Old War: Poems

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From a winner of the Kingsley Tufts Award, a new collection that explores the vagaries of love and the place of beauty in a time of war.

In October 2002, at the age of fifty, Alan Shapiro collapsed while playing basketball. A few months later, on the eve of America’s invasion of Iraq, he remarried. The beginning of this happy chapter of his life coincided with a keen reminder of his own mortality and the menacing nature of the times we live in. The poems in Old War, Shapiro’s ...

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Overview

From a winner of the Kingsley Tufts Award, a new collection that explores the vagaries of love and the place of beauty in a time of war.

In October 2002, at the age of fifty, Alan Shapiro collapsed while playing basketball. A few months later, on the eve of America’s invasion of Iraq, he remarried. The beginning of this happy chapter of his life coincided with a keen reminder of his own mortality and the menacing nature of the times we live in. The poems in Old War, Shapiro’s ninth and most innovative collection, were written under the double aspect of love and fear, of hope that comes with any fresh start and the sense that history will eventually undo or destroy whatever we struggle to make. Through an impressive variety of forms and styles, from first-person lyrics to dramatic monologues spoken by characters ranging from a country and western singer to a Jewish comic doing standup in heaven, they cast brilliant light on the nature of art, love, and family in a world defined by brutality, deception, and instability.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618452439
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 3/11/2008
  • Pages: 96
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.25 (d)

Meet the Author

Alan Shapiro is the William R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He is the author of nine acclaimed books of poetry. He is a former recipient of the Kingsley Tufts Award and the Los Angeles Book Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He was recently elected as a fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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Read an Excerpt

OLD WAR Where is the bower?
Inside what book Beside which window In an ancient city I went to more Than thirty years ago?

Where is the bower?
The bright mesh Made from the names Of flowers that I, Beyond the page, Could not identify?

Where is the bower?
The loosened tress, The laugh, the eager Rustle of the hand That slips the thin Strap from the willing dress,

And as it falls The Dear heart How like you this?
Plain courtesy Of wanting what Is wanted when it is?

And when the bomb Exploded and The window shattered In a silver shower As oddly pretty As any in the bower,

A silver shower Showering red Over the words That told how birdsong Answered birdsong Everywhere overhead,

And everyone Who could was running While the bloody page Went fluttering out Into the city Where the old war raged—

Where was the bower?
And where is it now?
And how do I Get back to where The dress is falling But not yet on the ground?

SUSPENSION BRIDGE

Inbound over the Mystic River, V on V of girders out the window, and beyond the V’s a smokestack gushing smoke that billows hugely white against the darkness

and, even drifting, seems somehow more solid than the span it drifts across and swallows up entirely, the bridge suspended from a cloud.
Sensation of war. Deployments.

Little lights along the catwalks and ladders running up and down the water towers near the shore, and headlights shining into taillights flashing on and off as far

as where the lanes converge and branch off into ramps that cars swerve out in front of other cars to take, while other cars swerve out from on-ramps, speeding or slowing as they merge.

Sensation of war. Of being mobilized.
Each urgent vehicle, each signal and countersignal, flash of brake light, finger reaching for the scan, the tuner—all the too-small-

even-to-be-recognized- as-small maneuvers of a massive operation, effect of orders being passed down through a steel chain of command, from car to car,

from bridge to central artery to boulevard and avenue and street through the deserted civic heart of picture windows that the headlights soon will sweep across, sweeping

across like searchlights over the momentary faces and torsos of mannequins arranged like decoys in civilian dress, in all the postures of suspended living.

PASSENGER

The Paradise Express is in the station.
Someone in a voice like mine, but mine made strange by coming to me from outside myself, is saying, This is Paradise, end of the line.

Outside the window there are multiples of shadows hurrying in steam along the platform, dragging their sullen little bags behind them, hurrying where, for what, with whom?
and then I’m there

among them, Mr. Baffled, Mr. Cunning, Mr. Just My Luck, all multiples of me as we glide up the moving stairs beside a tide of other people gliding down, of others all

so beautiful as they descend, so tall, so fresh, that as I rise I hear from everywhere the stranger with a voice like mine announce that the Paradise Express is now departing—

It’s then I know I’ve reached my destination, the last stop, when the harsh whistle comes to my ear by disappearing till it leaves me here on the floor in the terminal, under the giant clock.

DENTIST

Spare me the judgment seat, the immaculate apron with its little chains.
Spare me the old saw of a tooth for a tooth, and the pearly whites of the good doctor who brings the blinding bright light down. Spare me That eternal Novocain.
That leaden sheet.

I know the drill.
I know the joke About the final cavity I’m soon to fill.
Spare me.

LANGUAGE

Some time after the neighbor died and the house emptied, you were awakened in the dead of night by the howling of his pudgy, half-blind, arthritic beagle, who had found his way home from wherever he’d been sent to and now was sitting before the front door with his head raised nearly back behind him howling and keening to the vacant house to be let in.

And is that how it will be for me, your loyal little dog of language, best friend, beloved stray, when I return too late to the abandoned home in the deserted neighborhood, wagging my tail of words, and then not wagging it when I realize that the door is bolted and no one’s answering or even anywhere in hearing to take away the godforsaken howling?

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Table of Contents

CONTENTS

I OLD WAR • 3 BOWER • 5 HARVEST • 7 EGG ROLLS • 8 PRAYER FOR A NEW HOME • 11 PEOPLE GET READY • 13 DOG AND OWNER • 14 BREAKING NEWS • 16 NEWS CONFERENCE • 17 SOOTHSAYERS • 18 LAST WEDDING ATTENDED BY THE GODS • 20 WE • 22 SUSPENSION BRIDGE • 23 COLD • 25 DAY • 26 BEFORE • 27 LUCK • 28 EASY STREET • 29

II SOME • 33 NIGHT • 34 AFTER • 35 HOW • 36 MIST • 37 JUST • 38 BLACK • 39 LISTEN • 40 LATE • 42 TIME PIECE • 43 WATCH • 45 NIGHT BLOOM • 48 FALLING • 50 WHERE • 51 HEAT • 53 CLEAR • 54 NOW • 55

III from The Book of Last Thoughts PASSENGER • 59 NARCISSIST • 60 COUNTRY-WESTERN SINGER • 62 I • 64 BRAWLER • 65 SKATEBOARDER • 66 RUNNER • 68 TRANSCENDENTALIST • 69 DENTIST • 71 BROTHER • 72 FAMILY MAN • 75 HANDLER • 77 MAYOR • 80 LANGUAGE • 81 OUTFIELDER • 82 POET • 83 OPEN-MIKE NIGHT IN HEAVEN • 85 NOTES • 89

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