In her tenth collection of poems, Carol Frost describes a journey through loss. How can one regain equilibrium in the face of absences such as dementia and death? We have to keep moving, even while realizing that the loss of mind and body is the natural conclusion. At the beginning of the first poem Frost invokes the image of an empty or abandoned beehive:
Pretty to think of the mind at its end as a metaphysician beekeeping after the leaves have fallen at autumn's end.
The bee metaphor is handled brilliantly and subtly throughout the collection as a reminder of how often our constant activity, whether it is mental or physical, is taken for granted.
Frost continues her investigation of the mortal plight by entering into a Dantesque descent into the ebb and flow of the seascape. Body consumes body over and over again as fish are caught and killed and the poet observes the flora and fauna as they partake in the darker cycles of nature. A long narrative poem about the Spanish explorer de Baca and his harrowing travels from southern Florida to Mexico powerfully reinforces the certainty of consumption and loss as it comments on the colonizing of the new world. In the final section, Frost returns once more to the need for movement and summons the Greek god Pan, who dances a rite of acceptance through a metaphysical landscape on the verge of seasonal changethe bees are not dead, the dark woods are filled with music.
|Publisher:||Northwestern University Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.12(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)|
About the Author
Carol Frost divides her time between Cedar Key, Florida, and upstate New York. Her poems have appeared in the Pushcart Prize anthology three different years, and she is a poetry editor for Pushcart Prize Anthology XXVII and The Best of Pushcart Prize Poetry: Selections from the First Thirty Years. She is also the director and founder of the Catskill Poetry Workshop, and is the recipient of two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. Her books include I Will Say Beauty (2003), Love and Scorn (2000), Venus and Don Juan (1996), and Pure (1994), all published by TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press.
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THE QUEEN'S DESERTION
By CAROL FROST
Northwestern University Press
Copyright © 2006
All right reserved.
Chapter One THE QUEEN'S DESERTION
Pretty to think of the mind at its end as a metaphysician beekeeping after the leaves have fallen at autumn's end. Never sweeter, closer, those hours bred from seasons. Were not the cells and stars fruit-smelling? Where are those hours? In the ashes of old pains and joys, in the burning and nectar, the interstellar black garden, the cold solstice, space inside a space once burning.
* * *
The wintriest gray shape, beauty smoked out-no longer full of rapture and sweet lies (see, the beekeeper's terrible blank eyes are trying to make whoever looks see that he no longer knows what to think, do, feel, or even what day it is, and he succeeds), but a blunt empty box. I see the unmarked snow, the yawning tree, shriveled bees on the bottom pan, and I see dead beauty.
Abandoned bee boxes piled on each other at meadow end ... Like clothing taken off, the bees who had alighted on hat, gloves, shirt, have flown off somewhere. Is it so terrible to outlive the mind? Forget this, forget that-keys, glasses, what it was you just said, what you meant to say. Pseudonyms. Silences: oddball or golden and grave, a dance of signs, sorrows passing by like shadows, time running by like a small girl running by like a madwoman.
Generous I may have been, amnesiac I became. Autumn fattened and thinned; I stared at the clock's senseless hands. I let the girl in the market make change. I looked at my lists of medicines and the bottles on the shelf, but they seemed separate. In the bathroom mirror my face was suddenly antediluvian who was I? I'd be thinking, and at the first touch of attention, I'd forget. I cut my own hair. I saw my mother wrapped in a mantilla in her coffin. Why did I find my skin's imperfections so interesting and pick off moles? If I went to the end of the street, would I be at the center of myself? Insects watched me. They got in my hair. I'd be at the opera house in Vienna. The planes strafed the Strassenbahn. My hands fluttered then like butterflies. For a little while I knew-there was a door, a split in the wall, and I was two persons, old and young, wise and clean, sturdy and bent, generous and dead. They were neck on neck like winter and spring but could do nothing for each other. I'm leaving, I know, each said, a flooding darkness in their eyes, a drawing down of blinds. Afterward my feelings were the eyes of moths. They ... What is the word between eyes and too little light? I knew. I think so. Meanings fissured. Words hollowed. It was like the thing with bees- I swatted in front of my face and hated them. Then there were none.
