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By JENNIFER CLARVOE
THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESSCopyright © 2011 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.
Chapter OneReflecting Pool
AFTER THE EQUINOX
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.
ISLAND OF OPPOSITES
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—
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.
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
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.
THE CROSSING, 1969: USS UNITED STATES
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.
AFTER THE STORM
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.
TODAY'S PUBLIC GARDEN
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 TwoHow I Fell
A world who would not purchase with a bruise?
— John Milton, Paradise Lost (x.500)
HOW I FELL
& 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.
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Table of ContentsAcknowledgments
One: Reflecting Pool
After the Equinox
Island of Opposites
The Crossing, 1969: USS United States
After the Storm
The Wild Turkeys
Today’s Public Garden
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?
In the Nights of Cacophony
Facing the Judge, at the Altar
I Know Why You Went to Memphis, Uh Huh
Cultural Instructions: Spring
What She Thought