American Sampler

American Sampler

by Jane Duran


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781907587382
Publisher: Enitharmon Press
Publication date: 01/01/2015
Pages: 64
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.30(d)

About the Author

Jane Duran is the author of the poetry collections Breathe Now, Breathe, which won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection; Coastal and Graceline; and Silences from the Spanish Civil War, the latter two having received PBS Recommendations.

Read an Excerpt

American Sampler

By Jane Duran

Enitharmon Press

Copyright © 2014 Jane Duran
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-910392-31-7



    The lines radiating from a wind rose
    across an ocean or sail
    help any ship to proceed with celerity

    whereas a compass ponders another order;
    however north is not always true north
    and if the pilot eats garlic or onions

    his breath can throw the lodestone
    and needle awry, and where will the ship
    and its mutinous sailors be then?

    A patch of turquoise now appears
    under the ship, signalling its whereabouts,
    and the black loops and tangles of its riggings

    billow. There is a definite coastline.
    A woman with a water gourd,
    some water splashing, and her naked girl

    carrying a doll and rattle
    come down to the shore
    and from many points the wind beats in.


    Along with his demure watercolours
    of milkweed and pursh,
    his Portuguese man o' war

    or the red grouper with its tidal stare,
    soldier fish and lookdown fish,
    blue-striped grunt and loggerhead turtle –

    all he turned his hand to,
    he painted the wife of the Timucuan
    chief of Florida tattooed from forehead

    to ankles, draped in blue Spanish moss,
    carrying maize in her right hand
    and a bowl of fruit in her left –

    the fruit almost disappearing
    in a turquoise haze,
    everything that would seem

    welcoming and hospitable and gentle.


    I think of the dream a sleeper has
    before the hunt – the real and imagined
    trails he foresees, the marks he makes

    on his dream-prey, his willed dream
    moving unimpeded into the forest at night
    to lead the way for him by day

    when he will feel stones and twigs
    and roots through the deer-hide;
    and the tangle of tracks or impressions

    made earlier by hunters in the forest
    where no path lasts long, overlapping
    and looping and cast wide, and gone

    so the dreamer can see the animal and go to
    But I am lost on the trail you still describe.


    The gaps in a stone wall make for shaky
    errors of balance, yet embolden and hold

    to show a trapezoid of pasture,
    an hourglass of sky, a shark's tooth of brambles,

    a black buffalo of pure shade. There is a fleck
    in an otherwise perfect sky overhead

    and no one here but me today.
    I lay my palms on bird shit, lichen,

    a borrowed rock, hefted and rolled
    from a wild place, another carried, staggering

    all the way from there to here
    where the gaps steady and trespass.


    Stained from birth with Adam's sinful fact,
    Thence I began to sin as soon as act ...

    Anne Bradstreet (1612–72)

    Four girls are crossing a meadow
    in their long-sleeved homespun dresses,
    bearing down on the grasses
    where the sun blows stiffly westwards.

    The earth has give in it,
    and the fractious horses bend down
    to those deep drowned early morning grasses
    they yank up so easily in their teeth

    and chew in a circular, pensive motion.
    Perhaps the girls will not mind
    if I say their names quietly –
    Electe, Submit, Silence, Humility –

    just for the stories names tell,
    or mention in passing their eager laughter
    and strong, God-given steps
    in the wet, greedy meadow.


    A farmer in a dun coat holds the gate open:
    all the black and white pigs, sheep, lambs and
    are densely, dreamily packed together. One
    speckled bull
    is elongated. A ram keeps patches of sunlight
    safe in his wool
    and a woman reads the Bible to a boy under a

    In profile, a ploughman follows two horses
    in a fenced field. The field is standing up on its
    A rooster and goose cross the yard in tandem,
    and a woman and man mount restless horses
    with striped saddle blankets. There is a lot going

    In the farmhouse doorway a black shadow keeps
    at bay
    a young woman wearing a white cap and blue
    She is tiny – in proportion to the horse, colt, cow,
    and girl carrying a bucket of feed and beckoning –
    all existing in the third plane of the painting.

