Once again, The Nation announces the winners of Discovery/The Nation, the Joan Leiman Jacobson Poetry Prize. Now in its twenty-seventh year, it is an annual contest for poets whose work has not been published previously in book form. The new winners are: Amy Beeder, Bryan Dietrich, Monica Ferrell and Joanna Goodman. This year's judges are Linda Gregerson, Carl Phillips and Marie Ponsot. In the competition, whose manuscripts are judged anonymously, distinguished former winners include Susan Mitchell, Katha Pollitt, Mary Jo Salter, Sherod Santos, Arthur Smith and David St. John. This year's winners will read their poems at Discovery/The Nation '01 at 8:15 pm on Monday, April 23, at The Unterberg Poetry Center, 92nd Street Y, 1395 Lexington Avenue (92nd Street and Lexington Avenue) in New York City.
--Grace Schulman, poetry editor
Give to Her Your Cloak Also
I understand the necessary lie,
that pasty face he passes off for work,
the interest vested in his paper
tiger. But, frankly, three in a bed
is not what I had planned. Each night
that I slip--calling him, from some stark peak
of passion, Clark--the covers grow more
crowded, the issue, more cumulous.
To which side do I cleave, then? On which
thunderous thigh do these nails leave
no trace? Though there are times I enjoy
such naughtiness (the occasional
quick one in Perry's office, a hot kiss
on the fly), I still find it hard
to divide time between what he is
and what he's had to hide to be just
that. Don't get me wrong, Diary, I love
the both of him, but these days, when I send
him out for squeeze cheese and chips, when
he comes back, Midway Mart sack in one
hand, would-be thug in the other, I can't
help wondering.... Should I prefer this
Superman who saves a world a week,
or he who's learned to live his life
by loaning it his cheek.
'The soul is a number moving by itself' --Aristotle, De Anima
It is not cold at the top of the stairs.
The years strike like radium drops.
There is a little door, there is a little lock,
There are many good machines whose purposes are lost.
In the plump and tidy cabinets
The red drawers are full of numbers
Irrational and fatly simpering,
While the white drawers have numbers
Imaginary and drifting,
And I am one of those.
Oh, the furnace wheezes, the charwoman sweeps,
The wood sighs and settles and the dormouse sleeps.
Don't try to look at me directly.
It's not by chance that as this house turns to rot,
the outer rooms fill up with feathers: jackdaw
and grackle black, grit-colored slivers of sparrow
or finch that grub for crumbs on every sidewalk.
Don't be fooled by thrash or rapture:
a bird is only vitriol, a lizard's foot,
gristle and a sack of stones, diviner of nothing
but endings. If you doubt it, think of cockfights
or starlings' pulse against the rain-wet glass
each Spring returning to shock you,
a darkness like blood in the yolk. Spurious, plagiarist--
Amid thick leaves I saw the wink of black eyes
waiting in dark pines, the snow-broken greenhouse.
On my stairs is a long rooster's shadow;
nights the rafters host a storm of chatter, the breeze
of a thousand wings; though in the morning
dirty legions can rise silent from one winter's tree.
Ahead, no singular, no grief.
Silicon retina, artificial cochlea, tongue:
we are learning how best to transcribe spirit
by tracking chemical release. To cobble
soul and sense together open here,
the nerve: insert. Localized
interior. My room looks west, and north;
late day's gray veneer aroused by breeze.
Months pass, moth-filled and uncontained,
since we slipped through ovals in San Marco's
dormer cells, looking down through glass to see
back towards black mountains' robed retreat,
blue fields, hands floating out of time.
It was neither mystical nor real, but it was both.
A thin lather of rain fell last night.
I woke at four again and listened to first birdcalls swerve
along the eaves. Voices scored for feeling
and depth: tassled, metallic rows of rants
unravel meridians. Immediate, unmediated world.
The talk here's about sacrifice--
Who would give up body first, who mind.
I try not to be seen or heard, though apparently
all we want is to be found.
Risen chambers along twigs of black gum,
butternut: buttercup playing Camaldoli's
forest floor. I held one to your chin, silence
stretching light's expanse between us. Measured
rhythms, equilibriums: that the shapes might
fit; mass to rhapsodic mass, vein to leaf, leaf
to branch; error to its thought; that in the symmetry
between hand and touch we might find not just relief.
I've lost track of how I've hurt you.
Out of stone huts hermits emerge
like mist's cargo, dissolve without blundering
into air. They'll come down the mountain
in old age. We watch from outside the gate--
Smoke curls skyward--
And darkness corked by light.
