Frances Richard won the 2000 Marlboro Prize in Poetry for her poems, "Air Fern", "Integument", and "In California (Tide Pool)" selected by Brenda Hillman


In California (Tide Pool)

We play at lowest ebb.

Pacific peels away, depressions
where a stone spun, wore itself
a hole over (time), trapped

       a lens, cupsful

Cold laps our boots. We stash them anyway, squat
thigh to thigh, grip slick juts with bare toes.

nubs, encrustations, spiny, conical
       distillate and/vs.
          whole, enormity
        You wear a flannel shirt, faint
        odor, tea-tree oil.
        We peer and balance.

Sea cucumber, gelatinous mottled
tube. Horned, like a slug, and starfish wedged
in niches, private where we reach, stroke
burnt-orange-purplish radial symmetry--I know

     a tendon in you that is stretched, silk
          of a man's thigh
          smooth inner
          patch (I've often
          thought this: briny creature
          handful, shy)—

Horizon wipes to shimmer, Dogs and joggers,
Pacific Coast Hwy hush, and this rolling
          rolling gray
musical body
keeps arriving, re-advancing. Eats
the littoral. Moist, glottal sound
        between us, mollusk;
echinoderm, we're dizzy

with squirm and float but still your forefinger
guides mine into anemones. Fine scilla catch,
         tear gently, hermit crabs
        joust their blue legs. A zone,

a rhythm shrinking, hair blowing in coronas.
            Blinds us.



(an enveloping layer, as a skin, membrane or husk)

Rain hangs its partition. Chloroflorocarbon
and lame, the end of the street

by the park closed off, a silk tent.

Matrons' curtains swagged
flush to their glass, exterior volutes grim
with pigeon-shit, rain-smell of oxygen
               and this pressure, as of minnows
nibbling, you've just exited

Pricey ice creams, the perfect skin on everybody
passing. Things emptying, columns bruising through
the wet newspaper. Gooseflesh, subtle quilting
rises in your down coat. The sludgy minutes
quicken, sir heroically
breastplate, late April, fish-scale

Slurry in the gutter. Her china-cabinet
arid garden-apartment doors, her eggshell
ceiling while you push the armchair's velveteen
back, back, with a fingernail and talk about,
my mother, pause, my mother. Kleenex

and the doves' guano dissolve. Quivering bodies
of trucks at a stoplight, white panels washed
in grit like wept mascara. She lets you go.

There is no problem, just
                 afternoon, its severe



Air Fern

To live on nothing. As if the atmosphere
of my bedroom were the sea
I had a bay window. A blond wood
pair of chairs and table. The innocent
two-foot space beneath. My kneecaps
were tough little china
I had a rocker, with gold helixes
painted on, white linoleum
flecked with gold in particles, Bathwater
jelly in the tub but I'm telling you I don't
remember her. Or then, or anything
but this box of textures, green-blue
indoor/outdoor nap of carpet
in her room (corollary slipstream
of the hall) and the framed
crewel-work rhinoceros she sewed for me
in the hospital, The air fern
who gave me that? It sat

on the upper corner of the frame. Gossamer
clot of algal health, dumb lower
life, it sucked up
nothing quietly. It flourished.


Frances Richard is an educator and critic who has taught at Barnard College, New York University, and The New School for Social Research. She is the recipient of a grant from the Barbara Deming/Money for Women Fund. She is nonfiction editor of the literary journal Fence, an editor of the art and culture journal, Cabinet, and a frequent contributor to Artforum. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. Her book, See Through, was published by Four Way Books.

Copyright ©2000 Frances Richard

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