    A barn, fences stave off what might be out there –
    wolves or worse. There is so much to lose.
    A haze of yellowy, unfelled trees beyond
    are in the last – and only mysterious – plane.
    Elsewhere nothing merges with anything else –

    the ploughman, farmer, wife, child, bull, cow,
    lamb, rooster, goose, calf, girl, horseman, dog,
    are all created equal and religiously outlined,
    placid and occupied, out and about in the open
    all the clement, live-long day that was.


    I saw my chance – a strip of lined bark
    peeling away, releasing the tree,

    the bland, orangey or flesh-coloured
    underbark already loose and fraying

    but still damp and holding on somehow.
    What scars did I leave on the living tree

    when I tore off the rolled up bark
    to write on? I thought it belonged to me,

    or me to it. And anyway, what words
    did I have then or now, or what stern

    thoughts for so few words to wind round
    each ream, ream, remember?


    The national elm shadows run up a lawn
    as far as a low, grey clapboard house
    and back again in the heat, up and down
    the small-paned, double-sash windows.

    They have fled back and forth in this way
    for over two centuries. The old panes
    with their bubbles and clay particles,
    ripple and bargain with the flow of elm leaves

    as if their knowledge is questionable
    whereas the new, replaced panes –
    factory-made and absolutely smooth –
    take up impressions and signals verbatim.

    A caterpillar arches and stretches
    to climb the bark, following its own lead
    and resolution, up along and over
    each bumpy and troublesome ridge,

    and when I look into the past, wavy
    banded glass breaks up each summons
    and what I thought I saw
    wherever the governing elm lingers.


    Those who would live in this landscape
    grow tall, deep, impervious too,

    even laconic, splitting maple, turning white ash
    on a lathe, stripping brown ash

    from swampland, steaming, gouging,
    pounding, bending, post, rung and slat

    and all the time the wood so worked
    makes a general, unpatterned noise,

    a forest noise of force and flourishing
    so the carpenter's heart beats faster

    then stern and steady
    in the making of a high-backed rocking chair.

    for Lois Ames, Sudbury, Massachusetts

    Forgive me for telling this story
    when you tell it so well – those cadences,
    your intimacy with it, your white hair,
    a descendant straight down the line.
    You show us to our guest room
    up the steep, wooden back stairs.

    But first you stop by a deep fireplace.
    No wonder you live here, hold to the house
    and the house to you. Your grandfather
    was a boy when he crept down those back stairs
    and looked through the chinks in the panelling
    and saw the firelight, black faces late at night,

    runaways, gone in the early hours.
    A tense stopping-station, the wagon hitched
    to steal away to the next farm, all the way to
    And the fireplace is still walk-in, pots and pans
    blackened and hung. Your welcome to us
    as I carry the suitcase up the stairs

    in the oppression of an August night,
    our little room at the top piled with books –
    stories, poetry, journeys you take up,
    inch by inch efforts you make now,
    pain you feel constantly, the owl we listen for,
    electric fan that lifts sweat from our faces.

    It must have been winter then,
    the faces wide-eyed in the firelight.
    All night vertical blacknesses hold down farmland
    and dew streams up in the morning, brash and
    up the screen door, broken breath of a horse
    dragging the empty wagon home, stumbling

    my boy on your doorstep, shucking corn in the
    and you set the breakfast table, lay out
    egg cups in your blue dressing gown, and we talk
    and listen as old friends will and must,
    and see a way, the many ways of telling it.


    In 1852 James Bard sketches the America
    from life and to scale and paints her in oils
    in his studio so her banners and streamers

    fore and aft fly out over the Hudson River
    bringing pace and wind to the vessel,
    her red paddlewheel rolling high

    and raising a furor of trouble in the water.
    The artist's clouds have birdlike shapes
    and travel downwind, in the opposite direction

    to the towboat, and a ray of smoke
    from the stack pours out at a right angle
    in sympathy with the errant bird-clouds.

