Scaffolding: Poems

Scaffolding: Poems

by Eléna Rivera


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Scaffolding is a sequence of eighty-two sonnets written over the course of a year, dated and arranged in roughly chronological order, and vividly reflecting life in New York City. In this, her third book of poetry, Eléna Rivera uses the English sonnet as a scaffold to explore daily events, observations, conversations, thoughts, words, and memories—and to reflect on the work of earlier poets and the relationship between life and literature.

Guided by formal and syllabic constraints, the poems become in part an exploration of how form affects content and how other poets have approached the sonnet. The poems, which are very attentive to rhythm and sound, are often in conversation with historical, philosophical, artistic, and literary sources. But at the same time they engage directly with the present moment. Like the construction scaffolding that year after year goes up around buildings all over New York, these poems build on one another and change the way we see what was there before.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691172262
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 11/08/2016
Series: Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets , #133
Pages: 104
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.20(d)

About the Author

Eléna Rivera is a poet and translator. She is the author of The Perforated Map and Unknowne Land, and her poems have appeared in the Nation, Denver Quarterly, the New York Times, and many other publications. Her translation of Bernard Noël's The Rest of the Voyage won the Robert Fagles Translation Prize. She was born in Mexico City, spent her childhood in Paris, and now lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt



By Eléna Rivera


Copyright © 2017 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-691-17226-2



    Dawn in the city, windows wide open — wham!
    Slam! Screams! Now scaffolding confronts this hometown —
    trash smashed, strollers, birds, doors opening/closing
    Here happens, all day, tending to tones sounding
    in our ears — Beep! Vehicle backs into street
    veers round the corner — listen, take note of this
    city waking, summer moistened with sirens,
    syncopated noise — beats anticipate stress
    as skyscrapers vibrate — "All's well," you say, "All's
    Here" — a car idles, shakes, feeds the vertigo —
    water the balcony's garden, hear children,
    hear the blaring radio counterpoint to
    the modest breeze this morning — back inside then,
    at the desk, the sawed railings of the poem


    The dictionary the eye the ear our lungs
    open, engender "owl" here "genesis" there
    Turn the page and all things come alive echo
    in the imagination — the word leads us
    into worlds into time into reverie —
    And the real? what happens to reality?
    No need for Derrida, the deconstruction
    already part of the city's laws where we
    live leave everything to measure re-measure
    Construction and destruction, bricks are replaced
    Without answers without frame the scaffolding
    highlights the slab the bricks the mortar playpen,
    not just whispers but its cinder block questions
    From drill to hammer to threshold to discourse


    I put you together, fall in with the past,
    return to fading atmospheres no matter
    the pillars, columns, moments evaporate
    Mourn the loss of light poet you wrote of this
    not a new notion we look back always look
    the woman tripped, fell, her head hitting concrete,
    shocked by the body that aging monument
    One page faces another where poets look
    at shadows, illuminate the present place
    The multitude must be in the words, allude
    to the boundless past that sentence that binds us
    crashes into liberty's baffling riddle
    Boulders, ocean, and the old obscurity
    What happened to them, us, writing in water?


    When a man is asked to sing of his anger
    the risk is that without remorse virtue dies
    War then is in the face, in this homelessness,
    the despair which couldn't wait couldn't ask for

    We don't talk to each other anymore we
    email global reach managed minutes morning
    to noon in the hospitals we are all old
    forbidden to talk of lost sons, asked to smile

    Enough, they'll hear the news, men in photographs
    die and nothing will seem simple, their faces
    especially where sorrow stretched everything

    Maps point to? and defeat looms where? out there where?
    Here the naked body is where terror lies
    Guilt builds monuments, the way we spend our time


    If we say it's all up to chance do we mean
    a throw of dice or an unexpected risk?
    Can we bear being battered with sorrow, joy?
    Contingent one moment on calamitous
    headlines, another by the fear of our death
    Obliterated by confrontation — Job's
    test? And if "Un coup de dés" then Mallarmé's
    "le hasard" sits at a piano in a room —
    Nothing but "crass casualty" obstacles these
    obstructions that cover the rising of light
    in the East — the painter's eye tailored by light
    shares with us a gladness for color and sun
    We need new angles from which to see look out
    the window, there in the garden the gamble



    The uniform the stockings the waiting, time
    to carry the tray balanced for the banquet
    Maroon and pink polyester with black shoes
    "Cygne" or "swan" rushing across the ballroom floor
    The pigeon place where the assembled come to
    pick at steaks, filet mignon, ten per table,
    swallowed between dances bold sweep of it or
    left behind in the trash where no one can dine
    Avenue block ballroom I crash into space
    myself nothing a figure crossing the room
    emptied of person and picking up glasses
    The servers all speak different languages
    Not there to sing with a lyre but to pour drinks
    until the clock strikes midnight and we disperse


    Being there one is struck by the difference
    that an ocean makes — the park advertises
    "How it used to be" charges admission sells
    "Nostalgia" and "History" to the tourist

