Window Left Open

Window Left Open

by Jennifer Grotz


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The poppies are wild, they are only beautiful and tall

so long as you do not cut them,

they are like the feral cat who purrs and rubs against your leg

but will scratch you if you touch back.

Love is letting the world be half-tamed.

—from "Poppies"

In this lush, intricately crafted collection, Jennifer Grotz explores how we can become strange to ourselves through escape, isolation, desire—and by leaving the window open. These poems are full of the sensory pleasures of the natural world and a slowed-down concept of time as Grotz records the wonders of travel, a sojourn at a French monastery, and the translation of thoughts into words, words into another language, language into this remarkable poetry. Window Left Open is a beautiful and resounding book, one that traces simultaneously the intimacy and the vastness of the world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781555977306
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Publication date: 02/02/2016
Pages: 72
Sales rank: 774,104
Product dimensions: 6.90(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Jennifer Grotz is the award-winning author of two previous poetry collections, The Needle and Cusp. Her poetry has appeared in The New Republic, The New Yorker, and Best American Poetry. She teaches at the University of Rochester.

Read an Excerpt

Window Left Open


By Jennifer Grotz


Copyright © 2016 Jennifer Grotz
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-55597-730-6


    The Forest

    During the day I have watched them stand around and chew the yellow grass,
    the longsuffering cows. Sometimes steam comes from their nostrils.
    I have also visited them at night, seen an entire herd standing
    in the rain, as unreacting as the trees behind them
    when the jitter of flashlight warned of my approach.

    Those were the cows in the field by the forest, and those
    were the days when going outside felt like going inside.
    There was the sound of a woodpecker pecking, and that was a kind of
    knocking. And the sound of the pine trees creaking, and that was
    a kind of door. And so you could enter the forest,
    and although each moment you trespassed further
    became more tense, it only lasted until you could no longer see the road.

    Then you would be inside, on a kind of unending
    staircase of roots worn silver like the soldered iron
    that holds stained glass together. From a distance, it would be
    mountains, but up close, under the arrows, spears, and ropes of trees,
    it was a forest floor, palatial leaf-meal mosaics on the ground.
    There was a little carpet of stream so clogged with leaves

    it had stopped being a stream. And such a surfeit of silence,
    it had become a kind of sound
    to which, for a while, you could pay attention. Though
    it's inaccurate, I want to say it was like staring at a light.
    All you could do was sense it; then you had to recover,
    by which I mean to wait for everything to grow dim again.
    Then the mind was the only flashlight,
    a little bobbing beam that would illuminate
    randomly and too little.


    And yes it is necessary to admit
    walking in the forest
    the heart is a lock

    it has inviolable chambers
    like the woods fallen trees
    that block

    access to the river
    snowdrops surprising its edges
    moss crystalline with frost
    What I thought I wanted what I have tried to be
    was the slender instrument that opened

    a key presence moving deeper into the forest
    that releases the birds from the trees
    and sends them ascends them
    to sky by definition

    but now there is nothing left to be solved like a riddle

    this time the lock must be broken
    what's left has to be seized

    because God only loves the strong thief
    I mean the man who breaks his heart for God

    The Snow Apples

    All fall their dropping was so insistent and
    simultaneous on different branches it made
    a syncopation. Now the end of February
    and the snow apples that still hang
    on otherwise bare branches,
    why won't they let go?

          There's a stinging
    sensation of cold on the skin, a singling
    realization, a stuttering that outs itself, has it out
    with itself oh Lord I'll make a broken music or I'll die ...

    Dulled, shrunken, nicked by wind-flung branches,
    squirrel-pawed and beak-pierced, infested
    macabre baubles hanging they are, it is —

    a hard knot
    deep in the core, something winter
    winnows me down to. An uneasy seizing
    that relaxes in the presence of sky.

