Cinder: New and Selected Poems

Cinder: New and Selected Poems

by Susan Stewart

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“One of the finest poets of the last fifty years.” —Salt

to the Nth, like the truth of an ending
unskeined across the crust of the white field.
Though it happened only once, I
am sending the thought
of the thought
To return to
the field before the mowing.
When a goldfinch swayed
on a blue stem stalk,
and the wind and the sun
stirred the hay.

—from “After the Mowing”

Cinder: New and Selected Poems gathers for the first time poetry from across Susan Stewart’s thirty-five-year career, including many extraordinary new poems. From brief songs to longer meditative sequences, and always with formal innovation and exquisite precision, Stewart evokes the innocence of childhood, the endangered mysteries of the natural world, and deeply felt perceptions, both acute and shared.

“Stewart explores our insatiable desire to remember and make meaning out of this remembering,” Ange Mlinko writes in The Nation. “Stewart’s elegiac bent has broadened, over time, from the personal lyric . . . to what might be called the cultural lyric. Fewer and fewer of her poems reference what she alone remembers; they are about what you and I remember.”

Reading across this retrospective collection is a singular experience of seeing the unfolding development of one of the most ingenious and moving lyric writers in contemporary poetry.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781555979584
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Publication date: 02/07/2017
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Susan Stewart is the author of five books of poetry, including Columbarium, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award. A former MacArthur Fellow and chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, she teaches at Princeton University.

Read an Excerpt


New and Selected Poems

By Susan Stewart

Graywolf Press

Copyright © 2017 Susan Stewart
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-55597-958-4


Pine: New Poems (2009–2015)

Field in Winter

The world, a museum of itself.
The cold colonnade of dying elms.
You cannot will a dream, though you, too,
can fall, and fall asleep, and wake
in wonder. There is nowhere
the whiteness has not
touched — take
  a look and
see. The corners, the edge, of each
thing exposed:
you walked into a new transparency,


a homely word:
a plosive, a long cry, a quiet stop, a silent letter
  like a storm and the end of a storm,
the kind brewing
  at the top of a pine,
    (torn hair, bowed spirits and,
      later, straightened shoulders)
who's who of the stirred and stirred up:
  musicians, revolutionaries, pines.
A coniferous tree with needle-shaped leaves.
Suffering or trouble; there's a pin inside.
The aphoristic seamstress was putting up a hem, a shelf of pins at
  her pursed mouth.
"needles and pins / needles and pins / when a man marries / his
  trouble begins."
A red pincushion with a twisted string, and a little pinecone tassel,
  at the ready.
That particular smell, bracing,
    exact as a sharpened point.
The Christmas tree, nude and fragrant,
    propped as pure potential in
the corner with no nostalgia for
    ornament or angels.
"Pine-Sol," nauseating, earnest, imitation —
    one means of knowing the real thing is the fake you find in
Pent up inside on a winter day, the steaming closeness from the
At the bell, running down the hillside. You wore a pinafore.
The air had a nip: pine
      was traveling in the opposite direction.
Sunlight streaming through a stand of pines,
    dancing backward through the A's and T's.
Is it fern or willow that's the opposite of pine?
An alphabet made of trees.
In the clearing vanished hunters
    left their arrowheads
    and deep cuts in the boulder wall:
      petroglyphs, repeating triangles.
Grandmothers wearing pinnies trimmed in rickrack.
One family branch lived in a square of oak forest, the other in a
  circle of pines;
    the oak line: solid, reliable, comic; the piney one capable of pain
      and surprise.
W-H-I-T-E: the white pine's five-frond sets spell its name.
  (Orthography of other pines I don't yet know.)
The weight of snow on boughs, lethargic, then rocked by the thump
  of a settling crow.
Pine cones at the Villa Borghese: Fibonacci increments,
  heart-shaped veins, shadowing the inner
    edges of the petals.
Like variations at the margins of a bird feather.
  Graffiti tattooing the broken
    water clock, a handful
      of pine nuts, pried out, for lunch.
Pining away like Respighi with your pencil.
For a coffin, you'd pick a plain
pine box suspended in a weedy sea.
No undergrowth, though, in a pine forest.
Unlike the noisy wash
of dry deciduous leaves,
the needles blanket the earth
pliant beneath a bare foot,
a walk through the pines.
Silence in the forest comes from books.

A Language

  I had heard the story before
about the two prisoners, alone
in the same cell, and one
gives the other lessons in a language.

Day after day, the pupil studies hard —
what else does he have to do? — and year
after year they practice,
waiting for the hour of release.

