Poetry Feature

Lyric Recovery™ 2002 Finalist Poems

Photo: © 2001 George Kunze

Arachne Unstrung
Gyorgyi Voros

Alfred Dorn

Martine Bellen

Dutch Interior: The Artist and His Model
Gyorgyi Voros

The Harvesters
Mark Nickels

Khyamm's Q & A
Roger Sedarat

Pete Wolf Smith

Bertha Rogers

Tango: Zero Hour
Denise Galang

Variation 11: Moon in water
Alice B. Fogel

Contributor Notes

Semifinalist Poems

~ . ~ . ~

Arachne Unstrung
Gyorgyi Voros

     …that most sordid of all havens, the corner…
               —Gaston Bachelard

Falling, but not fallen. Limp
amid the purples and golds of her ill-conceived
potboiler, Arachne rises

from a cage of limbs, a clutter of tentpoles,
and hangs out her storied flytrap digs
to dry. Arachne-famous-throughout-Lydia

now unhoused,
hunkers in the tangle of her gossamer novella
all unravelled down to its essential

storyline—dishevelled filament of plot twist
winding from her spinneret like
spit. See

where a boast will get you? the gods
always in disguise, the mortals
cornered. Hemmed like the see-through

nightgown that is home and hearth,
her déshabille. No flirtation in a spider, though.
No mercy and no need. Warp,

huddle, shuttle and comb bartered for arachnid
fingertips, the gaze itself on tiptoe, not human, a gesture
like scuttle and a crimp in plexus until

she opens like a parachute
in a sky half box, part walls, all door.
When the newborn spiders spill

out of their linthouse egg,
do you, dear Dustmote, shoeless
on your gauzy trampoline, scurry

to mend the glaucous underworld, exile
your loom, or cast out yet again, freefalling
in webby darkness, filigreed, undone?

~ . ~

Alfred Dorn

What was the sound you made? Hiss? Cackle? Shriek?
Nothing like you had ever been seen or heard
in the primordial swamp. You were a bird,
your feathers argued, yet you seemed half snake
deformed by wings. (Had wings been a mistake
that weighed you down, you would have disappeared.)
You were, as reptiles large and small concurred,
the Mesozoic's quintessential freak.

Creature undrawn, undreamed by Audubon,
within your eggs waited the nightingale
and lark (until all dinosaurs were gone),
the peacock with its eyes-of-Argus tail,
and that white solitude of lakes, the swan.
In you their future slept. You did not fail.

(Prior publ.: Orbis (England))

~ . ~

Martine Bellen

The most beautiful order is still
A random collection
Of things insignificant in themselves:

Cranberry rosettes and candied
Violets, frosted thumb plums
Sweating midday, and gingerbread
Shaped in stars and bells.

A buck, doe, and fawn dunk
Apples down near the pond where
Blue heron stalks rainbows
That dart while light recedes.

Under feather comforters and tea-rose vaults,
We sleep smelling of last night's
Spices. Outside, trees shed quilted leaves.

~ . ~

Dutch Interior: The Artist and His Model
Gyorgyi Voros

Silence, he knows, is always pregnant.
The wife at the window, the maid asleep

in the kitchen, the daughter languishing at the virginal
with a suitor, these tableaux cheer him

through the Northern afternoons, yet pain him,
too, since he can only look. The mahlstick braced

against the canvas steadies his hand so the kindled
brushtip swaggers through blue and halts where it

needs to pale. Perfect; pluperfect. He couldn't have
dreamed the difficulty to touch

the objects of his love across the distance
of a room, an expanse as of a continent of obstacles:

chair, credenza, tile floor, viola. The richly
napped carpet flung across the table maps

a pattern of desire. Birds in the garden
of a Southern land, fruity light, not blue,

a maze and clever topiaries along the footpath
wending, after all, to love or at least

the way to a clearing. Here the scumbled air
unveils itself layer by layer, yet always beneath

lies more ground, gessoed thick as though
the scene outside the mullioned panes—

a skittering on cobblestones, bricks
needing pointing, a tinctured sun—could never

satisfy. Down below, just beyond
the ivy scalloping his window ledge (orthogonal,

handhold, his perspective) a woman in a red raincoat
smokes on the corner. It seems to him

she is always there. Eventually she casts
her burning ember into the canal, turns and disappears.

