by Jennifer Clarvoe

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Jennifer Clarvoe’s second book, Counter-Amores, wrestles with and against love. The poems in the title series talk back to Ovid’s Amores, and, in talking back, take charge, take delight, and take revenge. They suggest that we discover what we love by fighting, by bringing our angry, hungry, imperfect selves into the battle. Like a man who shouts for the echo back from a cliff, or the scientist who teaches her parrot to say, “I love you,” or the philosopher who wonders what it is like to be a bat, or Temple Grandin’s lucid imaginings of the last moments of cattle destined for slaughter, the speakers in these poems seek to find themselves in relation to an ever-widening circle of unknowable others. Yearning for “the sweet cool hum of fridge and fluorescent that sang ‘home,’” we’re as likely to find “fifty-seven clicks and flickering channels pitched to the galaxy.” Song itself becomes a site for gorgeous struggle, just as bella means both “beautiful” and “wars.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226109299
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 08/01/2011
Series: Phoenix Poets
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 88
File size: 172 KB

About the Author

Jennifer Clarvoe is professor of English at Kenyon College and a recipient of the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She is the author of Invisible Tender, winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award and the Poets Out Loud Prize.

Read an Excerpt




Copyright © 2011 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-10928-2

Chapter One

Reflecting Pool

      After the Turkish

    Can you hear my thirst?
    Can you hear it now?

    Can you hear a thirst reply
    from the opposite hill?

    A thirst lies as if sleeping
    at the bottom of the valley.

    At night it reappears,
    pours itself into the dream—

    thirst which will swallow thirsts,
    as the moon outside will pour

    into the bottomless night:
    one thirst hoots from its perch,

    warning, or invitation,
    or the thirsty song of itself.

    Another thirst, silent, glides
    so low no moon can reach.

      After a child's drawing

    Somewhere in the Ocean of Truth and the Sea of Lies
    On carefully labeled tracing paper
    Under unlabelled skies,
    Equipped, as is proper, with both legend and scale,
    Lies the island where we unfold our tale.

    To the east, the double-rivers of Upper and Lower Youth
    Flow in blue magic marker—
    To the west, twin Death
    Rivers, too. And a tiny Stream of Disgust
    On Withered Hill, amid the shrubs and dust.

    Two faces, Janus-like, a pretty girl and a crone,
    Appear in the contour intervals,
    As if age and ugliness alone
    Define what oppositions matter most—
    The swampy brow across from the Wisdom Coast.

    The labels are written with curlicue flourishes—
    A trilling B and C for the Bay of Crime—
    Unconscious wishes
    That nothing harder oppose us than time?
    The tracing paper has yellowed to a shade I'm

    Fond of, just as I am of those silly magic markers
    (Two shades each of green and blue!)
    Neither one so dark as
    A rebuke or a threat.
    Not yet.


    Woman listening to the sky
    releasing the sounds to anyone, everyone, and no one in particular,
    it isn't human nature to lie down beneath a thing,
    but you can lie down beneath this;

    the sky has everything to give, and an unmade bed.
    The ferns fall at random, so many golden bear-claws at the roots,
    wanton as their fronds, everything opening;
    extravagance, yes, is the obvious essence of the sky;

    the sky is a giver, slow to let go a reluctant sigh.
    There are others besides me who have unwrapped themselves from that
    whose bodies continue to offer thanks; the birds still wing past them
    for their fingertips flourish:

    women lift kites, tickled by the notion they might be consecrating a cradle,
    and stand still, together—the ribbons of the tails
    fluttering apart like milkweed pods as if there were only and everywhere

    The sheets undo each other in ripples—beautiful over the disparate fluff of
    and flare up, gasping, while the sky crashes in and out of the branches;
    the moles tunnel underground unimaginably slowly, humming as they
      never have—
    the glittering bees lift off from the bark of the trees unmoving beneath them;

    and the sky, over the echoes of canyons and silence of caves,
    retreats, as it might always, looking as if it is that sky into which released
      things are bound to rise—

    into which if they make a bee-line, it is either with will-lessness or


    Here I was refound by a dark self;
    My self was found by a darker self, obscure.
    I was not one self, but made of wood

    Within this wood—not single, but multiplied
    On into darkness. No way to see for rest,
    For all the trees, for all the terza rima.

