August 2015 Poetry Feature

This month we are welcoming newcomer Maurice Emerson Decaul (whose work will also appear in Issue 10 this fall) and welcoming back Tess Taylor, Luisa A. Igloria, Cliff Forshaw, and Valerie Duff. 

 

VALERIE DUFF

 

Music of the Spheres

On my birthday, I attended
a performance of Bach’s fugue in una chiesa,

my phrasebook my pikestaff. The organ

shook trains from Venice to Salerno.
I staggered out, an accordion, wondering
how to make a compound sentence,

 

where gelati, where some money,
why the best phrase I could muster
in Italy was: mi lasci in pace,

 

then wandered the Museo Galileo’s giant hall
of mechanical devices, repeating to myself,
Museo. Galileo. The building’s front,

 

a Medici fort, stood close to the water.
Inside were complex systems, cogwheels,

barometers, disks, simple microscopes,

telescopes like lifeboats on the walls.
Later, in the hall of the Uffizi,
I stood face to face with The Annunciation,

 

Gothic art of Memmi and Martini,
in thrusts of brilliant gold
the angel and the virgin (which is which?)

 

locked in gilded mist between his fingers and her chador-
robe. The self-preserving curl of Mary’s shoulders

denies all physics. My heart lifted

to the lily’s bright leaf.
The displeased fire lens of her gaze
said so much more is ahead.

Then I wept, hardly knowing I was standing

with anyone but the saints, in their exclusive panels,
their stares the still twin eyes of storms.

 

For Sale

 

Before I knew what it meant to be
a collector, to gather keepsakes
by the windows acorns pelt like kisses
have them always (little wild things.
Pick them from the baked Virginia brick
closed off and August hot),
I stacked the mirrors, desks, clocks

 

on which I built my moving pyramid,
the Evesham, Wedgwood, Spode.
Off the ripple of a cup, motif
of trumpet vine, I scaled the roof,
camellia-shaded, stained, looted
riot green. Through jackknifed scents
of moss and rain, I stopped to watch between

 

the shutters. Escape on slate
where once I dropped the blessed
porcelain, harvested and swept
shard Lear, shard daughter
toward balusters, the house
steeped in light so green (botanic,
blossomed, source unknown).
I blow the fine-grain kingdom
through my fingers, won’t
again, or change the locks, or fix you up
in case someone comes to the door.
Valerie Duff’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The CommonSolsticePloughshares, and AGNI, among others.

 

 

Street Music

 

Along Rue Royale a crowd formed around a girl
too young to love the way she sang

 

—my lonely days are over
—the night I looked at you

 

I couldn’t help noticing her echoing eyes coffee
& withdrawn violin solo syncopated acoustic guitar

 

—a dream…press my cheek to…
—the spell was cast…in heaven…at last

 

we offered gratitude handed over money to two
men flanking these women

 

our singer our violinist our guitarist
one man familiar an uncle a manager a

 

sky above is blue & I am dressed wrong for
New Orleans

 

I want to say something
put money in the girl’s hand

 

say something
as I walked to my room in my head

 

I heard a voice from breakfast
I heard him clearly & reproachful now

 

—below its beauty
remember New Orleans

 

—was built
on the backs of many slaves
Maurice Emerson Decaul is a poet, essayist, and librettist, working towards his MFA at Brown University. 

TESS TAYLOR

Time on Earth

1.

 

New to country stars, you try
to identify the constellations.
Cassiopeia, Andromeda

 

You forget their stories.
But on warming nights you see them
& your throat fills with hymns,

 

some ancestral body’s holdfast tunes
to which your words are also blurred or blurring.

 

2.

 

You read about Physologus,
Greek cosmologist; mythic namer of the universe.
You borrow Amy’s Audubon

 

& wander trying to match
shoots in mulch
to names. Embryonic skunk cabbage,

 

jack-in-the-pulpit,
maple spangling the forest air—
You dream an orrery of leaves and bones.

 

You say: tow-hee and cali-cut,
and walk repeating names you’ve gathered
just to feel their pleasure on your tongue.

 

You call earthstar, clubmoss, and vibernum.

 

3.

 

Beyond this, the constellated light-map.
Oil-drums, tankers, spirochetes,

 

terrorists, radios, specimens,
ice cream, methamphetamine,

 

pandemics, global economic crisis.
Then you burn the paper, watch its turquoise flame.

