27 August 2012

Ann Townsend


Trimmings

Restless, pulled outside by fog
and fitful rain, she carries scissors
and basket to trim the last wild things.

She crouches, wind-shaded,
before parsley, tarragon, thyme:
herbs weep into her hands,

spiders scatter across pine needles.
Half-dark, wholly cold,
the evening of first frost

falls down as rain, cool mouth
against her unprotected neck.
Across the lake her lover waits

in a room warm with smoke,
jukebox's muted melody,
deep brown bottles ranged

across the bar. Once she leaned
into his mouth, whiskey sweet
between them. The tiny napkins

beneath their drinks grew wet
with condensation. Then
their fingers touched,

an accidental convergence of the stars.
She shakes loose a bunch of sage.
It swings like a heavy skirt

in her hands, one caterpillar
dropping free. In the sky
the constellations fuzz and fade.



After the End

Because I left him there so you could see
        his body, broken by the fall, the hawk's

small relatives hopped from higher branches
        and called a kind of glee that he was dead.
               By afternoon, the ground around him dusted

with feathers and gravel kicked up, he looked
        like a bundle of rags tossed

from a car and tumbled there, but still
        graceful, neck flung back in the moss and dirt,
               and the yellow claws curled to question marks.

Then the trees were quiet, the other voices
        gone. When a car turned into the driveway,

I knew it wasn't you. They sat a while,
        four men, the same dark suits, carefully
               tended hair. Missionaries: I could tell

from the window where I stood beyond
        their line of sight. All their doors opened

as if by a common feeling, something
        unseen and insistent in the air.
               They did not see the hawk lying there, dead

from its long fall, or age, or driven down
        by the crows that nest in the pines above.

They did not see me. I stepped back, behind
        the curtain, and wished you home, who could see
               these things and know what is beloved, what is dead.



Mid-February, White Light

Country music and a black dog barking
on a chain, and the voices of grown children
complaining — Dad, when are we going to burn
this pile? — cast over from next door

on the first nearly warm afternoon.
Everyone has come out to see the sun.
Slow bees cluster at the porch step
and the cat has wakened in a pool of light.

So when the chainsaw coughs into gear,
to clear dead wood away from the gas line,
it's like some strange natural description —
the ground frozen in its dream of January

creaking beneath our feet,
the impetus of metal cutting into wood,
the urge to flight when the bee
hazards its way, wind-driven or scent-impelled,

into my hair — to touch, to continue.
Even our unmade bed, framed by the peeling
slats of the bedroom window,
looks not like a tranquil reminder

but disturbed, shaken from a measured stillness
of white sheets, pillows, red quilt
cast on the floor, a reduction from action to disorder.
Or the gift of a warm wind that feels wet.

Ann Townsend


11 August 2012

Noelle Kocot

[from Noelle Kocot's Sunny Wednesday, Wave, 2009] The Poem of Force after Simone Weil's Essay on The Iliad

How often have I lain beneath a roof of trees and sestinas,
Sestinas and trees, the chasmus of my timid hopes decked
Out in the styles of the day,
Losing myself in novels of corporeal sunshine and a home
Where a samovar is always gurgling on the stove, and men of frivolous
      or serious wives
Tie self-strung misery around their necks. And knowledge

Is a shining lamp that lights the hieroglyphs of love and suffering, and
      no knowledge
Is enough to put it out. I used to dream of a sestina
Whose very presence would ignite the longing of an ancient wife
Who'd swim the matrices of grace into the waves that swept the deck
Of a ship leaving its home
Of drowsy cows and frogs waiting by the river as the day

Blinked over never-ending fields. But today
I feel in almost perfect balance with the world, and any knowledge
That I had or have is but a lying down in the glass casket of my
      thoughts, the long small home
I can barely even find were it not for this sestina
Crashing like painted rain against my eyes decked
With brazen orchid light. And were I not a wife

 And mother to these thoughts, I'd take my wifely
Ringless hand and draw the curtains on the days
Of an atavistic reaching out and clear the deck
For something more untoward than the acknowledgment
That we are riveted between laughter and the abyss, like characters
      in a sestina
With all the lines crossed out. I find my home

When I travel the near and distant byways, I find my home
With the wives
Of absent heroes put to sleep in the sleep of bronze, and in sestinas
That haven't borne witness to a single day
Of war, arrows flying on both sides but none to pierce the knowledge
That we ourselves are a deck

 Of marked cards that decorate
The history of our homeless
Tribe. To know
This is to understand Hector's grief for the long-robed wives
As he stood outside Troy's walls in the rising of the day
Waiting for his death, and trembling, his soul mourning its fate of
      being trapped inside a thing — to understand this is to return to an
      age of epics, not sestinas.

For now I have only the bare knowledge of all wives
Who've ever decked their homes
With the talismans of the day, and my talismans are sestinas.

Noelle Kocot