    The ones that fell have piled beneath the earth's pelt of snow —
    the flesh inside them once white and wet as snow —
    inedible and sad as the stones
    on the lakeshore, pink or gray sandstone,
    granite, rusted iron, eroded talc-smooth and uniform regardless —

    Something gulped, indigestible —
    something sad as the stones.


    Rising as much as falling more mesmerizing than fire
    when it lands it seems like dying because
    when it's falling it's still alive

    settling democratically on stone shoulders
    underarms of branches but it sinks into absorbent moss
    itself a kind of snow a saturated carpet so green

    the eyes feast on it green
    illuminating its own intricacy
    miniature blades fronds needles bushy clumps

    * * *

    I don't understand growing up in the desert
    how we ever kept time the wind let nothing accrue only the sun
    gave us a psychedelic dust-infused nightly blaze

    I never saw moss rarely saw rust jewel-colored cousins
    moss grew on trees and there were no trees but rust
    I looked for on metal that was everywhere gleaming

    you could drive by whole fleets of cars and planes
    parked in the desert to protect them from
    the rust I longed to see the orange and purple

    nowhere near all the oval windows with
    no face waving goodbye the title of every day
    of my childhood wandering would be

    Landscape with No Human Figure in It since I myself was
    the hungry lens but I don't mean to say still life
    nature morte as the French call it there was life

    * * *

    in its tiny throes smaller even than mine lizards fire ants
    snakes and groundhogs that lived underground
    but I never saw snow didn't see rust only saw green imitations

    of moss hot-glue-gunned on mother's cuckoo clock
    or fuzzy-textured spray paint on a figurine but now
    I know how moss floats treacherously

    like a toupee covering a scalp of thick
    mud my boots set into a slow motion of choppy waves
    it's snowing hard now covering the moss

    covering the mud there's a frenzied and
    wavering synchronicity of flakes darting like fish
    but snow differs it gets to swim in the sky

    * * *

    before it settles on surfaces and
    I am lucky to have a desk by a window in winter
    where falling snow entertains the mind the mind entering

    the depths the layers the flakes I see in the distance a uniform haze
    making the bare branches of trees more gray than brown
    in the middle ground a zone of falling impossible

    to absorb like a crowd interrupted
    by zigzagging showoffs renegade flakes that zoom
    surprisingly diagonally in front the true protagonists

    of snow all three of these layered one in front of the other
    like screens in a play a play about slowing time down to
    something palpable or a song about what time does to man

    less ominous later in the afternoon sun
    when a dripping icicle keeps time like a metronome it's only
    meaningless only harmless when nothing sticks to the ground


    Yesterday they were denticulate as dandelion greens, they
    locked together in spokes and fell so weightlessly

    I thought of best friends holding hands.
    And then of mating hawks that soar into the air to link their claws

    and somersault down, separating just before they touch the ground.
    Sometimes the snowflakes glitter, it's more like tinkling

    than snow, it never strikes, and I want to be struck, that is
    I want to know what to do. I begin enthusiastically,

    I go in a hurry, I fall pell-mell down a hill, like a ball of yarn's
    unraveling trajectory — down and away but also surprising ricochets

    that only after seem foretold. Yesterday I took a walk because
    I wanted to be struck, and what happened was

    an accident: a downy clump floated precisely in my eye.
    The lashes clutched it close, melting it against the eye's hot surface.

    And like the woman talking to herself in an empty church
    eventually realizes she is praying, I walked home with eyes that melted snow.

    On the Library Steps

    The way the lips siphoned a stream into my lungs
    and the body ever-so-subtly convulsed
    in what was never actually pleasure but involuntary relief,
    a shudder as poison moved steadily into the bloodstream,
    so strong that the body mindlessly did it again, or the mind
    bodilessly willed it again, then again, until the actual sensation
    of smoking couldn't really be felt, and gray-brown clouds
    filled the winter rooms, soaked into our coats and dresses.

