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The definitive collection of the poems of Lynda Hull, "perhaps the most intensely lyrical poet of her generation." (Mark Doty)


If each of us

contains, within, humankind's totality, each possibility

then I have been so fractured, so multiple & dazzling . . .

-from "The Window"

Lynda Hull's Collected Poems brings together her three collections-long unavailable-with a new introduction by Yusef Komunyakaa, and allows, for the first time, the full scale of her achievement to be seen. Edited with Hull's husband, David Wojahn, this book contains all the poems Hull published in her lifetime, before her untimely death in 1994.

Collected Poems is the first book in the Graywolf Poetry Re/View Series, which brings essential books of contemporary American poetry back into print. Each volume-chosen by series editor Mark Doty-is introduced by a poet who brings to the work a passionate admiration. The Graywolf Poetry Re/View Series brings all-but-lost masterworks of recent American poetry into the hands of a new generation of readers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781555974572
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Publication date: 10/31/2006
Series: Re/View Series
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 120
Sales rank: 1,096,022
Product dimensions: 8.78(w) x 5.92(h) x 0.69(d)

About the Author

LYNDA HULL (1954–94) was born in Newark, New Jersey. She was the author of Ghost Money, Star Ledger, and The Only World, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry.

Read an Excerpt

Collected Poems

By Lynda Hull

Graywolf Press

Copyright © 2006 The Estate of Lynda Hull
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-55597-457-2

Chapter One

Tide of Voices

At the hour the streetlights come on, buildings
turn abstract. The Hudson, for a moment, formal.
We drink bourbon on the terrace and you speak
in the evening voice, weighted deep in the throat.

They plan to harvest oysters, you tell me,
from the harbor by Jersey City, how the waters
will be clean again in twenty years. I imagine nets
burdened with rough shells, the meat dun and sexual.

Below, the river and the high rock
where boys each year jump from bravado
or desperation. The day flares, turns into itself.
And innocently, sideways, the way we always fall

into grace or knowledge, we watched the police
drag the river for a suicide, the third this year.
The terrible hook, the boy's flail whiteness.
His face was blank and new as your face

in the morning before the day has worked
its pattern of lines and tensions. A hook
like an iron question and this coming
out of the waters, a flawed pearl -

a memory that wasn't ours to claim.
Perhaps, in a bedroom by lamplight,
a woman waits for this boy. She may riffle drawers
gathering photographs, string, keys to abandoned rooms.

Even now she may be leaving,
closing the door for some silence. I need
to move next to you. Water sluiced
from the boy's hair. I need to watch you

light your cigarette, the flickering
of your face in matchlight, as if underwater,
drifting away. I take your cigarette
and drag from it, touch your hand.

Remember that winter of your long fever,
the winter we understood how fragile
any being together was. The wall sweated
behind the headboard and you said you felt

the rim where dreams crouch
and every room of the past. It must begin in luxury-
do you think-a break and fall into the glamour
attending each kind of surrender. Water must flood

the mind, as in certain diseases, the walls
between the cells of memory dissolve, blur
into a single stream of voices and faces.
I don't know any more about this river or if

it can be cleaned of its tender and broken histories-
a tide of voices. And this is how the dead
rise to us, transformed: wet and singing,
the tide of voices pearling in our hands.

Insect Life of Florida

In those days I thought their endless thrum
was the great wheel that turned the days, the nights.

In the throats of hibiscus and oleander

I'd see them clustered yellow, blue, their shells
enameled hard as the sky before rain.

All that summer, my second, from city

to city my young father drove the black coupe
through humid mornings I'd wake to like fever

parceled between luggage and sample goods.

Afternoons, showers drummed the roof,
my parents silent for hours. Even then I knew

something of love was cruel, was distant.

Mother leaned over the seat to me, the orchid
Father'd pinned in her hair shriveled

to a purple fist. A necklace of shells

coiled her throat, moving a little as she
murmured of alligators that float the rivers

able to swallow a child whole, of mosquitoes

whose bite would make you sleep a thousand years.
And always the trance of blacktop shimmering

through swamps with names like incantations-

Okeefenokee, where Father held my hand
and pointed to an egret's flight unfolding

white above swamp reeds that sang with insects

until I was lost, until I was part
of the singing, their thousand wings gauze

on my body, tattooing my skin.

Father rocked me later by the water,
on the motel balcony, singing calypso

above the Jamaican radio. The lyrics

a net over the sea, its lesson
of desire and repetition. Lizards flashed

over his shoes, over the rail

where the citronella burned, merging our
shadows-Father's face floating over mine

in the black changing sound

of night, the enormous Florida night,
metallic with cicadas, musical

and dangerous as the human heart.

