sigh his heart let in,
And find those wonderful, dangerous, gingerbread shutters;
It's the glow within them and the form of the appetite that matters,
The rumor of those singing trees and the trail you are threading.
I linger at your picture when I look
Out toward the corner and a certain statue,
Its features worn away, today's placard
Hanging from its neck. And I write to you,
My features also indiscernible.
If only you could have gone to Fossa Nova
Yesterday and heard our Reginaldus
Singing the Corpus Christi in the church,
Then you would have heard that voice that called us
To each other, to that invisible place.
I pressed my fingers in the marble threshold
Outside the guest house where St. Thomas died.
The donkey'd gouged his little hoof prints there,
Staggering, no doubt, as the brothers tried
To lower the saint to the garden of his death.
It was quiet in Fossa Nova and on the wall
Of Rocca Sicca, but Rome is a noisy town.
The window sill has put my arm to sleep,
I'm drowning in Bernini's waterfall!
Goodbye, dear. Do not take my picture down.
Have you ever noticed how adverbial
Sic et Non
phrases do most of the serious lying?
Not only "yes" and "no," but
when you want to suck back inside you
some embarrassing truth that you improvidently
uttered to those not especially eager
to hear it, for example, "I'd like to kill
that bastard!" or, "I love her
with all my heart!" then (and, who knows, if
a certain saturation
level of oxygen in the adrenal
gland compels you to do this),
but you drawl, "anyway..."
and a giant straw vacuums
the ethical space, while you
revert to the usual evasions.
If you're of fascist leanings or a fashion
designer, you said "of course," and demoted
to stupidity or datedness the naive
ones who gave your heated moment
Conjunctions, too, are bags
of deceit: "I would love to, but...
conserving the facts
while reversing their meaning.
this is why poets prefer nouns and verbs,
since mere herons and weeping
hold a certain pleasure
without all the complications and regret
of an actual Florida.
© Copyright 1999 Anthony Lombardy