Friday, June 13, 2008

Poem of the Week - June 9-13

by Joel Brouwer

One winter, when much snow fell in Florence,
Piero de'Medici caused Michelangelo to make
him in his courtyard a statue of snow, which
was very beautiful.

–Giorgio Vasari's Lives

He found his rasps and hammers useless,
too crude for such soft stone.
So he chiseled the head

with his fingers: scratched ice
from the ears, rubbed his numb palms
against the cheeks to smooth them.

He stood on a ladder with his back
to the balcony, so the Medici's guests
could not see the statue's face take shape.

Clots of snow flew from his fingers,
dropped to the ground. The guests
amused themselves by guessing what magic

might be forming behind his black cloak.
Bacchus? Moses? Maybe the Pope?
After an hour, bored, they ordered the artist

to step aside. We cannot know
what they saw. Vasari doesn't say. But let's imagine
that silence falls thick as a blizzard

on the crowd. That the children drop
toys and hide behind their mothers.
That every eye wanders

up the snowman's bright muscles,
his dazzling, impossible flesh,
and locks to his lucid gaze,

which seems so certain, so candid,
that the guests shiver, look away,
turn suddenly solemn.

Later, at the feast, a young woman slips
from the table and rushes
to the courtyard, where a stray warm wind

strokes the statue's face, erasing
each feature. She climbs the ladder, stands
nose to nose, staring hard as if

the force of her looking will bring the face,
already so close to life,
to life. She scrapes away the thick, curved lips,

squeezes them between her hands.
She dribbles the liquid into a small glass vial,
which she'll wear on a necklace,

the water exactly as warm as her skin.
She imagines that strong, ruthless mouth
still beautiful, pressing heavy against her.

from Exactly What Happened. Purdue University Press, 1999.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Poem for this Week

by Robert Frost

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows--
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father's trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.