    A tree grows in the wood—what would you have me
    Do? They all diverge into the darkness,
    Dive into darkness, urge to obscurity.

    How could one do anything but fall
    Into a swoon, svanire? One cannot
    Stand this, one cannot stand in the middle

    Of this. And then I was found out by an
    Obscure greeting—salve—strange advice
    From something dark and savage that nonetheless

    Spoke of salvage, through the loss, darkly.
    Mi ritrovai per una selva oscura.
    I back myself to the edge of a dark shelf.

    Man hands on misery to man, it deepens—
    So much deepens that one cannot stand
    Here, in the middle of this mirror trove.


    I was born in a city with a reflecting pool,
    Clover-leaves, traffic circles, bridges like laces
    Criss-crossing the river, on-ramps and off-ramps,
    A bright white dome, and not far from the dome,
    A train station and a botanical garden.
    Riots I didn't see, ruin I did. The zoo I heard
    In my sleep from my crib, a roaring alongside.
    Maple helicopters. Marco Polo in the pool.
    Camellias by the backdoor, dandelion wine
    Brewing in the tub. Blue-jays in the side-yard,
    Dive-bombing the cat. Pansies we picked
    For the pinch-necked vase. Pale, looming hydrangeas
    Bigger than your head. The Fuller brushman.
    Locust buzzing by the front path. My right wrist
    Gone through the glass panel of the downstairs door.
    Peace roses, pine sap. Pearly accordion wheeze.
    We made a four-leaf clover by gluing on a leaf
    With Elmer's glue and believed in the luck we made.


    What if you went to the movies and they were home?
    The swimming pool's inside, where you can't sink
    And disappear; the ceiling veers, bobs down,
    Squishes you to the surface. That other brink
    Outside the pool room, out there on the deck,
    That other infinite surface, infinite depth—

    Won't hold tight for a close-up. Hurricane:
    The room rocks and then resets in its frame.
    The focus leaps, blurs, saws away from threat.
    For fun, upstairs, your mother places a bet
    On horse races on tape. When the waves rock,
    All you can do is sleep as if under lock

    And key. But I want to understand the ocean,
    Get to it, in it, under it, not to wall
    Myself away from it. The iron crib
    Falls down, steeply, but I am not there,
    Where my baby brother cries; he doesn't know
    Enough to scare,

    My mother, brothers, sisters, sick and low.
    The iron crib in the ocean liner, itself
    Picked up like a paper boat and slapped
    And slammed. And yet I was right there
    When my grandmother was thrown into the air
    Out of the lower bunk; I slept and slept.

    All day on deck we drew
    Together, folding the paper, passing it on,
    All but the links left hidden. We'd unroll
    Bird's head. Gorilla body. Spotted giraffe
    Stilt legs. After the fold, two pointy shoes
    On teetering heels. Of course you couldn't choose

    What to connect to. We watched the wake
    Making an endless ribbon for old time's sake,
    Unraveling over the waves like invisible thread.
    But where was Daddy? Had he flown ahead?
    We should be going down and not across—

    This is no way to understand the loss.
    The family rearranges, and the pain
    Lies in knowing it won't be this again.
    It could open up—but you can't find the seam.
    You're stuck in that VW from the dream,
    The one from the old ad, airtight underwater:
    You're nobody's son or daughter,

    No breathing room. You hold your breath and float
    And wait for life to send a ransom note.