In this night scene the first bridge, built
out of the first man's mouth, makes the world make
sense. One theory says God fell in love and in letting go: matter. Between death and dream breath's vanishing,
the broken parts, bring us back to each other--
erasures, secco-frescoed molecules--
malachite, ultramarine, lead tin yellow,
flaking with time, vine black triangles
where a branch once held the tree trembling in place.
Sounds that twisted
around the room like smoke,
where I did not want
to find them, but I find them
over and over. Father,
bless your hair.
Bless your hammer
and your no-song whistle,
your voice, your strange
language--embarrassing to me
once. Too lyrical, too vulgar.
But father, bless your hair:
sculptural, short, black
lamb's wool, steel wool
like your voice--gravel
underfoot when I'd walk
home from school. Bless
your voice, the gravel
underfoot, your hammer,
your strange language twisting
like smoke, biting like a snake
the head of which I wanted
to stroke or crush with my heel.
And your whistle father,
and when you'd stop
in the middle of your work,
as if something had cut
away the part of you
that wanted to sing.
A box of Chopin nocturnes handed down
from the other side of my mother's death--
evening gowns in trash bags making a little
Golgotha of their own right in the corner
of that studio we had spent all morning
emptying out--uncandled cold chaperoned
through the sill. Lullabies all of us had
already heard while drinks kept going round
the parlor after her wake assembled now
into makeshift history--bits of tenderness
discarded down the cosmos slide, each night
a phantom limb, the hours trapezing over
that sea of anonymous faces where sidereal
glances scale up the piano's mirrored lid.
In later paintings--
a Brueghel, a Dali--
a hill could also be a breast
grazed by clouds, the breast
of a woman lying on her back
facing heaven. But in this painting
by the Osservanza Master
(about whom nothing is known,
not even his real name)
the hill is just a hill
beneath an arch of cirrus,
although it swirls like cream
to a soft peak, although it hides
a distant church blushing in the dusk.
I love this painting,
no larger than a leaf
of notebook paper.
Its sharp thin brushstrokes
shiny as currycombed hair
And I love the story it tells:
Saint Anthony Abbot tempted
by a heap of gold. Stranger than any
hill transformed into a breast
is that the pile of gold has vanished!
Yet the Saint is still
so distinct you could lift him
off the panel. His hands cupped
like a calyx holding its flower
he gazes downward
at the damaged place
where the gold has been,
where now a small pink ghost lingers
like a kiss on the hillside.
But it's hard to know if he's still
surprised by the temptation
he'd once found at his feet,
or by the rabbit crouching there, forever
bearing a tree rooted in air.
Or is he simply amazed
that what he never had was taken away
What will become of these
my many lives,
abandoned each morning abruptly to their own fates?
Of the fox who stopped to look up at me,
bright death stippling her muzzle,
and announced--clearly, simply--"I was hungry"?
Of the engine left half-disassembled,
the unmendable roofleaks, the waiting packed bags?
Cloudbellies of horses drinking at sunset.
Fierce embraces remembered half a day if at all.
Even the bedside jar of minute and actual seashells
wavers and thins--
though each was lifted, chosen,
I no longer recall if it was in joy or distraction,
in foreknowledge or false belief.
How much more elusive, these half-legible scribblings.
If souvenirs at all, they are someone else's.
As each of my memories,
it seems, is destined to be someone else's,
to belong to a woman who
looks faintly like me and whom I wish well,
as one would any stranger passed in a shop, on the street.
Why must the noble rose
bristle before it blooms, and why
must the frost declare
allegiance to the dew?
Don't tell me the robin's
could not be denied.
I've heard the magpie's lies.
Outside my window,
consort in a cedar tree,
fat and happy to be free
of all desire--ah, but
that's not true! See
how they dance and turn
when I throw out the seed.
It was curled on the pavement, forehead to knees,
as if it had died while bowing. Its stripes
were citrine-yellow, and the black of a moonless
starless, clear night. It did not
belong on a street, to be stepped on, I picked it
up in a fold of glove, and in the taxi
canted it onto a floral hankie,
a small, thin, cotton death-glade--
and the bee moved, one foreleg,
like an arm, feebly, as if old. It seemed
not long for this world, and it seemed I could not
save it, and had been saved, by its gesture,
from smothering it all day in my bag. I would have
liked to set it in a real glade,
but I thought that it might still, right now,
be suffering, yet I could not kill it
directly--I shook it, from the hankie, out the window,
onto West End Avenue,
hoping that, before a tire
killed it, instantly, it would hear
and feel huge rushes of tread and wind,
like flight, like the bee-god's escape.