I’ve gone and done it again, exercising my authority over this little corner of the webiverse. I upgraded the WordPress software to fix a few annoying bugs (like its former refusal to alphabetize the post categories) and plug some security leaks. Please let me know if I’ve broken anything in the process. And, as always, I take requests.
You may need to hold down the ‘Ctrl’ button while reloading the post page and/or the main MoW page to see any changes (holding ‘Ctrl’ down tells your browser to pull a full new copy, rather than pulling it from its cache). Otherwise, enjoy the new-and-improved Mind of Winter.
For You, Who Didn’t Know
by Nancy Willard
At four A.M. I dreamed myself on that beach
where we’ll take you after you’re born.
I woke in a wave of blood.
Lying in the back seat of a nervous Chevy
I counted the traffic lights, lonely as planets.
Starlings stirred in the robes of Justice
over the Town Hall. Miscarriage of justice,
they sang, while you, my small client,
went curling away like smoke under my ribs.
Kick me! I pleaded. Give me a sign
that you’re still there!
Train tracks shook our flesh from our bones.
Behind the hospital rose a tree of heaven.
You can learn something from everything,
a rabbi told his Hasidim who did not believe it.
I didn’t believe it, either. O rabbi,
What did you learn on the train to Belsen?
That because of one second one can miss everything.
There are rooms on this earth for emergencies.
A sleepy attendant steals my clothes and my name,
and leaves me among the sinks on an altar of fear.
“Your name. Your name. Sign these papers,
authorizing us in our wisdom to save the child.
Sign here for circumcision. Your faith, your faith.”
O rabbi, what can we learn from the telegraph?
asked the Hasidim, who did not understand.
And he answered, That every word is counted and charged.
“This is called a dobtone,” smiles the doctor.
He greases my belly, stretched like a drum,
and plants a microphone there, like a flag.
A thousand thumping rabbits! Savages clapping for joy!
A heart dancing its name, I’m-here, I’m-here!
The cries of fishes, of stars, the tunings of hair!
O rabbi, what can we learn from the telephone?
My shiksa daughter, your faith, your faith
that what we say here is heard there.
Every time I come back to this poem, there is more there. Let me just point out that the three interjections about the rabbi are quite artfully placed. First, as she speeds to the hospital she considers what can be lost if they lose any time, stopping at the lights, as it is only just for a citizen to do. Then, as she signs papers that she can’t possibly be in a state to understand the meaning of and that could mean her own or the child’s life or death she considers the real significance of words, when put in certain context — as in a contract. Finally, in her relief at the end of the ordeal she considers the power of prayer, believing (for the moment anyway) that what is said here is heard there.
Lee and I have discussed how hard it is to memorize the lines or pieces of ‘free verse’ poems, even the best ones. But I have had those three interjections of the rabbi in my head for days now — in the phrasing that the poet delivers them.
To My Big Nose
from ‘Luck Is Luck’
by Lucia Perillo
Hard to believe there were actual years
when I planned to have you cut from my face—
hard to imagine what the world would have looked like
if not seen through your pink shadow.
You who are built from random parts
like a mythical creature—a gryphon or sphinx—
with the cartilage ball attached to your tip
and the plaque where the bone flares at the bridge
like a snake who has swallowed a small coin.
Seabird beak or tanker prow
with Modigliani nostrils, like those strolled out
from the dank studio and its close air,
with a swish-swish whisper from the model’s silk robe
as it parts and then falls shut again.
Then you’re out on the sidewalk of Montparnasse
with its fumes of tulips and clotted cream
and clotted lungs and cigars and sewers—
even fumes from the lobster who walks on a leash.
And did his owner march slowly
or drag his swimmerets briskly along
through the one man’s Parisian dogturd that is
the other man’s cutting-edge conceptual art?
So long twentieth century, my Pygmalion.
So long rhinoplasty and the tummy tuck.
Let the vowels squeak through my sinuses
like wet sheets hauled on a laundry line’s rusty wheels.
Oh I am not so dumb as people have made me out,
what with your detours when I speak,
and you are not so cruel, though you frightened men off
all those years when I thought I was running the show,
pale ghost who has led me like a knife
continually slicing the future stepped into,
oh rudder/wing flap/daggerboard, my whole life
turning me this way and that.
I think this poem is intended to be a sardonic ode to conceptual art and societal expectations about beauty. That is, a sort of kiss-off to the idea of turning up your nose (so to speak) at prejudgment or close-mindedness. But I fear that it is actually a poem about beauty being subjective – that she is now beyond the ugliness of her nose because it is that nose that (in part) defines her perspective on the world. I say “fear” because I would hope a poet would have something more to say than that beauty is in the nose of the beholder. But, I suppose this could just be my blessed rage for order talking here.
Oh, but I forget to mention that I think her images are great. This is really why I put it here.
Six other poems from ‘Luck is Luck’ can be read on the NYT review site.
[add: I just re-read what I wrote and it makes no sense. Just read the poem. 4:22 PM]