    That is what I remember this morning when I see
    the leftover tobacco crumbles students stomped out
    on the library steps, the abbreviated butts
    excreting urine-colored stains into the snow,
    the paper linings of filters all unglued,
    pale and wet like raw calamari, and I suppose
    there is a Buddhist click of recognition:

    what I had desired had turned undesirable, yes,
    and this ugly mess did not represent my sadness,
    it only illustrated how catatonic it had become,
    the mind numbly staring at it, and the convex globs
    of spit nearby, not the sky, not the snow, gone
    the reflex of shirking back. Don't do it, just write it down,
    is what I had decided, but that just kept it lyric,
    how I didn't want to live.
          No attempt
    in the poem for transcendence.
    Just to lock up something wild.

    Because a poem could still be good for
    suffering. Choosing precisely how to.

    The Whole World Is Gone

    Driving alone at night, the world's pitch, black velvet
    stapled occasionally by red taillights
    on the opposite highway but otherwise mild
    panic when the eyes' habitual check
    produces nothing at all in the rearview mirror,
    a black blank, now nothing exists
    but the dotted white lines of the road,
    and the car scissors the blackness open
    like the mind's path through confusion,
    but still no clarity, no arrival, only Pennsylvania darkness,
    rocks, cliffs, vistas by day that thicken to black. It's
    sensual, though, too, and interestingly mental. What
    I do alone, loving him in my mind. Trying not to
    let imagination win over reality. Hurtling through the night,
    a passion so spent becomes a fact one observes. Not tempered,
    just momentarily out of view by the body that perceives it.
    So that if it desires, the mind can practice a prayer,
    the one whose words begin: Deprive me.


    Like a giant illuminated book, but with gold dust
    hovering just above the pages, the glass cases house
    butterfly wings, furred mummies of butterfly bodies,
    butterfly antennae, and also moths,
    humbler ones that look like they'd been found
    in a junior high school, covered in dust
    from the janitor's broom and smudges from
    the math teacher's uncooperative piece of chalk.

    In a room full of dead things, why can't I love what's alive?
    I reach the glass case I'd had my back to and see
    a still life of branches, but that's because
    they'd spaced themselves exactly to appear as leaves,
    and when one leaf starts to crawl atop another, I check
    the sign: giant hissing cockroaches. I try

    simply to watch them. But when an antenna begins
    to flicker deliberately in surveillance, my body
    shudders in a way it knows how to do
    without me. Not a separation of mind and body, quite,
    but neither a cooperation. There

    my attention stalls until there's
    a conversion into truth:
    just as there are menial sins, and cardinal,
    so there are the little and numerous and big and obvious
    truths I deny. Let me start with the cockroaches.

    Flat-backed, carapaced, geniusly engineered, how
    quickly they skitter out of sight. Then wait
    the way a mouse might, or a fox at the forest edge,
    knowing most of the time we aren't paying attention at all.

    Tears finally, in the parking lot,
    head resting against the steering wheel
    after my whole body fought for an hour against
    the simple act of looking.
    When will I get stronger? Is this how?


Excerpted from Window Left Open by Jennifer Grotz. Copyright © 2016 Jennifer Grotz. Excerpted by permission of GRAYWOLF 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


The Forest, 5,
Locked, 6,
The Snow Apples, 7,
Snow, 8,
Snowflakes, 11,
On the Library Steps, 12,
The Whole World Is Gone, 13,
Denial, 14,
Listening, 16,
Hangover in Paris, 18,
Watchmaker, 19,
Self-Portrait on the Street of an Unnamed Foreign City, 20,
Edinburgh Meditation, 22,
The Broom, 26,
The Mountain, 29,
Scorpion, 31,
Dragonfly and Wasp, 33,
They Come the Way Flowers Do, 35,
The Fog, 36,
Apricots, 38,
Sundials, 39,
A Poem about a Peacock, 40,
Cherries, 42,
The Piano on Top of the Alps, 44,
Window Left Open, 45,
Poppies, 46,

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