    There was a humming in the house all day;
    The flood subsiding into dampness, vapor;
    But now the sky is gathering into gray;
    The Mind's descending into closet stupor;
    Under the cloud's deep voice, the Heart sinks deeper;
    The Soul won't answer as the cardinal warbles;
    And the water drags down the air like a sack of troubles.


    Where can they go, the things that live outdoors?
    The ground despairs after nightlong destruction;
    The grass is smeared and wrenched—and while it pours
    The raccoon and three pups race in distraction
    Toward and away from the house, and the opossum
    Weaves, despairs, and worries through the mud
    Some groove the water's worn; all things are flood.


    I was a Prisoner, my flood indoors;
    I saw the hare outside, flattened with fear;
    I heard the woods and distant waters roar
    Even when they would still, sad as before;
    The unstill season veined my heart with care;
    The present moment cracks the present torment
    As lightning downs the pine—not punishment


    But chance. Not punishment at all. How late
    The light in minds that can no further go;
    As low as we have sunk in our sad state
    This slow solution lifts us—weary, slow,
    And wavering with the evening. Even so,
    What rises from torn root and residue,
    Releasing resin, tastes both sharp and true.


    The wren inspects the ground beneath the pine;
    Alert at the edge of the farthest bed, the deer
    Acknowledges my presence. No design
    Affords us these companions. We are here
    In the green world by accident together—
    Each day is accidental—accident
    All friends, heart's bliss, and peace and nourishment.


    My whole life I have ached for happy thought
    As if I were a prisoner in a flood
    As if all needful things must still be sought
    Outside myself. How bright and far the good
    Flares in the lightning, seams and veins that should
    Feed and inform the earth, and yet the pine
    Is riven to the root. That charge is mine.


    What is thought? The Marvellous is human,
    Even when sleeping deep beneath the word,
    Beneath the river that a silly woman
    Watches and would follow. Unknown bird
    Another poet wrote about who heard
    You singing questions, sing into eternity
    Of accidental happiness and sanity.

    The Wild Turkeys
      Outside my kitchen window, Gambier

    His eyes, from the unchanging gray, end-of-winter trees
    suddenly light up, light suddenly upon
    something particular. What is it he sees
    that is not tree, not gray? The world taking on

    motion as two, then seven, and then a flock of wild
    turkeys, convening: two dozen sauntering, flaunting
    improbable wingspreads and dignity—bigger than the child,
    wiggly, transfixed. Something haunting,

    always, unheimlich and homely—the scary human
    scale of the birds, winged shoulders, one beaked head
    slowly turning as they move slowly on
    away from my son, sight, the now empty yard.


    In Boston, the sky will be red tonight
    while you die. The accountants cover their keyboards with plastic
    cases and close their eyes while thirteen ducks
    who have been bickering over breadcrumbs on the pond
    in the Public Garden, today's Public Garden, in the new millennium, bury
    their beaks under their wings without a sound.

    Under the red roof, one house rejects
    coats of paint. The renovators hacking at your neighbor's gutter
    know everything there is to know about death. Your neighbor
    holds her face in her hands, which are wet
    as the rutted driveway by the renovator's van. She gives
    you no thought, you are at work. And in a funny way, she's right.

    You are working on dying in the Boston Public Garden. Oh,
    what does it matter, the renovators can do nothing
    with feathers. And Boston comes right down to the ground
    in bricks. At the bottom of the pond, the light
    is sour cherry, bitter tears of a girl
    in a restaurant full of smokers. The iron benches

    break your teeth, blankly, black. You will never
    lie down under that ceiling, sirens
    or no, workers hurriedly stripping
    the old roofing from the frame in sheets.

    Your neighbor doesn't know what she knows, she guesses
    you're unrolled like bolts of satin over the skyline. Yes,

    everything of how you work to escape this death.
    She guesses what's in front of you, the bone white
    horizon, the shadow of the boulder
    where you closed in such a slow luxurious purple, her eyes
    lidded like yours. The streetcars' eyes
    are blue, frantically blinking, a sister's. Your neighbor shuts up.

