Saturday, May 23, 2009

"O, Penelope!" by Lynne Knight

The nuns of Mount St. Mary's loved Penelope, whose skills
they urged us all to emulate: She fought off men. She used
her mind. Long after we'd read the prose version, slightly
sexed down (those nights with Calypso eclipsed),

Penelope was steadily invoked—wily, though not quite
as wily as Mr. Wiliness himself; patient, so that even Job
might take his text from her; discreet in her appetites,
which the nuns chose to ignore, never quizzing us on

the scar (since God forbid we should mention
the man's thigh) or the bed with its highly unusual post.
No, ours was the Penelope of Attic vases,
gowned, accepting gifts from suitors, or sitting

at her loom, elbow on knee, head on hand, thoughtful
Telemachus beside her as she figured out her next move
now that the maids had betrayed her. No more unravelling!
But she was shining among all women, the gods would intervene ...

Heretical, yes, but we mustn't blame the Greeks;
at least [finger wag] they believed in something.
And they liked a good story: Odysseus stringing the bow,
stripping off his rags to guide the fatal arrows

to the suitors until the great hall smoked with blood ...
Not that we were being asked to condone violence.
But anything to preserve virtue! [sigh] Anything!
No wonder so many of us headed straight

for the back seat of a car. Why wait any longer?
We wanted to test our pluck and ingenuity ...
and then, hand sliding down a bare thigh,
whisper, Oh, I'd know you anywhere ...

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Monday, May 18, 2009

"The Language Problem" by Philip Levine

Cuban Spanish is incomprehensible even to Cubans. "If you spit in his face he'll tell you it's raining," the cab driver said. In Cuban it means, "Your cigar is from Tampa." Single, desperate, almost forty, my ex-wife told the Cuban doctor she'd give a million dollars for a perfect pair of tits. "God hates a coward," he said & directed her to an orthopedic shoe store where everything smelled like iodine. A full-page ad on the back of Nueva Prensa Cubanaclearly read "Free rum 24 hours a day & more on weekends." ("Free rum" was in italics.) When I showed up that evening at the right address, Calle Obispo, 28, the little merchant I spoke to said, "Rum? This is not a distillery." They were flogging Venetian blue umbrellas for $4 American. Mine was made in Taiwan and when it rained refused to open. Before sunset the streets filled with music. In the great Plaza de la Revolución the dark came slowly, filled with the perfume of automobile exhaust and wisteria. I danced with a girl from Santiago de Cuba. Gabriela Mistral García was her name; she was taller than I & wore her black hair in a wiry tangle. She was a year from her doctorate in Critical Theory. After our dance she grabbed me powerfully by the shoulders as a commandante in a movie might, leaned down as though to kiss me on the cheek, & whispered in my good ear, "I dream of tenure." It was the Fifties all over again.


Wednesday, May 06, 2009

"Landscape with Arson" by Jennifer Grotz

Have you ever watched a cigarette released from a driver's fingers
swim through the night air and disintegrate in tiny embers?
Invisible by day, fire's little shards, its quiet dissemination.

That's how, one hot afternoon, no one noticed when
something desperate made the boy devise the strategy
to siphon gas from the motorcycle with a discarded straw,

spitting mouthfuls into a fast food cup until there was enough
to set the apartment complex on fire.
It happened in a neighborhood at the edge of town

where the wind sifted a constant precipitation of dust
like desiccated snow and the newly-poured streets
looked like frosting spread across the desert field.

Ducks had just found the man-made pond.
At dusk, they waddled ashore
to explore the construction site like the boy.

He started with the door. Stood mesmerized
as the fire took on new colors. He fed it litter
collected from the field. It hissed and turned green,

it splintered pink, it bloomed aureoles of blue.
But there was hardly time to admire it before
remorse overtook him and he fled.

Before the howl of sirens. He was
gone before—he started with the door—whatever
he wanted to let out.

Something can stop being true in the time it takes
a cigarette to burn to its filter. It was your crime
but it's me who goes back to the scene. Now it's only me

who wants to burn something for you, but there's nothing left—how
do you set fire to the past? Only an impulse to shake free—like cellophane
peeled from a pack—something that clings.

Sometimes I conjure a fire for you in my mind,
the gnats swarming furiously above the water, up and down,
can you see it? How they mimic flame, hovering

at the pond's edge. Lately I find myself there all the time.