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I want to find my way back to her,

to help her, to grab her hand, pull her

up from the wooden floor of the stacks

where she’s reading accounts of the hatchet

murders of Lizzie Borden’s harsh parents

as if she could learn something about

life if she knew all the cuts and slashes;

 

her essay on Wordsworth or Keats

only a knot in her belly, a faint pressure

at her temples.  She’s pale, it’s five years

before the first migraine, but the dreamy

flush has already drained from her face.

I want to lead her out of the library,

to sit with her on a bench under a still

 

living elm tree, be one who understands,

but even today I don’t understand,

I want to shake her and want to assure her,

to hold her – but love’s not safe for her,

although she craves what she knows

of it, love’s a snare, a closed door,

a dank cell.  Maybe she should just leave

 

the campus, take a train to Fall River,

inspect Lizzie’s room, the rigid corsets

and buttoned shoes, the horsehair sofas,

the kitchen’s rank stew.  Hell.  Bleak

loyal judgmental journals of a next-door

neighbor – not a friend, Lizzie had no friend.

If only she could follow one trajectory

 

of thought, a plan, invent a journey

out of this place, a vocation –

but without me to guide her, where

would she go?

 

~ From “Girl in a Library” by Gail Mazur (University of Chicago Press, 2005)

 

Clara Taggart MacChesney, before 1928

Ask me no more where Jove bestows,

When June is past, the fading rose;

For in your beauty’s orient deep

These flowers as in their causes, sleep.

 

Ask me no more whither doth stray

The golden atoms of the day;

For in pure love heaven did prepare

Those powders to enrich your hair.

 

Ask me no more whither doth haste

The nightingale when May is past;

For in your sweet dividing throat

She winters and keeps warm her note.

 

Ask me no more where those stars light

That downwards fall in dead of night;

For in your eyes they sit, and there,

Fixed become as in their sphere.

 

Ask me no more if east or west

The phoenix builds her spicy nest;

For unto you at last she flies,

And in your fragrant bosom dies.

 

~ Thomas Carew

 

“The Soul of the Rose” by John William Waterhouse, 1907

Toward what island-home am I moving,

not wanting to marry, not wanting

too much of that emptiness at evening,

as when I walked through a field at dusk

and felt wide in the night.

And it was again the evening that drew me

back to the field where I was most alone,

compassed by stems and ruts,

no light of the fixed stars, no flashing in the eyes,

only heather pared by dry air, shedding

a small feathered radiance when I looked away,

an expanse whose deep sleep seemed an unending

warren I had been given, to carry out such tasks—

that I might find nothing dead.

And it was again the evening that drew me

back to the field where I could sense no boundary—

the smell of dry earth, cool arch of my neck, the darkness

entirely within myself.

And when I shut my eyes there was no one.

Only weeds in drifts of stillness, only

stalks and gliding sky.

 

~ From “Toward what island-home am I moving” by Joanna Klink

 

“The Old Tower in the Fields” by Vincent van Gogh, 1884

Be precise

authority is magic.

When you think you’ve got it straight

wax wane declination

feel the movement under your hand

one summer morning

as you observe it set

then rise that night.

Always use a well-sharpened pencil

followed by a good eraser.

Watch the white emerge.

 

~ Caroline Caddy

 

Johann Peter Hasenclever, circa 1846

Oh that it were with me

As with the flower;

Blooming on its own tree

For butterfly and bee

Its summer morns:

That I might bloom mine hour

A rose in spite of thorns.

 

Oh that my work were done

As birds’ that soar

Rejoicing in the sun:

That when my time is run

And daylight too,

I so might rest once more

Cool with refreshing dew.

 

                       ~ From “A Summer Wish” by Christina Rossetti

 

Unknown Artist, 1893

If you’re a writer, you locate yourself behind a wall of silence and no matter what you are doing, driving a car or walking or doing housework you can still be writing, because you have that space.

 

~ Joyce Carol Oates, born on this day in 1938

 

“Gardening” by Victor Gabriel Gilbert (1847-1933)

 

Insomnia

The moon in the bureau mirror

looks out a million miles

(and perhaps with pride, at herself,

but she never, never smiles)

far and away beyond sleep, or

perhaps she’s a daytime sleeper.

 

By the Universe deserted,

she’d tell it to go to hell,

and she’d find a body of water,

or a mirror, on which to dwell.

So wrap up care in a cobweb

and drop it down the well

 

into that world inverted

where left is always right,

where the shadows are really the body,

where we stay awake all night,

where the heavens are shallow as the sea

is now deep, and you love me.

 

               ~ Elizabeth Bishop

 

“Moonlight Night” by Ilya Repin, 1896

The first lily of June opens its red mouth.

All over the sand road where we walk

multiflora rose climbs trees cascading

white or pink blossoms, simple, intense

the scene drifting like colored mist.

 

The arrowhead is spreading its creamy

clumps of flower and the blackberries

are blooming in the thickets.  Season of

joy for the bee.  The green will never

again be so green, so purely and lushly

 

new, grass lifting its wheaty seedheads

into the wind.  Rich fresh wine

of June, we stagger into you smeared

with pollen, overcome as the turtle

laying her eggs in roadside sand.

 

             ~ Marge Piercy

 

“Girl with Lilies” by John White Alexander, 1889

Passage

I held the framework

of my life in mind

with some precision.

I knew when I was

where—or where I was

when—but not many

incidents of my past had

actually been preserved.

Instead the frame served

as a cargo cult runway,

forever inviting

the future to appear.

I existed finally

as the idea

of temporal extension.

 

From “Passage” by Rae Armantrout

 

John Singer Sargent, 1882

It is the thirtieth of May,

the thirtieth of November,

a beginning or an end,

we are moving into the solstice

and there is so much here

I still do not understand.

If I could make sense of how

my life is still tangled

with dead weeds, thistles,

enormous burdocks, burdens

slowly shifting under

this first fall of snow,

beaten by this early, racking rain

calling all new life to declare itself strong

or die

if I could know

in what language to address

the spirits that claim a place

beneath these low and simple ceilings,

tenants that neither speak nor stir

yet dwell in mute insistence

till I can feel utterly ghosted in this house.

 

                         ~ from “Toward the Solstice” by Adrienne Rich

 

Poul Friis Nybo, by 1917

 

 

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