Four Poems by Alfred Corn

Proust’s Bloch

Calme bloc ici-bas chu d’un désastre obscur . . .

                                                         —Mallarmé

 

His name alone seemed somehow to afford

A paradoxical specific for

The writer’s stalemate, as Bloch felt no need to

Séparer l’ivraie d’avec le bon grain.*

 

The bullied Narrator shrugged and agreed to

Let pass Leconte de Lisle and poems bent on

Communicating O’s of mild disdain

For retro features like plot or reasoned content.

 

How sort that with Bloch’s anti-Jewish jibes,

His expertise re Paris’s top brothels?

The will to climb, to rent compliant Symbols!

Celebrity unfailingly acquires

 

An imbecilic sheen, so no surprise

When later scenes peg him as just another

Power-broker, predestined for the part

And blotto on renown. Though topnotch authors

 

Sometimes sing islands into legends (see

Calypso’s, Sappho’s, Prospero’s or Crusoe’s)

Most are tourist traps ads have invented

As bland fatuity’s preferred resort.

 

*“Separate the tares from the wheat.”

Channel 19

Thoughts are water, they go where led.

Three yeas decline into a nay

As a spider drops down on its thread.

 

“You’ve got your shelter; now find bread.”

Until the last word of the play

Thoughts are water, they go where led.

 

If you don’t like what you are fed,

Remember, friend, you have a say.

“A spider drops down on its thread”:

 

That image echoes in my head.

Yet notice how few hairs are gray!

Thoughts? Like water, they go where led.

 

One of my soldier forbears fled

A war, refusing to be prey.

A spider drops down on its thread

 

Like streams that seek their level, dead

Reckoning through dark and day.

Thoughts plunge like water, heavy as lead:

A spider drops down on its thread.

Garden Statue

Reconciled? Oh, more than,

once hands, feet, guts, eyes,

mouth, had come to life in stone.

 

Satisfied to stand still,

untempted by elsewheres

or quarrels. In truth, mere topics

hardly mattered. But I—

 

I could break the silence

(that second universal language)

up into a music.

 

Lichens, plant-kingdom opportunists,

fostered by shade and sunlight:

no one told me their feathery

brushwork would shiver and thrill

when orange and gray splashes

mapped marble linen drapery

and high-gloss dermis alike.

 

Finally, evergreen

mosses invaded and muted

the whirlpool ear,

they velveted my elbows,

knees, my cheeks and lips.

I had come to learn

the taste of endlessness,

and that—that taught me the rest. . . .

Dasein

“Being there”: fully, strongly grounded, solid

As passages in Rilke, Heidegger.

Is there a “there” in Swan Point Cemetery,

An argument for Dasein in the Green

Burial slot I snapped up late last year

Before their inventory’d been depleted?

And barely in time: pandemic taking hold,

The dead in dozens, hundreds, immigrated—

A populous city, all said and done, not morbid,

Instead, a sculpture park where no one’s hounded

By news, stop and go traffic, spending, getting,

Toxic tsunamis, pandemonium.

 

Right now, it’s less than quiet. Riverside,

The groundskeeper sweeps his leaf-blower,

Gusting oak or beech leaves high into

The air, cyclones of frenzied solar panels

Gone sybilline. The last of them will float

Across to the other shore—a late hour preview,

Painterly, tranquil under cloudlight. Be

Here Now: right meditation’s unforced goal….

Breathing here now, beside a plot today

Autumnal; with winter, spring, not far behind.

A certainty in our rootless, dodgy era,

Some future date will see me settle in.

Strongly grounded. Constant. Being here.

 © Alfred Corn

Three Poems by Grace Schulman

Image Worship

Faces on the lid of the Knabe Grand

caught my eye when I tried “The Happy Farmer,”

 

dreaming of ploughs far from my rutted sidewalks.

Digging, not earth but notes, and neither happy

 

nor a farmer, I hit wrong keys,

taunted by the metronome. As a distraction,

 

I stared at smiles in silver frames. War dead.

I never knew them. Heavy-fingered, longing

 

for their lightness, I saw an uncle waving;

somebody’s hell-raiser climbing an oak;

 

an aunt, a doctor, silk scarf blown in wind.

Suddenly my face appeared among the faces

 

soon to hide or be interred. The woman’s

deep-set eyes in the black-white photograph,

 

mine in the frame glass, merged, until

the wind lifting her scarf blew through me.

 

Now, when I stir to brighter images —

a yellow coat, a fawn’s sleek arabesque —

 

I think of photographs, and of Aeneas,

who, in a strange city, stunned by a shrine

 

with pictures of his own city’s destruction,

broken statues, fires, the dead, cried out:

 

sunt lacrimae rerum: there are tears in things.

Orchid

Not raised but found, this dancer, idling on trash,

abandoned in the compactor room,

fated to be smothered in a green bag,

 

its seven blooms startling, hot pink smiles

in deadpan weather, on the year’s shortest

day, with the long night ahead. Gingerly,

 

sponging off ashes, eggshells, silvery

powder (talc, I hope), from its mossy planter,

I slide it toward high windows, and it changes

 

like fire: sherry to red-purple to magenta,

colors of blood, of beaujolais, of sin

and holiness, of saints on stained-glass panels,

 

light shining through, a diva’s fan.

Fuchsia, the color named for a plant

that must have jolted Leonhart Fuchs,

 

the botanist, when he discovered it

in the 16th century, my orchid’s

serious name is phalaenopsis,

 

for moths in flight. Its wingy blooms

blink, teasing, just out of eye’s reach.

Sunsets they turn the color of red ochre

 

mixed with manganese, powdered and blown

through reeds by the early cave painters, fearful

of beasts, to glitter from a bison’s frame;

 

I don’t know the exact shade of red-purple

the Phoenicians used to dye robes for kings,

but I think this was it, also the color

 

of a rose Yeats set afire to see its ghost.

In my mind the ancient Egyptian

who painted amulets inside a royal tomb

 

wished only for this sizzling fuchsia

to wake the beloved dead, as he mixed gypsum

with rose madder in futile passion.

 

Once as a child I wandered in the park

bordering my usual asphalt streets,

and saw a flower, red-purple on a stem

 

with wings. I called to it, my angel.

Now I give an orchid air and water,

turn down the lumiere, stroke the crooked stem

 

that darts out to reveal wings whose vermillion,

burning against a window facing brick,

defies endings on this cold year’s end.

Happiness

is not a campfire

but an occulting light,

a field of fireflies

that blink on-off-on,

 

the tree you planted

whose apples

fall to the ground

half-rotten, half sweet,

 

the street’s jackhammers

that fall quiet at night,

the black skimmer’s

white underside,

 

the life together,

apart, together,

the long marriage,

oxymoronic

 

in its dank joy.

Under a half-moon

quivering

through sycamores,

 

you held my body

half the night

as I lay in your arms,

sometimes half-awake,

 

speculating, well,

happy families are unalike.

I choose you

with your handicap,

 

your half-mobility,

not to mention

your leisure

in forsaking all others

 

for the chance

of our wholeness.

I take you,

my choice as certain

 

as plankton on sand

lights up

and arcs to the stars.

 © Grace Schulman