They tackle the nouns, the cases, and genders,
the rules for imperatives and conjugations,
but near the end of his sentence, the teacher
suddenly dies and only the pupil
goes back through the gate and into the open
world. He travels to the country of his new
language, fluent, and full of hope.

Yet when he arrives he finds
that the language he speaks is not
the language that is spoken. He has learned
a language one other person knew — its inventor,
his cell-mate and teacher.

  And then the other
evening, I heard the story again.
This time the teacher was Gombrowicz, the pupil
was his wife. She had dreamed of learning
Polish and, hour after hour, for years
on end, Gombrowicz had been willing to teach
her a Polish that does not and never
did exist.

  The man who told
the story would like to marry his girlfriend.
They love to read in bed and between
them speak three languages.
They laughed — at the wife, at Gombrowicz, it wasn't
clear, and I wasn't sure that they
themselves knew what was funny.

I wondered why the man had told
the story, and thought of the tricks
enclosure can play. A nod, or silence,
another nod, consent — or not, as a cloud
drifts beyond the scene and the two
stand pointing in different directions
at the very same empty sky.

  Even so, there was something
else about the story, like teaching
a stunt to an animal — a four-legged
creature might prance on two legs
or a two-legged creature might
fall onto four.

  I remembered,
then, the miscarriage, and before that
the months of waiting: like baskets filled
with bright shapes, the imagination
run wild. And then what arrived:
the event that was nothing, a mistaken idea,
a scrap of charred cloth, the enormous
present folding over the future,
like a wave overtaking
a grain of sand.

  There was a myth
I once knew about twins who spoke
a private language, though one
spoke only the truth and the other
only lies.

  The savior gets mixed
up with the traitor, but the traitor
stays as true to himself as a god.

All night the rain falls here, falls there,
and the creatures dream, or drown, in the lair.

Inscriptions for Gas Pump TVs

Midway the forest, certain,
parts its dark curtain.

* * *

Ride into the sunrise; the future
roars from the passing lane.

* * *

A dividing line binds the shook —
where are you going, gleaner?

* * *

Tears travel seaward. How
do you like their driving?

Piano Music for a Silent Movie

The gossips whisper their reproaches —
was it my fault I was too young for the war?

A muddy rain spoils every picnic,
but the fields are thirsty, the farmers are poor.

My talent lies in kissing and pretending,
and climbing barefoot up a trellis in the dark.

The neighbors are sharpening their pitchforks,
though no one dares to tell us. In the park

I found her note pinned to a linden,
her hair-ribbon snagged in a pine

— All the world worries a lover
when all the world seems like a sign.

I crossed the weedy river
and floated along to her door.

She promised me a portrait of the roses:
Forever Pearl, and Malakoff's Tour,

Gloire de Dijon, and Marechal,
the Souvenir of Malmaison;

I promised her nothing but trouble —
my être had no raison.

Her hens pecked the grain from my pockets;
her cat ate the butterfat.

You needed a coupon for coffee, so I
brought her some cherries in my hat.

She stowed her watercolors in the rowboat —
I threw my books in the stern;

The oars dripped blue across our shoes
and we banked in a bed of ferns.

The crazy maid shattered the porch roof
while the merry-go-round never stopped.

Cannon pounded in the distance
(or was it thunder?) — every ear felt the pop.

As for us, we were always falling, deeper
than the tides and the moon,

Deeper than the quarry and the well,
and the shadows that hide at noon.

All this frenzy set the cocks a-crowing —
she let me choose a table and a chair,

The olive-wood glowed to embers:
she let me let down her hair.

"I kissed his ear and his elbow," she sang,
"and the silky side of his thigh.

I kissed his knees, I kissed his lips
and then he waved good-bye."

Our little spirit flitted,
as fast and light as a moth.

"Shameful," they said, "unlawful
— a troth, in the end, is a troth."

Love is a lapse and lovers liars,
the father weeps, the mother sighs.

The wagons are circling
below the bedroom floor.

One laughs too much,
the other cries.

The honeysuckle lost its honey
and the hens took their grain indoors.

Frost leveled the ferny banks
and ice grew thick on the oars.

I saw her face in the water.
I saw his face in the glass.

Some of us live in the present,
and some of us live in the past,

But it's the bootblacks marching toward the future
who trample the summer grass.

The gossips whisper their reproaches —
was it my fault I was too young for the war?

A muddy rain spoils every picnic,
but the fields are thirsty, the farmers are poor.