    Don't let anything touch you, because you
    are not a child. You are older than that.
    You are so old you think whatever you
    don't want, the afterlife won't want either. Children
    on the playground don't mind the grit of sand on their knees.
    Swinging was work, you learned it; you

    have to lunge into the sky where it resists.
    The music you heard this morning inside
    your neighbor's window dies in the ear of a duckling. You are so old
    you don't know how hard it will be to lie down
    on the bench, which never has room
    for your brain. So when you clench your teeth,

    you never guess the streetcar will speed between them
    like an explosion, streaking your cheeks with red lights
    and all its rain. But death is dumb, death wants
    to get away now, and who knows why
    as your teeth unclench, the children climb out
    of the sandbox and head for the T-station, who knows why

    the woman on hospice care in Boston dreamed
    death was a balloon and pursed
    her lips. And your neighbor, convinced, held
    the beam and pilasters gleaming white
    up to the new roof, as if she would stand there
    forever in bright sun, so finally who cares what you do?


    Life's stirred up strife in the city center: strong thighs
    pumping stronger, right and left hands insist
    on unhinging each other in the heat.
    Life dynamites my heart like a green leaf.
    Oh, pay it no heed: it won't hold water.
    I'm thrown out like a ball into the blue—
    to the same old cost—but somehow I care less.

    Life, you bastard,
      you think you're so tough.
    But before the last fuck I'll leave you, you can't guess
    how my goodbye hits home: one wild pitch
    dropped. One day, just nothing:
    crowd's air cut off mid-roar. One last thrust
    reduced to synecdochic cynicism—now, no news
    is goodness, nothing tops the inexpressibility topos:
    Life's undone in short shrift, lets down its blank
    endpaper over me; yet no page abhors
    airlessness, and no page abhors the red
    cover clamped down on it like a mouth on white skin.

Chapter Two

    How I Fell

    A world who would not purchase with a bruise?
    — John Milton, Paradise Lost (x.500)

      & HOW IT FELT

    At the movies, in my suede boots, like a fawn in the dark
    startled by the lights, I fall; down the stairs vertiginous steep
    I fall all week—and still fall, and still bark
    and bloody my shin, and I am still asleep.

    Or no, moving from Cheer, to Joy, to All,
    I fall like a cumbersomely breaking sack
    of groceries in the parking lot. Why call
    for help, game hens, why hope for something back?

    The "sorry's" go by me, like the jaunty sparrows
    pecking the llama's grain. From a mother's sleep
    I fell into such a state—the slings and eros
    of outrageous fortune—I could weep

    as Ash (our hero) now begins to weep
    vast shining cartoon tears for the beloved
    Pokemon who's died. But tears are cheap
    as movie tickets. Everyone is moved

    uniformly. I just feel it more
    in my right shin. I bet there'll be a scar.


Excerpted from Counter-Amores by JENNIFER CLARVOE Copyright © 2011 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO 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


One: Reflecting Pool

After the Equinox
Island of Opposites
A Cradle
Mi Ritrovai
Reflecting Pool
The Crossing, 1969: USS United States
After the Storm
The Wild Turkeys
Today’s Public Garden
Short Shrift

Two: How I Fell

How I Fell & How It Felt
Day of Needs
The Body Is a Disenchanting Thing
What Is It Like to Be a Bat?
Mortal Coil
In the Nights of Cacophony
High Time
After Words
Facing the Judge, at the Altar
I Know Why You Went to Memphis, Uh Huh
Cultural Instructions: Spring
Who’s Counting?

Three: Counter-Amores

Counter-Amores I.5
Counter-Amores I.3
Counter-Amores I.2
Counter-Amores I.7
Counter-Amores I.14
Counter-Amores III.14
Counter-Amores III.5
Counter-Amores II.1
Counter-Amores II.16
Counter-Amores I.1
What She Thought
Counter-Amores III.15


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