Where to? Not into another century, not,
as he might hope, into some country or condition

of Being Always There. That's for him
to create. His attention returns to his own

suite of rooms, two flights up, not far
from the street or the street noises he loves, not far

from the sea, not even far from the things
across the sea—all these at least as near

as the footwarmer, the copper bowl, the woman
at the threshold of the next room. He breathes

and looks, his look a glaze on air. The air
curves around and gathers him

as a lens does light, enlarging every visible
thing, bringing it near and nearer.

~ . ~

The Harvesters
Mark Nickels

From a painting by Peter Breugel the Elder

The jug of water shaded in the wheat
sits in an island left uncut, preserves
the turf-steeped well-draw of the morning,
chill, alluvial, and flecked with straw.
Faun, slippery and dry, like loaves,
the halting round that spins among the scythers,
when on the left hand someone sings, begins.

I break the circle with no words for it,
my shoulders weighted with the habit
of a morning's pull, core-empty,
with a chaff-raked tongue, and softly catch
and cut last threshings severed here
last year. Bone colored bonnets own
a nimbus in the haze, and someone tips

you, boy of three, into my lap,
my nose tilting to your hair. It has a smell
that leads me into unknown tablatures
of gentleness: not adult sour, but like
brakes of drying reedmace rocking
in a midday thermal—on their shafts
the mirrored volume of the silver bay.

You are drifting in and out of questions,
buzzed by gnats, your features cast in something
knowable, but with an effort only.
Not the must of low and cytogenic fires,
of horseshit and the animals we live with,
but how, in any moment, we don't stay,
but search the side world, where the spirit

slacks its thirst for something apposite
but lateral, not just ahead, or back-
in hot wheat thinking of the black pines
stacked and leaning on each other,
crossing in the twilight, barring snow;
one in a knot of hunters coming home
who think of this—sheared einkorn

listening to vespers in close stillness,
not the hollow tick of hanging antlers
like a kindling hearth. We're all away,
most times. Meanwhile, my choice,
to follow with my mind the homeward-
turning painter, waving off your mother
and my wife, who wants her picture drawn.

~ . ~

Khyamm's Q & A
Roger Sedarat

Scholar, a sheet-wrapped Muslim in a grave
Learns his worm-wisdom forsaking the grave.

Segment the worm and divided he'll squirm;
Solomon knew the measure of the grave.

Wisdom you want? Cut your attachments, move
Out where the city ploughs an unmarked grave.

If Solomon were city folk, he'd work it
rich downtown, turning his back on the grave.

Modernity's an armless boy, roses
For sale in his mouth stolen from a grave.

Evenings I peek in my neighbor's window.
She lies sheet-wrapped, ready for the grave.

Mornings a wise man delivers lavash.
He never smiles; his voice is always grave.

This man tells me secrets of my neighbor;
I'll try my best to take them to the grave.

If you smile at the man who bakes the bread
That broke your tooth, you're close to the grave.

If bags of bones are ripped apart by dogs
At night, you're even closer to the grave.

Death fills my eyes with X's; I cross
Myself on each road leading to the grave.

I ask the armless boy for directions,
A rose in his mouth stemming from the grave.

And Solomon's out cold in an alley,
Struck by a double ax, facing the grave.

A garden for love, for death a dry field.
(Chiasmus is the main trope of the grave).

I saw an armless boy weed the rose
Of Sharon with his teeth at the Queen's grave.

I cracked my tooth on star-baked bread, jagged
Light pouring on an old man digging a grave.

I rolled my body into a sheet, let
Dogs tug my head and feet over the grave.

What worm-wisdom came from so much digging?
What woman arose to a rose from the grave?

I live alone save for the morning bark
Of bread in hallways. Alone, I'll make the grave.

I eat my bread with broken teeth, rolled up
Into my bed to make a living grave.

I sit and smell the dying rose, not caring
To reach the state that truly knows the grave.

I am Khyamm, a man going to my grave
Alive to lay a rose upon my grave.

~. ~

Pete Wolf Smith

Thus Esau did despise
his first-born right.