Two anthills and a late summer hive gone to fragments. The dirt is acrid, the wax honeyed- so mind makes laws, dividing seasons, scents, light and light's reflections. I have no mother. Yes, you have a mother, a voice said. But that is not right. Her difference- a broken hive ... a black bear in the bluebells clawing the stinging air ... something torn from her. Still, the land soothes me-No one may come-: low sun, dusk, and charred trees, seeming first to glow as they darken, really are only darkening, as if autumn burned. And if I want it otherwise, O self, there's beauty in small lies. I say bees lick nectar after dark and bring it to the bough of the honey tree. Royal jelly keeps the larvae from falling from the cells. Broodcomb, honeycomb, bee bread- this is a harmless thought. Yes, once I had a mother. I said to her, there is no twenty on the clock, don't worry. I said I will tell you the time. She said how little it takes to finish ... What? Stupid, Orphean things swirl: apricot flowers ... bees circling as many times as the distance to the nectar ... throbbing wings ... buzzing ... then to pluck the mind from darkness singing. Mother hears ambient grief and, more and more, her earlier German tongue-rhyming Schiller lines. Where were you? I'll ask. Wer bist du? she'll say, winter in voices, drifting, snow drift, freezing, the bees dropping to the hard pan inner darkness ... O mother ...
TELLING THE BEES
Will we tell the bees or bees tell us it's no sadder-another fall whoever's fall it is? It's as if they felt for us: the sting, the swarming in the mind, the sugar tear to probe for, or a mood to dance on air. If there were overblown roses and a child spilled root beer, the bees would seem to know the difference, flying there, but not care, evening too swift, autumnal. I say only listen to the hum behind the trees where the white bee boxes burn in evening. Drink in the air. There's more moving in the season's heart-seconds of snow on the steep part of the wind-than can be stopped. The bees, small jewels, however, hand themselves over to us. It's all right to cry, I tell myself. But it isn't sadder than it was before.
Chapter Two WAKING
It was dusk, the light hesitating and a murmur in the wind, when the deer, exhausted, turned to look at me, an arrow in its side. Though I pity dreamers, taking a thread and weaving it upon the loom of Self-the secret, gaudy, wonderful new cloth-, I will tell the end of the story. His shoulder was torn, the joint held by one sinew, which I severed with the blade of the arrow, so when he ran there were no impediments. The black dogs that followed were swifter, their barking ancient, despicable. As he fell, his chest turned to breastplate, his one powerful arm covered with pagan signs. Nearly stupid in my waiting for what would happen next, each breath propelling me and him toward dust, I woke, the sheets soaked, heart fluttering-: When death comes into the sleeping room as through a tiny hole, like a rent in the Covenant, it hurts.
SONGS FOR TWO SEASONS Marsyas's Art When the god came with his lute and knife, asking, Have you made your last song?- I told him I would make him the song for death: great light of light, air like juice edging around a figure torn into small tents, circles, knitted chain, gold. And the scorning flute. Procedure The flesh comes free and the nodes are loosened from their element. The nerve will never stir; no caress again will cause a tingle. Bandages pack the numb chest, the eyes are only half opening-half wakened by the ebb of drug tide. Am I Gorgon, odd- breasted, corrupt? I wonder. Bitter complicity: the male nurse nods and turns from me. After Grave Illness The body has two seasons and doesn't exist to be changed; it itself changes-as a clearing fills with moths, then into it steps the hunted deer. Who knows from the outside where death grows? I rub my eyes as if to recover some first sight. Clouds purple. There is rain; there's snow; a northerly wind crushing in its teeth the year's seeds. I am pushed inside out like a glove showing its lining. Things simply are. Red Pond How cool it lies. It only speaks of having little feeling-or too much. Drop by scarlet drop its rhetoric spreads to the farthest shore, waters dislodging the pebbles and roots. Who watches? Who watches this ancient mirror loves the wind's effacement and the querulous silence, water because of the sun, sun because of drifting stars, stars because of the beautiful surface and traces of red mud.
ROBINSON CRUSOE'S HAIR
Poor Robin Crusoe, where are you? Where have you been? How came you here? Poll
The lime tree, the eternal bars and bolts of the sea; the marl cave; his compasses and books of navigation, perspectives, dials; the great heats and no breeze; the dog who could not talk to him; the parrot who sat on his finger and laid his bill close to his face and did; barley; goatskin parasol; three good Bibles; the principles of Nature; the last uses of his ink to minute down the days when strange things happened; the broken and imperfect prayers; and when he was ill with fever, his hair- chestnut like his father's-falling out, then growing back; he felt the soft stubble at the temples; he read Scriptures, hunted, preserved or cooked his kill, napped, built hedges, and this gave him sometimes such covert joy; he rubbed his fingertips lightly above his ears and behind where the two cords of the neck run, and he could feel the hair multiply, and it came in silvered and very curly, coarse almost as the hair of coconuts:-All this balanced against an earlier hardened despairing of dangers, and once, as he rubbed back the new head of hair in a torpor of distraction, the silent ceiling over silent sand, he felt water squeeze from under his lids. And later when Friday stroked his own father's face, fed him cakes, and chafed his arms and legs, he cried again.
THE ST. LOUIS ZOO The isle is full of noises, Sounds and sweet airs ... sometimes voices.
