Hamilton Stone Review #21
The Day the Juncos Return to Maine
When do the juncos feel the first split
of winter’s zipper? When do they hear
the conversations of the veins inside
the shriveling vine? When does the rumble
of the snowflakes inside the organized clouds
vibrate in their twigged feet?
Do the searching shadows,
rummaging in the copse, drum
their greeting inside the birds’ feathers?
Does the wind’s constant carpentry—nailing,
sawing, hammering—interfere with their
flight patterns? And how to explain
this to my father, that they have arrived
again? Will he understand it
to be the start of a long and tightening isolation?
Or will he see the birds as graceful motions,
grateful for these small gray flecks
that fall from the sky, singing?
for my mother
The earth is a quiet trickster
gathering the broken leaves
to soften them into mulch.
The daffodil bulb planted
next to the cherry tree blooms
on the other side or not at all.
On this day my sisters & I gather
our trowels our spades and drive
to your cemetery plot
and grave site with no fixed
headstone yet to plant the red mums.
Your fall favorite. Futile
gesture of an anniversary we’d like
to strike from all calendars.
Only later, learning that we had grieved
over the wrong grave could we laugh.
We laughed like we always did
those Friday nights in your bedroom
sharing red wine and laughing
at our day’s loudest mistakes.
Send me to the town’s
to the late-night girls
caught out by the early sun.
An implosion of grace
and the last owl tunnels home
the first magnolia opens.
Let me find
alternative routes, lived-in dioramas
souls dyed in red iridescence
fag-ends attached to the mouths of brothers and sisters.
Like a born prodigal I walk
through kaleidoscopic patterns
that bedazzle paths
that keep halving, quartering.
Curled up in my hand a message
stains and smells
won’t rub off.
Persons unknown read to me
amputations of sagas washed up on a beach.
In the photo, your tombstone
looks too new. Clean
and bedecked with a fresh
arrangement of white
carnations. The dates, 1968
to 1970 are ancient
history and I wonder
about the flowers
since your father,
our father, is no
where near your grave.
I had forgotten
your mother, not my
mother, who is still alive
as is a brother (half for me)
that we share. I do
the family math
wondering if your
divorce. By 1971
your father would marry
my mother. I was born
only five years after
you died. What
would it have been like
to have had an older sister?
Would you have braided
my hair as I liked to do
for my younger sisters?
Or would I have even
ever seen you
since you would have lived
a state away?
Before this picture
of your tombstone online,
the last picture I saw
of you was in your
baby book which my father
cried over. Your face in all
the pictures was at least
half covered by what I call
a tumor. I don’t know
if that is what killed you. I
only know your name
and that if I had had a daughter
it is the name I wanted
to give my child, the name
of a great grandmother
that, like you,
I never met.
I peel like a boiled egg.
First, I knock my head
to create a crack. Then,
I reach up to pull
down my left side. I’m
right handed. I come
apart in little plates
of shell. Inside,
I’m white and soft.
I have to dig into my hip,
the fattest part,
before I’m finally loose.
The Social Class of Trees
It’s their shapes, fan palms, monkey puzzles, the rich
greens, the Highgate Hill of them, fresh leaves hiding
fin de siècle gables, overhanging goggled motorists,
a plaid lapelled entrepreneur, waist coated Chief Clerk
smiling up through branches, the bright jade light, then
downhill, east, trees knuckled, dry, council-pollarded,
coalman bending sacks on his shoulder over a doorstep
chute, below, a boy standing on the settling coal, cellar
blurred by dust, running out to a horse pulling a carted
carousel, rides for jam jars, shrimps and winkles from
a barrow. The mother - apple of a street bookie’s eye -
a daily herring and bowl of tea seamstress sewing
leg of mutton sleeves, lining merry widow hats,
her son playing in a sandpit, looking up; a veranda
glimpsed on the hill, mullioned windows reflecting
the sun, high chimneys, a sunlit, jacketed shoulder
on a camomile lawn, and the full trees.
