The Ada Poemsby Cynthia Zarin
These electric poems are set in a Nabokovian landscape of memory in which real places, people, and/i>
A dazzling story of obsessive love emerges in Cynthia Zarin’s luminous new book inspired and inhabited by the title character of Nabokov’s novel Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle, who was the lifelong love of her half brother, Van.
These electric poems are set in a Nabokovian landscape of memory in which real places, people, and things—the exploration of the Hudson River, Edwardian London, sunflowers, Chekhov, Harlem, decks of cards, the death of Solzhenitsyn, morpho butterflies—collide with the speaker’s own protean tale of desire and loss. With a string of brilliant contemporary sonnets as its spine, the book is a headlong display of mastery and sorrow: in the opening poem, “Birch,” the poet writes “Abide with me, arrive / at its skinned branches, its arms pulled / from the sapling . . . the birch all elbows, taking us in.” But Zarin does not “Destroy and forget” as Nabokov’s witty, tender Ada would have her do; rather, as she writes in “Fugue: Pilgrim Valley,” “The past’s / clear colors make the future dim, Lethe’s / swale lined with willow twigs.” Like all enduring love poetry, these poems are a gorgeous refusal to forget.
A riveting, high-stakes performance by one of our major poets, The Ada Poems
extends the reach of American poetry.
- Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.10(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.40(d)
Read an Excerpt
Bone-spur, stirrup of veins-white colt a tree, sapling bone again, worn to a splinter,
a steeple, the birch aground
in its ravine of leaves. Abide with me, arrive at its skinned branches, its arms pulled from the sapling, your wrist taut,
each ganglion a gash in the tree's rent trunk, a child's hackwork, love plus love,
my palms in your fist, that
trio a trident splitting the birch, its bark papyrus, its scars calligraphy,
a ghost story written on
winding sheets, the trunk bowing, dead is
my father, the birch reading the news of the day aloud as if we hadn't
heard it, the root moss lit gas,
like the veins on your ink-stained hand-
the birch all elbows, taking us in.
Aubade Against Grief
Chaste sun who would not light your face pale as the fates who vanished
when we turned aside; recluse whom grace returned and by returning banished
all thought but: Love, late sleeper in the early hours, flesh of my bone,
my faults—tardiness, obtuse remit of my own heart, unruly haste
to keep my mouth on yours, to wipe the slate clean, to atone—
what could I want but to wait
for that light to touch your face,
chaste as Eros in the first wishedon rush of wings?
“ . . . a matter of changing a slide in a magic lantern.”
I wish we were Indians and ate foie gras and drove a gas- guzzler and never wore seat belts
I’d have a baby, yours, cette fois,
and I’d smoke Parliaments and we’d drink our way through the winter
in spring the baby would laugh at the moon who is her father and her mother who is his pool and we’d walk backwards and forwards
in lizard- skin cowboy boots and read Gilgamesh and Tintin aloud
I’d wear only leather or feathers
plucked from endangered birds and silk from exploited silkworms we’d read The Economist
it would be before and after the internet
I’d send you letters by carrier pigeons who would only fly from one window
to another in our drafty, gigantic house with twenty- three uninsulated windows and the dog would be always be
off his leash and always find his way home as we will one day and we’d feed small children
peanut butter and coffee in their milk and I’d keep my hand glued under your belt even while driving and cooking
and no one would have our number except I would have yours where I’ve kept it carved on the sole of my stiletto
which I would always wear when we walked in the frozen and dusty wood and we would keep warm by bickering
and falling into bed perpetually and entirely unsafely as all the best things are
—your skin and my breath on it.
Meet the Author
Cynthia Zarin was born in New York City and educated at Harvard and Columbia. She is the author of three previous books of poetry—The Watercourse, Fire Lyric, and The Swordfish Tooth—and several books for children. She is a longtime contributor to The New Yorker. The recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Ingram Merrill Foundation, and winner of the Peter I. B. Lavan Younger Poets Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, she teaches at Yale and lives in New York City.
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