The Fitting

The room smelled of steam
the day my tall sad mother
brought me to watch
the fitting. Heat knocked
old pipes below the window
where I sat, cheek cradled
on the pane, elbow
pushed among violets
and cactus crowding the sill.
Murmuring of patterns,
the women unfolded damask
my father had brought
from Turkey, almost
too heavy for the afternoon.
The seamstress frightened me,
her hands discovering
my mother's shape
as she hummed
through the pins in her mouth.
I watched until
my head ached
and felt thin as glass.
In the sky
wind milled clouds, promised
no animals or countries.
Only seamless gray.
My tongue was difficult,
sullen as the buildings
repeating a red-brick phrase
down the street.
I pricked my finger
on the cactus-said nothing,
hearing the silence
in the room. Then, I saw
my mother step toward me
changing the air.
In the dimness,
I touched my hair,
the same soft hair
that aureoled her face.
A bright drop welled
on my finger, and everywhere,
the scent of violets, steam.


Whole countries hover, oblivious on the edge
of history and in Cleveland the lake
already is dying. None of this matters
to my mother at seven, awakened from sleep

to follow her father through darkened rooms
downstairs to the restaurant emptied
of customers, chairs stacked and steam glazing
the window, through the kitchen bright with pans,

ropes of kielbasa, the tubs of creamy lard
that resemble, she thinks, ice cream.
At the tavern table her father's friends
talk rapidly to a man in a long gray coat,

in staccato French, Polish, harsh German.
Her mother stops her, holds her shoulders, and whispers
This is a famous man. Remember his face.
Trotsky-a name like one of her mother's

found, strange nouns. He looks like the man
who makes her laugh at Saturday matinees,
only tired. So tired. Her father pours the man
another drink of clear, bootleg gin, then turns

smiling to her. She has her own glass.
Peppermint schnapps that burns and makes her light,
cloudy so grown-ups forget her when she curls
on a bench and drifts then wakes and drifts again.

At the bar, her mother frowns, braids shining
round her head bent to the books, the columns
of figures in her bold hand and the smoke, voices
of men, a wash of syllables she sleeps upon

until her father wakes her to the empty room.
The men are gone. A draft of chill air lingers
in her father's hair, his rough shirt,
and together they walk the block to morning Mass.

Still dark and stars falter, then wink sharp
as shattered mirrors. Foghorns moan
and the church is cold. A few women in babushkas
kneel in the pews. Still dizzy, she follows

the priest's litanies for those who wait within
lift's pale, for those departed, the shades humming
in the air, clustered thick as lake fog in the nave.
The priest elevates the wafer, a pale day moon

the spirit of God leafs through, then it's
a human face-her father's, the tired man's
and she is lost and turning through fragrant air.
Her fingers entwined make a steeple, but

all she sees is falling: the church collapsing
in shards, the great bell tolling, tolling.
1933 outside and some unwound mainspring has set
the world careening. The Jazz Age

ended years ago. I Jean olive-skinned men
sport carnations and revolvers, and in the country
of her father, bankers in threadbare morning coats
wheel cartloads of currency to the bakeries

for a single loaf. The men who wait each night
outside the kitchen door have a look she's seen
in her father's eyes, although it's two years
until he turns his gentle hand against himself.

But now he touches her face. Her father stands
so straight, as if wearing a uniform he's proud of.
She watches him shape the sign of the cross.
She crosses forehead, lips, and breast, and believes,

for a moment, her father could cradle the world
in his palm. When they leave the church and its flickering
votive candles for market, it is dawn. The milkman's
wagon horse waits, patient at the curb, his breath

rosettes of steam rising to the sky that spills
like a pail of blue milk across morning. She prays
that God take care of the man in the gray coat,
that her father will live forever.

The Bookkeeper

I know the way evening shawls the mirror,
the bureau where years ago
my brother kept a lacquered box
beside the brush with its cinnabar handle.
Inside were coins, small rounds flashing
the profiles of queens and archdukes, tyrants
only history's long memory preserves.
He said we were difficult music, an endless

glissando of moods. He leaned over my shoulder
and made the shapes of notes, cupping my hands,
the keys. Tonight, the numbers are precise,
the ledger closed on the desk. I cover
the typewriter and walk home. For a moment
twilight kindles iridescent
the feathers of roosters
the Chinese grocer stacks in bamboo cages,

the strange privacy of my face through bars,
and a bird's flurry disturbing,
becoming the composition.
The first magnolias in the park
unfurl, their scent
almost an injury. Against my palm
the cane's handle curves smooth. My foot
lists in its heavy shoe.

Half a lifetime since my brother
sat with me-the operations and long shuttered
evenings with the iced drinks of summer.
He played Strauss when the gauze was removed.

He lifted me and waltzed across
the parquet, my face tucked against his neck,
the scent of bay rum. The phonograph played
into circles of static, circles of silence.

Last night I burned unanswered the letters
written on the stationery of foreign hotels.
The last from Spain, its single olive leaf
silver and bitter if held to the lips.
I imagine him ending in a port city
handling the morning papers
with gloved hands so acid won't taint
his fingers, still formal and elegant.