High, yellow, coiled, and weighting the branch like an odd piece of fruit, a snake slept by the gate, in the serpent house. I walked around the paths hearing hushed air, piecemeal remarks, and the hoarse voice of the keeper spreading cabbage and pellets in the elephant compound-"Hungry, are you? There's a girl. How's Pearl?"-A clucking music, then silence again crept past me on the waters of the duck pond. Birds with saffron wings in the flight cage and flamingos the color of mangoes, even their webbed feet red-orange, made so "by the algae they ingest," as angels are made of air-some bickered, some were tongue-tied, some danced on one leg in the honeyed light. I thought of autumn as leaves scattered down. Nearby, closed away in his crude beginnings in a simulated rain forest, the gorilla pulled out handfuls of grass, no Miranda to teach him to speak, though he was full of noises and rank air after swallowing. Smooth rind and bearded husks lay about him. His eyes were ingots when he looked at me. In late summer air thick with rose and lily, I felt the old malevolence; the snake tonguing the air, as if to tell me of its dreaming:-birds of paradise gemming a pond; the unspooling; soft comings on, soft, soft gestures, twisted and surreptitious; the shock; the taste; the kingdom. In something more than words, You are the snake, snake coils in you, it said. Do you think anyone knows its own hunger as well as the snake? Why am I not just someone alive? When did Spirit tear me to see how void of blessing I was? The snake hesitated, tasting dusk's black honey, to feel if it was still good. And through its swoon it knew it. Leaf, lichen, the least refinements, and the perfection.
The flight of a white cockatoo from tamarind to tamarind still in his mind's eye, one morning Baron von Biberegg lay down like a streak of flowers in the dust. Lush mist, animal calls and birds sinking, the mind breeding without moving-O sleep, O golden hive. Then a giant lizard appeared. When? Within an hour. In modern times. As out of a dream's monstrous whirlpooling, the monitor with flaming, olfactory tongue probing the air, consumed the baron-hands, ivory teeth and bones, skin and fabric-, whose sap mounted in terror or disbelief, groaned, spilled, then sank into the ground, the sun deranged in the fronds. * * *
To be utterly missing, given over like drying rain, so that at some point his wife had to give up grieving, his companions searching the bamboo groves, tanah panas, the unplumbed, hot, estranging forests, then placing the white cross to mark their last glimpse of him and to tell themselves he had been, his having died filling them like abundance ... -wasn't he already a part of the dragon, visible in the yellow eyelids, septic teeth, clawed feet solid as the bottoms of brass table legs? Sentinel, snare, spirit, devourer, relative of the ascending bird. * * *
And the Promethean feasting; the shaking of the fragile frame through sunrise and day; the throbbings through nighttime. No one there to see the mouth tremble or to hear his thoughts. Soul winces-as though divinity could be drained from him. Yet Prometheus, yet the risings and settings of the stars we know to follow, yet all the instructive frenzy lives leaf by leaf, step by step, in the brandishing moment and in the way the mountains and the savannas are waiting- as the mind waits, the startled little bees that leap below sense and unseen. Also fragments of liver, spoiling in the air, propose defiance. * * *
And the ones who study the monitor lizard while deer lie napping in the azyma bushes-the ones for whom Orpheus's music carries little sting or sweetness as they watch, in bird cry and tambourine of sunlight, the lizards tongue the white fecal pellets of their rivals and who hold the tongue and lashing tail in their hands for measurement? For them neither heart nor devil nor god figure; no perfidy in the reptile's ambush; no metaphor; only viscera, anatomy, the echoing straits between Indonesian islands, isolation, and escape. Lizards prowl, eat, and mate, trued by the tips of their tails. They lie in the grass or in their holes, with head outside the mouth of the burrow and eyes wide open, staring into the black surrounding forest. If this is it, if they completely inhabit themselves, there are no morals or excuses. None for the disemboweled, disembodied: goats, pigs, horses, the blazing cockatoo, the pink, lightless, inner tissues of the baron.
Excerpted from THE QUEEN'S DESERTION by CAROL FROST
Copyright © 2006 by Carol Frost. 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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Table of ContentsContents Acknowledgments....................ix
Lucifer in Florida....................3
I. THE QUEEN'S DESERTION The Queen's Desertion....................7
Telling the Bees....................13
II. THE BODY HAS TWO SEASONS Waking....................17
Songs for Two Seasons....................18
Robinson Crusoe's Hair....................20
The St. Louis Zoo....................22
Relación of Cabeza de Vaca....................27
III. VOYAGE TO BLACK POINT Black Point....................37
The Poet's Black Drum....................39
Man So Bronzed....................49
IV. OLD PAN Late....................73