    A steam pipe also fires a slanting wisp.
    This is the afterlife of the America,
    pulling, in her aura of celebration

    towards some greater momentum,
    before breaking up at Perth Amboy, New Jersey
    in 1896. Other boats to starboard

    hurry along the brooding river
    but they are far away and will not hide
    the white, vigorous progress

    of the America across the canvas.
    For what she passes is incidental
    to her refinement and downright

    functionality – her red walking beam,
    iron hogframe and towing bitt,
    her paddlewheel with radial buckets.

    A festive paddlebox keeps splashes in.
    The male figures on her long port deck
    wear black frockcoats and black hats.

    Trees along the banks attend the spectacle
    either from shadow or cheerful light,
    but remain immovable, despite gusts

    that blur the excited river, the waves
    in the foreground more pronounced, darker,
    (each carrying its own pale-blue brushstroke)

    where I feel, I can't help feeling
    the wind sharp on my face.


    When you read a letter, a long letter
    from someone you don't know
    to someone you don't know –

    a boy for instance, 21 years old,
    in the Army of the Potomac,
    to a girl in Portland, a bit older, say 23 –

    perhaps his name is Stanley Abbott
    and she is Cousin Mattie, say,
    and he writes about the Mud March –

    only four days in a long Civil War –
    days of rain when the soldiers
    waded for six miles through deep mud

    and then had to corduroy causeways
    to go all the way back to their original position
    near Henry House, Virginia,

    when you see his defeat and how he tries
    to end the letter cheerfully, manfully,
    for her – then you can imagine such mud,

    mud that can't be dried by letters from home.
    That's all it is, fathomless mud,
    and he uses that word, fathomless.

Edward Stanley Abbott died at Gettysburg on July 8, 1863.

    photograph of an Apache resistance group by C. S. Fly, 1886

    the way we stand and look at you
    from scrubland, among thorns
    and stones, not downcast

    but looking straight at you
    and the way a woman's hands rest
    on her skirt, or a child squints

    or Naiche's hands nearly touch
    across his belt or the brambles
    flare up behind us and in front of us

    and our shadows join, but mostly
    the way we look out at you
    from a far place, from the wrong place


    ... bounded as follows, beginning at a Spruce Tree
    & Runs North by the Needle Two Thousand
    One hundred & Ninety One perch
    on province Land to a hemlock Tree Marked

    The neo-classic public library at the top
    of a steep lawn has an entrance portico
    with four Corinthian columns. A woman
    waits there with two hardback detective novels

    then Runs East one Thousand five hundred
    & fifty Eight perch on province Land
    to a Township Adjoyning to & lying North
    of the said Narragansett Town Number three

    A river runs alongside the old woollen mill
    and follows the road out of town
    before going its own way, just a bit of it
    showing its intentions, black and hopeful –
    but rarely so since ice is taking hold now

    then Runs South on said Township
    Six hundred and forty perch to the Township
    Granted to John Simpson and others

    Once the forest lasted all the way to Canada.
    In 1740, John Badger died of consumption.
    His wife laid out breakfast for her children
    and walked alone through the snow and woods
    to the nearest settlers three miles away.
    Her neighbours came back with her,
    hollowed out a tree for a coffin

    then Runs East on said Township
    four hundred and two perch
    to a Stake & Stones

    Weak sunlight travels up and down
    a disused railroad track.
    When the track was new and silvery
    the first wood-burning engine
    whistled over it to celebrations in 1851

    then Runs South One Thousand four hundred
    and Sixty Seven perch on said Narragansett Town,
    then Runs West four hundred & Eighty perch
    on Duxbury School farm to a Stake and heap of Stones

    A boy on a tricycle pedals fast down a hallway.
    The wind travels across all boundaries
    or falls open from the centre like a flower
    as snow flurries begin, then thicken, burden
    spruces, ashes, hemlocks, poplars,
    stone walls, the well-lit houses on hills –
    once the farms of early settlers

    then Runs South thirteen perch on said Farm
    to a poplar Tree marked, thence Runs West
    One Thousand four hundred and Sixty perch
    to the Spruce tree first named on province Land

Lines in italics are from a description of Salem-Canada, a tract of land
granted by the General Court of Massachusetts in 1736 to Salem soldiers
or their descendants who fought in the expedition to Canada in 1690.
Parts of Salem-Canada were later incorporated into the towns of Wilton,
Lyndeborough and Temple in New Hampshire.