    "Le passant's" aim is to complicate a view
    To fulfill this pleasure a guide explicates
    the art of falconry; its role in Britain

    The family returns to the car, the hotel,
    the next meal, finished with that site, surrounded
    by a thin remembrance of a falcon's stare

    A family "en route" revealed, translating
    signage, instructions, "the way we used to be"
    Struck by the absence of accompaniment
    and what one can say in another country


    What a surprise the fresh breeze, noticing it
    Golden euphoria and wham! a strong wind
    ever ready behind small experience
    Words will latch on to air if you let them grab
    burrow their way stick have you think you are it
    Eenie meenie miney moe and the sweat drips
    the shirt clings to memory clings years ago
    And when you least expect it it all comes back
    I'm at a window elated by the sky
    the moment where lights branched out and I was small
    A day where fireworks competed with lightning
    We in the big city in our huge smallness
    rushing in out of the bodega for beer
    and chips cigarettes and "real" celebration


    The mind gets overfull on certain mornings
    Maybe that's the way of the scribe to forage
    and scour (note that trying to protect oneself
    from language makes for a longing to comply
    with wind-blown anger, impossible of course)
    An aunt's stern eye turns into tugs in the mind
    You can look up, instantly feel your wrongness,
    how the fear of lost fondness undoes the mind
    Hours elapsed, days, years, no breeze in the heat
    Children then grew fearful of shadows and dark
    Adults feel their passel memories heat cheeks,
    "by the fall of a shadow across the ground"
    The "pollution tolerant" Lindens and Oaks
    witness our delusion, we work in the dark


    The form carries a one-way conversation,
    site of separation brought into relief
    A relationship between sonnet and "house"
    the I that tried to run away, walls of snow,
    and how invisible the girl felt, small, bold

    Wordsworth would never scorn the form, his ground O
    it would take me years to kowtow to this earth
    quake and still resist the good loam, the concrete
    world, think of man's enlightenment, follow paths
    of beauty of sound of ideas and then dreams

    The struggle for a way out, a faith in this,
    through the house, past deaf-ears, into the snow filled
    One forgets that the form is, a lamp transports
    Oh the cold has clearly entered the sonnet


    To have the kind of _______ that no one can presence
    That will not hurt ____ even the smallest thing not
    I saw a fly, now _______ circle around leaves gnats
    That will not judge or cradle the cold or _____ turn

    The self in this has no grace, ____ gratitude, no
    thinks boredom the barrier when it's _____ gold, pure
    energizes _______ jumps hoops just for grace, matter
    if sweet _______ our fellow gardenias and herbs gives

    We think of things as ______, correction reflection
    The sweet can fester instead _____ the human of
    When divided it's _____ surface that rankles the
    with pain at the gate of self and its ________ structures

    Poet remind me it's more _____ than need subtle
    She crosses her legs circled around the ____ leaves


    Seeped in a nineteenth century piety

    I see how I forgot to strip them the sounds
    molded by my father's Eliot records
    I see your method sticks to spoken language
    cannot face or gauge every word in my head
    I would stumble against the choir the grand voice
    the sloppiness that I would be punished for
    At eleven we don't think of what words say
    In the twenty first century I desire
    form that pushes the limits of silty thought —
    the long and flexible so I can surprise
    your privacy (I almost wrote "piracy"),
    describe your spine curving slightly as I bend
    back the pages, his soft freckled hand on mine


    He came out of the sea to greet mere mortals
    Poseidon of the Mediterranean
    The man I admired had no permanence,
    he would always go back to where he came from
    so the children thought when the world was color
    There's a picture of the God in his swimsuit
    hair floating, in profile, ready to surface,
    but the past and the wet red rage container
    saw the sea lion move from place to place, un-
    tethered and the children watched his sheen rub off
    in a dark apartment his sea charm broken
    tethered to "responsibilities" bursting
    with rage, smashed a catsup bottle into bits
    as the world's color changed into black & white


    This year tangled up in last year transported
    The mistake that we make of time occurring,
    future fast-forwarding never quite finding
    Ladybugs all we can ask of the living,
    and of sonnets, when they get claustrophobic
    Always have to have a very high idea
    of what we do, how we end up "being" time
    Do we tell others what or do we write words
    This year lived in expectations nothing I
    could wear and the past has a way of catching
    Summer sky can be very blue the day cold,
    picked up mistakes one by one, can you blame me
    There were no rules, no regulations, nothing,
    no wonder I felt trapped by the lack of them


Excerpted from Scaffolding by Eléna Rivera. Copyright © 2017 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY 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

  • Frontmatter, pg. i
  • Contents, pg. vii
  • July 14th From 80 La Salle - Sept. 1st, pg. 1
  • Sept. 5th - Oct. 24th, pg. 25
  • Oct. 27th (Revised Jan. 28th) - July 17th April 23rd, pg. 56
  • Acknowledgments, pg. 83
  • Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets, pg. 85

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