White Marble Nudes
Stained rocks rise from a pool by the
Thames, atop, two rearing horses,
the chariot between their spread wings
driven by a female, whipless, hair
held high between her fingers,
a maid stretches an arm in worship,
a kneeling nymph helps up a friend,
their arms clasped, another sits in a shell
where, between finger and thumb, a nut
for a horse or pearl for the charioteer,
Arms wide, a girl bends backwards,
as if suddenly aware of the animals
above, a lass below leans over the
water, surprised by her reflection, and
as the tide rises, weeds wash up to an
ankle, behind a knee, the palm of a hand,
on the other bank those that look across
may see only a tip of stone above trees,
a curl, a tress, not thinking there could
be figures here larger than life,
elegant, playful, drowning.
Red beard flecked with mud, he resembles a muscular
Van Gogh- without the eyes. At the restaurant, he
exchanges his kilo of clams for Euros; downs a single
beer in three swallows. Sits. Sardines arrive. Slowly
he separates their greasy flesh over brown bread.
For six hours he has bent in the mud flats off Faro,
balancing his weight in the muck, digging, digging
until the tide returns. Tomorrow, clean shirt, clean
trousers, Mass. In the evening, two beers. Alone,
at a corner table now, orange tablecloth, gnarled
hands, burnt face, red beard. An amber moment.
Van Gogh would have captured him. . . forever.
The mantis is the only insect who
can look over his shoulder. Not the roach
who has no need to, knowing exactly
where the offending broom is coming from
plus every life-sustaining crack to slip
into. Not the long-legged wolf spider
who sees enough: eight eyes across her head.
The grasshopper can’t turn his head either,
even in summer when his head is turned
by love. No. Only the stately mantis,
the giraffe-necked religious one, the most
flexible, most voracious. Newly hatched
and already twisting this way and that
to cannibalize his siblings.
will come camouflage, an iron patience,
ambush and pounce. See how he lies in wait
riding his stem, or sticks to my window
holding up his spiny-toothed arms to seize
and devour his reflection. This pose of
piety runs too close for comfort: praying
while preying. And to what terror does he
pray, looking over his shoulder like that?
To what greased machine of hypocrisy
that can cut through armor and scissoring
its mouth-parts, rip up flesh while decreeing
the enactment of grace? What myth is left?
What temple ghost or sweet excuse remains
for reason to surrender itself to?
Winter, and the alligator’s heart
slows to a two-times-a-minute beat,
while all reptilian seize and destroy
the tank plates, the terrible teeth—
wallow in the sleep of black-stained water,
the dark looking glass of the swamp.
Imprisoned in the wrists, his pulse
paces in philosophic thought. Who dares
question what elegant adage or principle
quickens behind that perpetual grin?
Loops of Spanish moss canopy his head
and a fearsome quiet hushes the black-
satin water of his sheets. He concentrates
therefore he is—all seventy-eight
teeth and fifteen feet of him. I shiver
in my fleece. But the great mouth
is beyond hunger now, the catatonic
jaws, locked. It is the ides of January.
The Okefenoke trembles like a clogged sink
but will not go down. The fabulous lives:
the swamp’s saviour: the stopper in the drain.
from At the Musarium [12901 – 13000]
Claudia & Paolo doze for decades,
condescending to stagger aimless
through a torturous stubble & antarctic
amaze of inactivity, no festivity to foil
their noxious probabilities, nourishing
themselves on entrails of memoir, ripped
by the sapphire lighthouse of lifelong revulsion.
They drawback each digit of indigo delegation,
wrap the woolen rig in firewood, dunno
squat about smallpox, confuse dung
& coinage, & finally dismount by the Tigris
or one of its tributaries, gardening
in the tilt for an antidote.
You’re singing someone else’s song. His words
are in your mouth like weather
in the wrong season. Where you go
from here is inevitable, all but drowning
in the thick crescendo. You find your way
around the phrases. Breath drops crumbs
along the path. It’s a conversation
you can never tire of having,
the question of your hands
curled round the microphone,
the possible answers drifting off
into the darkest reaches of the club
like smoke from the lips
of a tired old man, like words
you try to mean for the thousandth
time, like an unexpected riff,
the way your body bends to inhabit
every mournful note, every line
written by a man who died
before you even thought of being born.