What could I have written? That
I don't remember his face? That I must
sit in the park with those who sit
and hear leaves blade the air, sharp,
then faltering like a flute breaking
into raggedness? That above us
the statue of a general towers? In the radiance
of streetlamps his hand extends,

as if blessing, as if conducting the orchestra
of musicians accident has assembled below him.

Night Waitress

Reflected in the plate glass, the pies
look like clouds drifting off my shoulder.
I'm telling myself my face has character,
not beauty. It's my mother's Slavic face.
She washed the floor on hands and knees
below the Black Madonna, praying
to her god of sorrows and visions
who's not here tonight when I lay out the plates,
small planets, the cups and moons of saucers.
At this hour the men all look
as if they'd never had mothers.
They do not see me. I bring the cups.
I bring the silver. There's the man
who leans over the jukebox nightly
pressing the combinations
of numbers. I would not stop him
if he touched me, but it's only songs
of risky love he leans into. The cook sings
with the jukebox, a moan and sizzle
into the grill. On his forehead
a tattooed cross furrows,
diminished when he frowns. He sings words
dragged up from the bottom of his lungs.
I want a song that rolls
through the night like a big Cadillac
past factories to the refineries
squatting on the bay, round and shiny
as the coffee urn warming my palm.
Sometimes when coffee cruises my mind
visiting the most remote way stations,
I think of my room as a calm arrival
each book and lamp in its place. The calendar
on my wall predicts no disaster
only another white square waiting
to be filled like the desire that fills
jail cells, the old arrest
that makes me stare out the window or want
to try every bar down the street.
When I walk out of here in the morning
my mouth is bitter with sleeplessness.
Men surge to the factories and I'm too tired
to look. Fingers grip lunch box handles,
belt buckles gleam, wind riffles my uniform
and it's not romantic when the sun unlids
the end of the avenue. I'm fading
in the morning's insinuations
collecting in the crevices of buildings,
in wrinkles, in every fault
of this frail machinery.


After nestling champagne splits in ice
I'd line the bottles behind the bar. Tapped,
they made a chilly music, an arsenal
of bells
you called it. When I circled my arms
around myself I could count ribs
under my cotton shift. Rochelle sat at the stage's
edge warming her satin costume. She
couldn't bear the cold cloth. On the way
to your rooms I'd adjust blue lights for her.

René, that year you were the only father
I'd admit. Before opening each evening
we'd sip wine coolers on the balcony,
watch the day burn out over the square
and fountain with its cluster of stone cherubs.

With a straight razor you'd shave your face,
clean, then smooth indigo on your lids
and draw the lines of your mouth. Nights
you shook too much I'd do your face,
the wig, make you talk. It became a way
of managing the days, evening's slow descent
until the city turned in its fever
and music rose through the floor.

I'd serve while Rochelle balanced
on a sequined ball, stepping down
to the blown sound of blues. She'd gyrate
till she'd lost it all and you'd glide, joking
among tables, benevolent in a rayon kimono.

All night the river of men swerved
under their solitary stars, and we'd go on

minor players waking startled to the care
or harm of unlikely hands, surprised
to hit the lights and find the place
so shabby: numbers on the wall, the butts
and broken glass. Quiet after closing,
I'd lean by the door and smoke, hear
the fountain erode cherub faces.

You're nowhere I know anymore René.
The future we predicted is the past
and different. You're the empty room
morning pours into through a torn shade,
that place you said most nearly spells peace
in the heart, narrow glasses on the ledge
reflecting the horizon.

Tonight, children's quarreling rises
from the yard. For a moment, through shutters
the city relights itself until it's time
for music to shiver the floorboards,
the hour of plumage ...

But that was long ago. I was only seventeen.

Jackson Hotel

Sometimes after hours of wine I can almost see
the night gliding in low off the harbor

down the long avenues of shop windows

past mannequins, perfect in their gestures.
I leave water steaming on the gas ring

and sometimes I can slip from my body,

almost find the single word to prevent evenings
that absolve nothing, a winter lived alone

and cold. Rooms where you somehow marry

the losses o{ strangers that tremble
on the walls like the hands

of the dancer next door, luminous

with Methedrine, she taps walls for hours
murmuring about the silver she swears

lines the building, the hallways

where each night drunks stammer their
usual rosary until they come to rest

beneath the tarnished numbers, the bulbs

that star each ceiling.
I must tell you I am afraid to sit here

losing myself to the hour's slow erasure

until I know myself only by this cold weight,
this hand on my lap, palm up.

I want to still the dancer's hands

in mine, to talk about forgiveness
and what we leave behind-faces

and cities, the small emergencies

of nights. I say nothing, but
leaning on the sill, I watch her leave

at that moment

when the first taxis start rolling
to the lights of Chinatown, powered

by sad and human desire. I watch her fade

down the street until she's a smudge,
violet in the circle of my breath. A figure

so small I could cup her in my hands.

Excerpted from Collected Poems by Lynda Hull Copyright © 2006 by The Estate of Lynda Hull. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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