Atavistic Sonnet

Shadow of the gull on the airport wall, lunging
as the fuselage vaults above the meadow. Hollow in
the cornrow where the hobo slept, then a backhoe
filling up the furrow. Misery of clocks in neon
glare, whereabouts of warblers and island foxes,
an old flame googled from the dead letter office — simple
as the still-warm bench at dusk. Typing or sewing,
or bringing down a fever through a length of knotted string
and a rusted staple gun. Here comes the tattooed
witch with her drum while the royals wait by the limousine
grinning. Shadow of the gull on the airport wall,
shallows in the stairs where we fell and stepped, hollow in the
cornrow where the hobo slept, a backhoe filling the furrow.

Two Poems on the Name of Vermeer

toward the lake

Morning light, light at dusk, now
and then a step
from each other, the endless tuning of one string
against another.
Perfection in the first means the second
slips down
an entire key only to be keyed
up again,
and so on ...
    Light is patience and falls
in profile,
a pearl necklace strung by gradations
and the smallest,
at the moment of the clasp, rolls away
lost between
the floorboards forever, the strand left gaping
If I had a yellow dress and an open
I am sure as much music could float in
on the wind
as could float out on the air,
and so on ...
    The great map
hangs above a leather chair studded
with silver rivets.
I can barely remember the word we use
for the map's crest,
that square that sets the ratio
and symbols.
It's posted there, obvious, and
oblivious to
the sea, but not of the sea, forever.
The fist of Spain
juts down, triangular.

I was happy there
in legend:
legendary sails of real
ships, a monster's
fins leaping, leaping past the beach,
a compass rose,
and so on ...

from the lake

In the middle
of the night, to count up what is missing,
taking out
the wiry scale, holding it suspended like
a puppeteer
in a play about the ghost of nothing
chasing something.
Moonlight shines in on the scene.
A Last Judgment
looms from a frame on the wall.
Does allegory
then, start at the start, or come forward
on the glaze
of surfaces? In the middle of the watery
night, the plumbline
snags in the eelgrass. The lecturer
said the name
meant coming and going, just the same,
though how
could that be true? You find yourself looking
for a clue.
You find yourself
looking for a clue. Why do
lost causes
always stretch toward the future when
the rest of them,
retreat, in silence, to the past? It's all
deferred. A set of substitutions.
A coin for all
the flecks that made the coin. Much farther south
the diver dreams
by lamps propped on the mast. The sea teems
with somethings chasing
nothings all around, and minor irritations,

Four Lack Songs

A lack Alas

Hammer to a copper bowl,
someone left the light on.
Touch against the thin wrist
skin, and back again, and back
again. Can't find the vein.

A lack A Day

Stiffing a filigree leaf, ribs
align in alternation. Drop
me a line, I am leaving —
the har-dee-har men come soon.
And once they are here, they are.

A Daisy

Soon the alterations are finished;
she mends where fray yields to fringe.
Wet thread creaks the slit like
chalk on a board. There's
no sense closing your ears.


You're just like the other, someone
said. I hear you, but where
are my shoes? I've looked every
where. I've looked high and low
and my feet are cold, and bare.

A Clown

"Avoid then suddenly" said the fiction
teacher, but some things do snap
into the field like my black coat
snatched all at once from my arm
as I crossed the Piazza Navona.

I was on my way to meet Brunella and Enzo
and had taken my route through the maze of alleys,
past the punks with their dogs by the Trilussa Fountain,

around the bollard and chain at the Ponte Sisto,
and down the slope of the Villa Giulia,

past the protesting Kurds by the Farnese bar
and the potted tulips in the Campo de' Fiori,
the leafy smoke wafting from the chestnut stand,

and the gauntlet of waiters flagging menus
near the immigrants hawking
their trolls and tin-can planes.

The Maya buskers were looping tangos
and I was running late past the living statues —
the knight errant and Cleopatra,
hurrying with my head down, my high heels
clicking, when suddenly, I was yanked back,
the coat ripped away,
a ripple of laughter behind me,
and, as I turned, there he was:
a clown,

hunched and wiggling, holding a black
coat — my coat — aloft, flapping
it up and down in the breeze
as he lunged,

  mocking my surprise:
his red ball nose and stiff
black smile, too stiff
to smile, his face not a face, so
plaster hard above his waving
arms, his swaying torso, while
a silence, a sudden silence,
seemed to blast all through the piazza:

The frozen laughter of the tourists,
the waiters snapped to attention, standing
still, before the sound rushed back into
the vacuum, with a clatter of forks and knives.

Something dropped, a popped balloon,
and the clown going on and on,
composing his version
of the look of my annoyance,
a hip jutting out, an index
finger shaking "no!" as I stretched
to reach the tangled coat, then reached
and reached again
and he flicked it in and out
like a clumsy matador,
wagging his head, jiggling
his knee, spinning and circling
and feinting — his show.