And what if I did?
The buck, my arrow in his side,
bolted, reeking blood on the wind,
hooves skidding on rocks,
dragging his hind legs along a ridge;
his front legs buckled, and he fell.
I finished him off and slit him down the line
from breast to penis, gutted, and threw the stuff
to the vultures, emissaries of a god
I liked—my own, and not my father's—
and set aside treats for the old one,
kidneys, balls, such as he loved,
the savory bits, and took the kill
on my shoulders and carried it back.
It was late. The roasting would not be done
until coins were flung from the god's bag
across the sky, and the jackal
at the edge of the firelight slunk,
and the moon sang. I came into camp
with the falling sun in my blood
and a subtle iron of springwater on my tongue,
dusty, bloody, the buck hot on my neck.
My brother was squatting at a ring of stones
and a kettle on a little fire
in front of Mother's tent.
He was useless on the hunt, but like a woman
for stews. I told him, Give me some of that,
smelling the wild onions he'd gathered, and the beans;
and offered to beat him, when he refused
and started with his guff about the birthright,
if he continued to be impudent.
But he stirred the red stuff,
and would not hear any word
but birthright, birthright;
and I wanted lentils, bread.
The word he kept repeating—
I didn't know what it meant.

(Prior publ.: Big City Lit, Apr '01)

~. ~

Bertha Rogers

Always in a hurry, that shape—its parallels boxed
yet propelled, navigating an unresistant deep—

The '59 Chevy, Flamingo Pink, sharply finned
ship, belonged to my boyfriend's father. And
wasn't it unique?—bench seat angled back, just
the right petting pitch, brazen windows cracked to
let in Iowa's 30-below cold (we'd heard sad
stories about other winter lovers who, heater on,
forgot). The midnight road, frozen flat, north to
south, silently aimed at Orion, his burning belt.

Our farmhouse was axis-bent, like Dorothy's, by
a long ago cyclone, the lean-to kitchen precarious.
Upstairs, our bedroom walls inclined to eaves, and
the coal shed, out back, graded itself in slanted
ranks. Was that where I learned momentum (I was
startled, once, to see myself in a city window, head
ahead of torso, diving into the noisy sidewalk);
was this the source of my rush to the end of things?

That boy, sweetly flat topped, Old Spiced, pinned
willing me to the herringbone upholstery while I,
craving his Viceroy kisses, upleaned at him. Our
breath flared like Northern Lights on the audacious
vehicle's windshield. But that boy wasn't enough:
I was in a hurry, on course, requiring distance.

He—no doubt a fine upright citizen in some
Midwestern town—seems to lean against
the car's tropical sheen. He drags on his cigarette,
stubs it out, and, opening the sloped door, waves
goodbye; unlined eyes calm, eternally smiling.

~ . ~

Tango: The Zero Hour
Denise Galang

     to Astor Piazzolla

This is la hora cero               the final hour before
  divided by continents          split into hemispheres
           we condense—                wisps of white cirrus
              disappearing into violet       stratospheres of memory.

              In this aerial hour               suspended in midnight
         soñando y bailando                dreaming and dancing upon ledges
     we sip vino tinto                 tune our strings
prepare our ensemble          of breath, touch, heat.

In this hour of steam           button by button
     layer by layer                     we explore
          topographies                     with our tongues
               wander sierras                  of muscle and bone.

               Our bodies fuse                 into black and red
          bandoneón                          expanding and contracting
   spreading octaves                 over Buenos Aires—
tonight all the porteños       dance to our tango.

Climbing like mercury          five Celsius degrees at a time
     we humidify                        spill rain over the city
          water hyacinths                    in La Recoleta
               glaze yellow and orange     walls of La Boca.

               This is the zero hour          arousal of sweat and sound
          brief whirring rainfall        before sun resettles sky
     hour of absolute end          absolute beginning
our bodies dissolving          sliding into aurora.

bandoneón—instrument similar to accordion; essential instrument in tango
porteños—people who live in Bueno Aires

~ . ~

Variation 11: Moon in water
Alice B. Fogel

Out in the center, canoe and I no cause
for interruption (only
wingless here while hovering),
deep into water's overlaps the moon's
fractures fold and flow, fold and flow and fracture.
Look down long enough, out here on the lake
afloat, surrounded by (and on) the dark lap
lapping, the long wet folded fan moon, stippled
length of twine moon, broken linked moon
hanging its white chains down
(as if down)
into depths only visible
horizontally, and all that dripped thick liquid
ellipsis seems its own true form. Pierced
by lunar rays, by turns
the ponderous bass diminish and flash

bleeding upward from beneath
into the gleaming reach
of lit glissando. Opaque, steady
above all, the cool sky scoops
all that soaked, unskeined light up
into one flat coin, one disk like a wrist
flicked stone I once skimmed like this
from shore that left no trail
of white. Fixed, dry, nearly
untouched, still that full moon pulled down
here across the waving layers
of slick lake slapping and
licking the gunwales skips downward, through
and through, illuminating water's
(buried and drowned)
ground by ruse.

~ . ~ . ~