 

This is not always, but you think

 

                        This is my time on earth.

 

Today a thumb-sized frog
clambered up the screen.

 

                                      Underbelly
shaking, skin grappling

 

all elements, a scrambling borderland,
a moving porous country.

 

Watching, you forget to feel alone.
Delightedly, you call

 

A frog! A frog! out to the rustling woods.
And that was all.  O wriggler.

 

With a sudden hope you also

sing your own springtime song.

 

Tess Taylor’s work appears widely. She is currently the on-air poetry reviewer for NPR’s All Things Considered, and her second book, Work & Days, is due out in Spring 2016.

 

CLIFF FORSHAW

Bestiary

 

after the French of Guillaume Apollinaire (1880–1918). Excerpts from Apollinaire’s first book Le Bestiare ou Cortège d’Orphée (1911), which was illustrated with celebrated woodcuts by Raoul Dufy.

 

Orpheus

 

He cuts a powerful and fine
figure from a noble line.
He steps from the shade; he has no peer:
his voice shines Light upon the ear.

 

Tortoise

 

The beasts approached to hear me sing;
sure fingers danced upon the strings.
In magic Thrace, they knew me well,
loved songs I conjured up from shell.

 

Horse

 

Through the exercise of endless pains,
my formal dreams shall act as reins.
I’ll master you: my Will be done
—but we’ll save the gallop till we are one.

 

Mouse

 

The days beat as fast as your little chest,
already the summer’s past its best.
You weight the corn, bend it to your paw,

pause a moment, then gnaw, gnaw, gnaw.

Lion

 

O Lion, once such a noble king,
your mane’s now got all mangy—Poor thing!
Cat got your tongue? Where is your roar, your rage?
Cut down to size. Born in a cage.

 

Toad

 

after “Le Crapaud” by Tristan Corbière (1845–1875) 

 

Listen! There’s a song this airless night.
See that slice of shiny tin? Moonlight,
a cut-out backdrop of deep green dark.

 

A song: its vibrely creaky echo
from the rockery beyond the decking.
It’s shut its gob. Let’s have a dekko!

 

Toad! Why are you so scared of me?
I’m your faithful servant. Don’t you know it?
Just look at him: a baldy, wingless poet.
Junk-dump nightingale. Singing… horribly.

 

Well, is it really such an awful croak?
Can’t you see the bright glint in his eye?
No? He’s buggered off, crawled beneath his rock.
Old toady-boyo’s really me – Okey-Doke.
                                                                                                   Goodbye!

 

Cliff Forshaw’s collections include Trans and, most recently, Vandemonian, which pieces together a fragmentary history of Tasmania. A new collection, Pilgrim Tongues, is due in 2015.

 

 

Threshold

 

I dream of it still,
even now, months after the deed
of sale and the transfer to other hands—

 

How the yard with its idle oars
and the rotting wood of rowboats
made of the bougainvillea a vivid sea.

 

How to this day
I do not know the other name
of the bush and the fruit

 

we called the tomberry,
its tapered waxy shape
and the leaves that beat

 

like wings upon the windowsill.
And I am often tired and want
to go and nap like I often did

 

in the sewing room, until I remember
it is also gone, and only the smell
of freshly laundered towels

 

or the newness of a single
postage stamp can bring me back—
And in the dream

 

I am always though no longer
a girl before the world
had its way with me,

 

always the one listening
for the sounds of hidden things.
I learned how the threshold flowing outward

 

with the grain of wood can take
one far away, but the heart is always
lost in an epidemic of return.

 

Because of the Rain

 

The rain doesn’t wait;
and the seed doesn’t fall

 

into the furrow to improve the night.
Some things merely are

 

for the joy of themselves,
for no reason.

 

Didn’t we do that too
when we were young: spit

 

the dark seeds out of the crimson
watermelon’s mouth,

 

braid each other’s hair
before opening our faces

 

under a sky streaked with warm
summer rain?

 

Because
is a word I’m wary of sometimes—

 

Bitter as a bird
that’s found no shelter from the elements,

 

shredding the leaves
that might line its nest.
Luisa A. Igloria is the author of the eChapbook Bright as Mirrors Left in the Grass, Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil EraserNight Willow, and other works.
Julia PikeAugust 2015 Poetry Feature

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