    How long it lasted, that panorama
of taunting, open mouths,
eyes squeezed tight over crooked teeth,
glasses tipping, plates clanking, by the thousands,
it seemed, and for hours and hours, when
just as suddenly he stopped
and threw the coat into my arms, tiptoeing
away to
find his next victim.

    I turned and rushed
from the piazza, under the arch, and down
the Vicolo dell'Orso where Enzo and Brunella
were waiting for me. Flushed, I told
the story of what had happened: the sudden
hand, the waving coat,
the laughing crowd.

How in that preening dance the clown
had called up every ghost —
    the divas and the ditzes, the ingénues
and mothers-in-law, the bimbos and sluts, the starlets
and clucks, the nerdy girls and little old ladies, the floozies,
the dogs, and the bricks — a parade that stretched back
as far as desperation, as far as the garden, as far
as the moon.
    But as I spoke it came to me
like an image in a mirror
that rises to the surface
when the veil of steam
recedes, an image of the clown himself,
at dawn, in a mirror,
    putting on
his rubber smile, his icy mask, his red
ball nose ... a splintered shelf,
the pots of grease-paint by the sink
where he buttoned up
his polka-dotted smock,
pulled on his mountainous shoes.
A record stuck, an obsessive thought.
A sterile clown in a rented room.
Desert saint of drowned beginnings.
Refugee of a vanished rite.
Acolyte of envy or necessity.
The scapegoat's threat, the oldest fear.
    Who was he, and what
had he to do with me?
    The slow revelation
of a revelation made slower
    by surprise.
Meanwhile my friends still were waiting, and we were expected
on the other side of town, where we'd thought we might go to a show,
an opening, and maybe a reading after that —
the evening was early, the sky glowing rose, and plenty
of time left to decide.

"If you were one of the travelers, the guests"

If you were one of the travelers, the guests, who went down
to the ship that day, and you heard the band going

nowhere as it marched in place on the dock, and you felt
the lurching motion as the gangplank

was raised, and you saw, far below, the trash
on the water, oily and scattered, scattered

and sucked, by the cresting, ebbing, waves —
everyone waving, waving, before the window

rolled up again, a whining child, a whimpering
dog, a gull's scream in two-by-two-beat

gusts across the harbor, slowly resigned to
parting — turned away, while silence folded

over the deck, and the sky seemed as still as a sky
in a picture, you would not have heard then,

or in the days to come, the ringing shouts
of the stokers as they mined the stores of coal,

the banging pots and hissing steam that poured
from the kitchen and laundry, or the whispered

directions to the crew, for already the trio
would have struck its first C and you

would have leaned toward your partner just to
listen, while across the night, across

its barren field, the ship plowed a straight
path through the swell and the dancers

swayed and spun and turned to dreaming, as blank
as stars or winter ...


Excerpted from Cinder by Susan Stewart. Copyright © 2017 Susan Stewart. Excerpted by permission of Graywolf 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


Pine: New Poems (2009–2015),
Field in Winter,
A Language,
Inscriptions for Gas Pump TVs,
Piano Music for a Silent Movie,
Atavistic Sonnet,
Two Poems on the Name of Vermeer,
Four Lack Songs,
A Clown,
"If you were one of the travelers, the guests",
The Knot,
The dead inscribed, alphabetical, within,
First Idyll,
After the Mowing,
Field in Spring,
from Red Rover (2008),
The Owl,
Games from Children,
Oil and Water,
Thoughts made of wood,
When I'm crying, I'm not speaking,
When I'm speaking, I'm not crying,
Songs for Adam,
Gold and Soil,
Elegy Against the Massacre at the Amish School in West Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, Autumn 2006,
The Lost Colony,
In the Western World,
The Field of Mars as a Meadow,
from Columbarium (2003),
Sung from the generation of AIR,
"I had a little dove",
"Dark the star",
Forms of Forts,
"Let me tell you about my marvelous god",
Two Brief Views of Hell,
Kingfisher Carol,
The Rose,
Lost Rules of Usage,
from The Forest (1995),
The Forest,
The Arbor 1937,
The Desert (1990–1993),
The Meadow,
from The Hive (1987),
Man Dancing with a Baby,
Seven Bridges,
Fire Ceremony,
The Evening of Montale's Death,
In the Novel,
Life on Other Planets,
The Map of the World Confused with Its Territory,
At the Font of Aretusa,
from Yellow Stars and Ice (1981),
Letter Full of Blue Dresses,
The Countries Surrounding the Garden of Eden,
How the River Climbed into This Poem,
Four Questions Regarding the Dreams of Animals,
The Summons,
The Delta Parade,
Yellow Stars and Ice,
The Dedication of Sleep,

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