Winner of the 1999 Colorado Prize for Poetry
- Center for Literary Publishing
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.20(d)
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it overtook our bright
new porch. My father said its stalks
rose "faster than the eye":
like the body I hated then, and hate.
We had to yank
the screen door off its frame and throw it away.
That year, in my favorite novel,
the astronauts had trouble
with a single-minded planet whose nerves were great trees;
it had watched Earth
grow up, and had stored up thoughts
the length of continents,
which, naturally, it took forever to say.
Day-Lilies at Night
Sent to bed without supper
and half-undressed, they fear
success. They are Celia
nearing the end of As You Like It;
each one a planetarium
about to close for good, a buckling dome
in which stars rise, bleached stains.
(I'll put myself in poor and mean attire
and with a kind of umber smirch my face)
Tongue-tied at dawn, we stay up till
the constellations part; my petals curl
into a coat I shiver in, brown lace
The sun rides at us through thin
trees, so strong
I fall for him, for Oliver. I have
been made into something unable to live on my own.
For Elizabeth Smart
The crow isCorvidae, the king of her guests. It's the first
warm Sunday in Washington Square. Squirrels canter and
camp on a pollam of dirt, shag pebbles, a brick in the sun,
no sooner can we come out to them than they will scatter.
The lean ones follow their future mates up things, selecting
like experts the twigs that can take their weight. The other
squirrels are starting to save: one props herself on two feet,
belly out, extolling her glossy nut, sad prize. Acorns can germinate
Tall sonorous pot vendors pace; lobster-brisk men on stoops
hawk their used libraries in stacksall do a swift business. A
ruddy scarf rasps in a seesaw hinge. Two men hold hands for
the first time; wind gathers white daytime litter like moths,
like eager bats, from the lady next to me, who sketches the
boils on trees with an ashen disinterest.
I know what she's doing. She wants to be somebody else.
for Andrew Osborn
Like the unsubtle edges of some lives,
these spreading, unfamiliar trees touch one
another stiff, unready for the season,
their still unfolding leaves as slim as knives,
and reticent. Last winter stole our names
for unfinished things; when ice stunted every yard,
we might have called them still-to-be-delivered,
fractional promises. We might have blamed
our distance on the weather. Now, too warm
for wool, too cold to force old snow away,
the air considers whether it will storm;
each new tree's bark is pockmarked, like a boy's
unlucky skin he will outgrow. Our youth
betrays us, never comfortable; some depth
of awkwardness repels us in these roots,
these risen shallows April's mud refutes.
"The 7:57 Express to Grand Central Will Now Arrive
Where the Hudson comes into its own at Ardsley
Pier, the Hudson
Line's sleek tracks correct themselves on stilts:
its mugwump, sulky trees
wave dollar bills, intransigent, profuse,
like parents' additive demands:
what do you think
do you think I'm made of
we think to drown in obligations
we once suckled and enjoyed
replacing the sweet, complacent boredom of children
with our resentful, garlicky fatigue.
Air scours the nearer banks;
their miniature ripples
learn to quarrel, turn and multiply.
And windless shrubs,
too low to be shaken, wear their humility
to whom nothing has happened,
and already flaunting their buds, their cut teeth.
Boy Learning Hebrew
Over blessings I beat on the napkins with knives; next Shabbat
I would be aperture, would be explain, would be the reasons
for, correcting everything.
I slept on the couch, under cords and concave slats: nothing
so concentrates the mind. Our three cats had to be kept from
101st St.; indoor, they peered and skittered past our legs in
quick ripples, meant to rise.
I think they dreamed of meat. Mine
were of oars: Ys pulled into Vs, sped flows, the wall map's
sharpened Manhattan sliding south of itself into standing
brakes of weeds under New Jersey. Aposiopesis, apostate. I
would wake over cartage noises, the sky an embarrassed pink
through iterated blinds, cigar-smells, barred clouds.
The superstitious child migrates to dirt, corners, bread shoulders,
and arid homework: appanage, aptitude. Saying alien,
orient, mortal, squinting at consonants, I was their reader,
their blasphemer. I had already learned
to ask for another body, and get only words.
The roses' bodies flaunt their thousand
Eyes, empty, supported, as if
In diapers. Their rife
Fertility grows up against them, bound,
And chafing at the knee-high garden walls.
Their ants are as eager to touch, to show affections
As the collected family dinner companions'
Ring: the mothers stand
To watch each other pour
Clear soup from sweating pitchers into bowls.
The ocean called, once, Middle-of-the-Earth
Now bangs and bangs against the middle distance
Somebody hanging up a phone.
And the ghost of Plath,
Whom I had hated for so long,
Holds her cool scissors
Up to my ear, insisting
That I should whisper back her anger, taunt
Them with a shame-
Ful song, beginning
Now: this isn't what I'll ever want.
Having been measurement
and medium, and never the thing meant;
having been hotheaded in youth
but easily coaxed, or tickled, till short of breath;
able to weep undetectably for years
and be thought solid; having been stained his and hers
through an acid process; having been chilled and sealed
with maplewood varnish and Naptha
or silvered and then photographed for before and after,
nothing active is in it to be revealed.
I am made of sand. My friends
confide in me, knowing I have no hands.
What People are saying about this
Forrest Gander, author of Science & Steepleflower
Jorie Graham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems 1974--1994
Meet the Author
Stephen Burt grew up in Washington, D.C., and is a graduate student at Yale University. He reviews poetry regularly for the Boston Review, and the Times Literary Supplement. His poems have appeared in Colorado Review, the PN Review, AGNI, and other journals. He lives in New York City.
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