Not that Fleishmann’s was god, mind.
But he did have much to do with libations.
None was poured upon the ground.
Neither mother nor father spilled a drop.
A bottle gripped well.
No glass had ever been knocked over that I could see.
A martini was mentioned, but gin, main ingredient
And trap, was not a word to utter.
Succeeded by gentilities to give some weight to and ease the day,
How was it then? And you?
Father’s on Wall St., a broker’s lunch.
My mother in a brimming juice glass
Liquid clear enough for a boy to be curious.
Poison, she answered and warned.
Like iodine? And in a bottle with a skull
Not a glass.
Bottles in cases arrived at the door.
And still never a spill, except when she once
lay down on the floor.
In a story about his Asante father
a philosopher writes of watching him pour
Some drops of whiskey on their kitchen’s patterned earth
As a gift to the spirits
That small portion a link to the past
And many pasts well before.
Other than gin we had no spirits
And my mother’s spirit if there was one
Harnessing liquid in me although I do not know
Where she lies. Or even if.
She stayed in my keeping and I in hers
We two pouring away afternoons.
I found finally with sons there were no spirits
other than theirs and my father’s
Which lies under a small stone in Westchester.
But he came to play with them before he came to settle here.
There are no gods
And they are false.
As I neared the cathedral it took off
its veil...too elegant a word—
its panties...of seeming, and became
what it is: a woman I know
supine on the ground, her legs drawn up
and moved apart, her calves and knees
the towers we see from that approach,
the main one, through the central square
to the great door, two-valved, gently
ajar at this hour. Farther along, her hips,
waist and torso, neck and head lie stretched
over the city’s choicest real estate,
ceded to her way back when she was entered
often and more seriously. The birds, high up
where humans can’t reach, can hardly see,
circle her nipples and drink and bathe
in the virgin rain or August dust
her navel gathers. Her head’s thrown back,
her face studies the sky and fits into it,
waiting for pleasure, and the hidden tongue
prepares. Her hair is the contour of the ground,
covered in lovingly-groomed grass,
where it slopes away behind the chancel
to the river bank. I was climbing the stairs
to the dark opening of the vagina
to enter the narthex. But would I? Maybe the rose
window, so high above me though so close
above the door in terms of the heroic
proportions of those walls, moist in the pink
and gold sunset...maybe the rose window was
the right way in, too high for me to use,
and I had approached the anus along that carpet
of brick on which she’d pillowed her back
against the wet. Was I entering womb or bowel?
I remembered how I used to pray
at times of insane heart sickness or excitement,
at times of happiness too, or just clarity,
sudden light like the sun’s coming down to live
a second in a wave’s fraying crest—I’d pray
to be all sex, an ejaculation,
“Come, Lord”, nothing more,
a word and an art renewed all of the time
without anxiety or exhaustion
and never renewed because always said
and done once and for all. And here I was.
Made identical not even to a phallus
but a drop of sperm. And who
was shooting me into the darkness,
someone of whom I was a piece,
a germ in which he reposed
an image of himself, thrusting me
into the cathedral, that is, the seat,
the human earth, my lover, the great
empty building where many, mostly old
women were dotted around like ants
on rain-darkened stone slabs, mouthing prayers,
the endless tradition, reservoir
of eggs of vanished hands.
Porch and Sundial
Stephen Leacock and Po Chu-i, two strange
old men I’ve loved a long time in your words,
since lone boyhood, only today did I see
you talk together. Leacock, on the sundial
of the calm house you built by Couchiching
two summers late, for by then Beatrix was dead,
you graved a motto of your mind: Breves
Horas—Longos Annos: hours are brief,
years long. From your own chair I’ve watched
the lake’s deeper-than-Aegean sapphire flash
through oak and pine to where she would have stood
in the porch’s grace. And then I recalled you, Po:
“Next year I’ll build a screened porch here on this side
for my treasure, my wife.” And later on you say,
in another poem, that “joyful people hate
the hours that rush away and unhappy people
can’t stand the creep of the interminable years.”
You two agreed: frantic, desperate, joy
always will tip itself over into sadness,
and may god let the two things flicker
in us like gray and green of the aspen leaves,
not be all joy in youth and grief ever after.
