Four Poems by Alfred Corn
Calme bloc ici-bas chu d’un désastre obscur . . .
His name alone seemed somehow to afford
A paradoxical specific for
The writer’s stalemate, as Bloch felt no need to
Séparer l’ivraie d’avec le bon grain.*
The bullied Narrator shrugged and agreed to
Let pass Leconte de Lisle and poems bent on
Communicating O’s of mild disdain
For retro features like plot or reasoned content.
How sort that with Bloch’s anti-Jewish jibes,
His expertise re Paris’s top brothels?
The will to climb, to rent compliant Symbols!
Celebrity unfailingly acquires
An imbecilic sheen, so no surprise
When later scenes peg him as just another
Power-broker, predestined for the part
And blotto on renown. Though topnotch authors
Sometimes sing islands into legends (see
Calypso’s, Sappho’s, Prospero’s or Crusoe’s)
Most are tourist traps ads have invented
As bland fatuity’s preferred resort.
*“Separate the tares from the wheat.”
Thoughts are water, they go where led.
Three yeas decline into a nay
As a spider drops down on its thread.
“You’ve got your shelter; now find bread.”
Until the last word of the play
Thoughts are water, they go where led.
If you don’t like what you are fed,
Remember, friend, you have a say.
“A spider drops down on its thread”:
That image echoes in my head.
Yet notice how few hairs are gray!
Thoughts? Like water, they go where led.
One of my soldier forbears fled
A war, refusing to be prey.
A spider drops down on its thread
Like streams that seek their level, dead
Reckoning through dark and day.
Thoughts plunge like water, heavy as lead:
A spider drops down on its thread.
Reconciled? Oh, more than,
once hands, feet, guts, eyes,
mouth, had come to life in stone.
Satisfied to stand still,
untempted by elsewheres
or quarrels. In truth, mere topics
hardly mattered. But I—
I could break the silence
(that second universal language)
up into a music.
Lichens, plant-kingdom opportunists,
fostered by shade and sunlight:
no one told me their feathery
brushwork would shiver and thrill
when orange and gray splashes
mapped marble linen drapery
and high-gloss dermis alike.
mosses invaded and muted
the whirlpool ear,
they velveted my elbows,
knees, my cheeks and lips.
I had come to learn
the taste of endlessness,
and that—that taught me the rest. . . .
“Being there”: fully, strongly grounded, solid
As passages in Rilke, Heidegger.
Is there a “there” in Swan Point Cemetery,
An argument for Dasein in the Green
Burial slot I snapped up late last year
Before their inventory’d been depleted?
And barely in time: pandemic taking hold,
The dead in dozens, hundreds, immigrated—
A populous city, all said and done, not morbid,
Instead, a sculpture park where no one’s hounded
By news, stop and go traffic, spending, getting,
Toxic tsunamis, pandemonium.
Right now, it’s less than quiet. Riverside,
The groundskeeper sweeps his leaf-blower,
Gusting oak or beech leaves high into
The air, cyclones of frenzied solar panels
Gone sybilline. The last of them will float
Across to the other shore—a late hour preview,
Painterly, tranquil under cloudlight. Be
Here Now: right meditation’s unforced goal….
Breathing here now, beside a plot today
Autumnal; with winter, spring, not far behind.
A certainty in our rootless, dodgy era,
Some future date will see me settle in.
Strongly grounded. Constant. Being here.
© Alfred Corn
Three Poems by Grace Schulman
Faces on the lid of the Knabe Grand
caught my eye when I tried “The Happy Farmer,”
dreaming of ploughs far from my rutted sidewalks.
Digging, not earth but notes, and neither happy
nor a farmer, I hit wrong keys,
taunted by the metronome. As a distraction,
I stared at smiles in silver frames. War dead.
I never knew them. Heavy-fingered, longing
for their lightness, I saw an uncle waving;
somebody’s hell-raiser climbing an oak;
an aunt, a doctor, silk scarf blown in wind.
Suddenly my face appeared among the faces
soon to hide or be interred. The woman’s
deep-set eyes in the black-white photograph,
mine in the frame glass, merged, until
the wind lifting her scarf blew through me.
Now, when I stir to brighter images —
a yellow coat, a fawn’s sleek arabesque —
I think of photographs, and of Aeneas,
who, in a strange city, stunned by a shrine
with pictures of his own city’s destruction,
broken statues, fires, the dead, cried out:
sunt lacrimae rerum: there are tears in things.
Not raised but found, this dancer, idling on trash,
abandoned in the compactor room,
fated to be smothered in a green bag,
its seven blooms startling, hot pink smiles
in deadpan weather, on the year’s shortest
day, with the long night ahead. Gingerly,
sponging off ashes, eggshells, silvery
powder (talc, I hope), from its mossy planter,
I slide it toward high windows, and it changes
like fire: sherry to red-purple to magenta,
colors of blood, of beaujolais, of sin
and holiness, of saints on stained-glass panels,
light shining through, a diva’s fan.
Fuchsia, the color named for a plant
that must have jolted Leonhart Fuchs,
the botanist, when he discovered it
in the 16th century, my orchid’s
serious name is phalaenopsis,
for moths in flight. Its wingy blooms
blink, teasing, just out of eye’s reach.
Sunsets they turn the color of red ochre
mixed with manganese, powdered and blown
through reeds by the early cave painters, fearful
of beasts, to glitter from a bison’s frame;
I don’t know the exact shade of red-purple
the Phoenicians used to dye robes for kings,
but I think this was it, also the color
of a rose Yeats set afire to see its ghost.
In my mind the ancient Egyptian
who painted amulets inside a royal tomb
wished only for this sizzling fuchsia
to wake the beloved dead, as he mixed gypsum
with rose madder in futile passion.
Once as a child I wandered in the park
bordering my usual asphalt streets,
and saw a flower, red-purple on a stem
with wings. I called to it, my angel.
Now I give an orchid air and water,
turn down the lumiere, stroke the crooked stem
that darts out to reveal wings whose vermillion,
burning against a window facing brick,
defies endings on this cold year’s end.
is not a campfire
but an occulting light,
a field of fireflies
that blink on-off-on,
the tree you planted
fall to the ground
half-rotten, half sweet,
the street’s jackhammers
that fall quiet at night,
the black skimmer’s
the life together,
the long marriage,
in its dank joy.
Under a half-moon
you held my body
half the night
as I lay in your arms,
happy families are unalike.
I choose you
with your handicap,
not to mention
in forsaking all others
for the chance
of our wholeness.
I take you,
my choice as certain
as plankton on sand
and arcs to the stars.
© Grace Schulman