    Now that snow is touching the forest
    in so many places
    the men shovel out the rotting sawdust,

    they lay down fresh sawdust in the icehouse
    and wait for the ice on the pond to deepen.
    They wait for the wind to turn dry.

    Then they harness the horse, they load
    an ice plough, chisels, hooks
    and saws on a wagon and make their way

    through the woods, as far as the glare –
    a relief in the trees.


    A woman in a long coat stands far away
    on the ice, near the trees, in the sun
    watching the horse and plough cut a grid.

    She stands on her shadow.
    She is precariously in the present.
    Water slides out over the grid
    and freezes immediately.


    Sometimes if a cut is too deep
    the ice can give way and a man
    falls into the water, or a horse falls in
    and is hauled out in commotion.

    The woman curls her toes in her boots
    and her fingers in her mittens.
    The wind is porous and the voices
    of the men are far away.


    Somewhere in a forest
    a pond is giving up
    a little of its ice at a time
    to the warming air that is ferrying,

    moving the heavy ice
    far and wide into the pine trees.


    I lay on my stomach and caught tadpoles
    in my open hands so there was
    everywhere for them to escape from.

    The long shadow of the barn at the top
    of the hill scrambled down
    on all fours to the water.

    The sun stayed up late.
    Speckled tadpoles loosened over some mud
    and weeds I barely touched

    and swam off in all directions
    though there was nowhere far to go.
    Tonight there would be a lamp lit

    in each room, my grandmother's hair
    caught up in a bun, as she moved
    from room to room, pulling the light with her,

    and we would run and scatter over the wide
    oak floorboards in our bare feet.


    She is in a pond up to her knees
    and a filmy mud is settling
    around her ankles. That feels good.

    I mean to ask her how she is
    without disturbing her at her work
    of tugging a sailboat in zigzags with a string.

    She has wound the string round her wrist.
    There is so much trust and commotion
    in her gaze. The pond goes a long way out

    and comes up for air somewhere curious
    in the far pines. Perhaps everything I thought
    I knew about her is mistaken. Her hectic shadow

    in the water breaks in two at the waist.


    The only fault I find with old New Hampshire
    Is that her mountains aren't quite high enough.

    Robert Frost

    When we first met
    how thin I was, all elbows
    and knees, and you granite

    and spruce, hemlock, bristling,
    not soaring, sharing the same hours
    and light with me.

    Probably I was aware of you
    in the corner of my eye – there,
    reassuring, but no more than that.

    Now you mean to be looked at
    even at night, or from this faraway
    time zone. When ice lays hold of you

    and snow, I can crawl along your granite,
    eye to eye with you, and feel fear
    and a modest ambition.

    Yet for me, dark or light,
    these days it's all a matter of touch –
    from your hand a single leaf

    or even a pine needle would do.


Excerpted from American Sampler by Jane Duran. Copyright © 2014 Jane Duran. Excerpted by permission of Enitharmon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Wind Map,
John White's Paintings of the New World,
To a Beaded Moccasin in a Museum,
Stone Wall,
The Residence of David Twining, 1787 by Edward Hicks,
Paper Birch,
American Elm,
Tappan Chair,
Underground Railroad,
The America,
Letter from Stanley Abbott to Mattie Steele, January 29, 1863,
The Way We Look at You,
Small Town,
Ice Harvest,
The String,
Mount Monadnock,
American Sampler,
New Hampshire Shade,
Late Summer, New Hampshire,
Sailor's Woolie,
Captain Turner,
The Flying Horses at Oak Bluffs,
Cape Porpoise,
The Basketball Court in Central Park,

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