Pond in November
Beauty in cheerlessness—
the steadily bluer harder brighter
glance of a pond in late fall
not quite frozen, glittering
a stone awareness
in long fields white and gold
that lap the barn and house
in fit vestments for this
lying in state of theirs: closed walls
of such a calm it may as well be
eternal. True twilight of 3:30,
sun as low in the southwest as the moon
southeast, a ghost that pauses to be seen
and so believed in. But no ghost:
a gauzy shellfish, nearly dead,
translucent with age and strain
and crawling too slowly to betray
motion, or dead and lying
on that blue beach where it always lay
but now, lit up, it shows, a paler birthmark
in a glowing waste. Beauty
in cheerlessness—the silver globe
of unflown seeds on a single
dandelion. And one ray
that chances somehow on a way
to slip through the wide stand of bare trunks,
arriving to raise a sparse column here
of gnats whirling: a moment,
a world, a factor
of a sliver of sun,
the sun still lower now
and the pond copper
crossed by richer copper and old leather
echoes of the trees.
If I was smart as an onion skin
they wouldn’t have gotten to me —
they might have smelled me, but
they wouldn’t have gotten inside.
I would have kept my coat on
and they wouldn’t have dared
to break it open —
my loud onion skin coat
would’ve rattled down their hands
and instead of trying to pull it off,
they’d have been trying to keep it quiet
and straight. If I was an onion smart girl,
I wouldn’t have shown them my green secret
and my ruffle fringe. I would have
smiled with my whole face around
and they never would have seen the end of it.
And there she was —
on Broadway between 49th
and 50th and you know
what that means
even if you don’t know New York
you can still feel it —
because New York is everything.
And I said
Toni Morrison ! because I’m like that.
And she said
You know I am !
And I said
Tell me you didn’t win the Nobel
Prize for your stories !
And she threw her head
You know I did !
And we laughed.
And we crossed each other
on the side walk. And after,
I kept looking back of me
a couple of times
at how she was going along
like you do,
but then I just kept on walking
where I was going —
until I heard quick steps behind me
and I turned around
and her face was in my face —
and she stopped a second
to catch her breath
and she told me something
I’ll never forget.
Morning radio announced what events won’t go with snow,
a Rotary list
ending with Don Downer’s “Spiritualism” lecture, postponed
till late May.
One wonders what the good doctor Downer knows about
and then, why brook such delay? What’s with Whitey’s
really blond hair,
Rusty’s freckle picnic, and Mrs. Candy’s naming her sweet
What to make of Bob Shovel’s arriving home post-blizzard
his irascible neighbor’s cleared spot, the Tribune’s headline:
Robert Shovel Killed by Shovel.
This is what I think about while shoveling, moving here
or there to here, memory digging incrementally downward
to my teacher
Mrs. Sweet, you who were anything but. At the rusted tip
of this shovel
you’re grading my color-penciled Love’s Kaleidoscope a zero,
bled upon the teary page as Shelley had, limp wrist upon
You’re deciding the boy in Honors who doesn’t care for
is third period’s fraud, “Son, you didn’t write these.”
I’ll admit the Too-Little-Linebacker me didn’t, nor the elusive
Ditto my Skip-Church guy, Class-President-Elected-on-a-
the Lucky-Drunk-Cops-Almost-Caught-in-his-Chevy’s trunk,
as well as
Way-Too-Poor-for-Patti’s-Daddy and that always zitty
Wait, Mrs. Not-So-Sweet,
one of me really did pencil that rainbow of love poems! –
You’re not your name’s Sweet, and I’m not the “stone”
Stein’s German implies.
Forgive our selves’ their many indiscretions: your sourness,
Sweet & Low. Now you’re in a home the kids won’t visit,
I in the path
of a Rocky Mountain boulder sure to plant me poetically
á la Mr. Shovel.
Let’s make our peace before the hymns’ graveside shoveling.
You’ll rest beneath
“Sweet” and I beneath a stone with “Stein” redundantly
carved in it,
our names tragicomic: one pun and a paradox six feet above