STILL LIFE AT FOUR P. M.
There’s a light blue
Buick on the street
where sun has been glowing.
A small bird flits
in a frieze of sticks
outside Claire’s window—
like Japan—Claire thinks
but she doesn’t know.
And it doesn’t matter
if she calls her mom and dad
to say I
will sautée steaks in an hour
and I have walked today
in the sky with no clouds
where wild violets purple a hill.
(Claire is not a painter).
How can she describe
the bird’s back and forth pecking?
Claire’s a mother—
the brickness of the building
across the street comforts her
after a nap. She’ll tell you—
if you look at something long enough,
you will call it love.
Claire wants you to know that
she’s part feline, part
French, part Woolvian dream.
That she and her husband
live over the hill, at the outskirts
of Manhattan in an apartment
built into the trees where
they are visited by birds
Claire struggles to name.
I don’t know anything—
she’ll tell you sweetly,
as though she’s been asleep for decades
yet is now returning willfully
to certain constructs.
She goes with the day, like any cat—
morning to dinnertime.
She purchases her husband’s yoghurt.
Note the simple components
of her salad dressing
placed on the counter
for her man to emulsify.
At sun down, windows blackened,
rooms tidy, body warm, wearing
a fragrant robe, Claire mimes
a piano solo, hearing the notes
within her. Lamp lit, imagine
her lips a vermillion twist
of cellophane. Her eyes—
sapphire, asymmetrical chunks.
She’s thinking—we all have a weakness.
Kathie her hamstring, Lisa, her paradoxical dog,
and I’ve got my own missing bones.
Take this and do what you will—
CLAIRE ON HER BIRTHDAY
You have to wish me a happy birthday,
Claire says after her analyst says
“look what Duchamp has done
with his individuation process!”
And so on and so forth,
because she’s bored him.
But just this morning
Claire told her husband,
don’t press yourself on my account—
don’t bake me a cake—
let me go free in Manhattan.
When Claire puts on geranium lipstick,
she’s so free, so full of me,
she walks a slow and cluttered hour
like a soft-eyed warrior towards sharks
on the west side towards nothing
until evening. Her husband’s got tickets but—
I’m not so sure I get stage comedy—
it’s not even funny. Can we leave?
In line at intermission a woman
wearing long red sleeves repeats a line.
Claire says simple things in response—
thinks she gets it—what’s funny.
“Frequency!” the woman repeats
like it’s a question, “of urination”
is her problem. Claire starts to laugh.
Claire’s husband stares at her
phone-free—which feels thrilling,
and it is Duchamp’s birthday too
this week, and Claire has been thinking
about all these things, but never
laughter, never this new thing.
A REAL LOVE STORY
Yes dear, I’m still here—
Claire screams silently
(where you left me
in the morning thirty years ago
the beginning and
ending occurring in the same
breath). Give her a box
and Claire purges. So much
is edited after middle age,
it’s got to be perfect,
what she’s got to say—
what’s poignant is her touch now
what’s fluffy, what’s lux—
she puzzles, is it
a cherry she’s pocketed,
lipstick of the dogwood
now it’s November?
He says “look here,”
she knows he’s scared, a friend
suddenly dead, another jobless
holds a long hug now
like a dancer, packages
his healthy evening like
PORTRAIT OF CLAIRE AS AN OLDER WOMAN
Walking sternly for years down the hill going to the Met,
Claire never noticed birds’ influxes or departures,
any season, sunny or ominous. Yesterday, a clear day,
she stood before what she insists is her unbloomed forsythia
from the sidewalk. She gathered her lack of embarrassment
and stood there gazing longer than normal into what seemed
a pile of sticks to others. Was she slaking a mysterious thirst?
One couldn’t know. The dreamy way she looked, neighbors
with children might wonder. They could not tell Claire
was busy with finches, oh soft browns, each of one hundred
a universe she could almost feel. Oh flutter! Claire imagined
touching with the index finger of her right hand one bluish-gray head,
wanting to so much the tension was almost unbearable.
Apparently she lives not far. Going upstairs with bags, one story
above, preparing for a storm—Claire doesn’t worry about the birds.
She understands, unlike the moxy daffodils, birds contain this
unfazed ability to sing no matter the ice and winds of March.
Whereas she must call someone—Claire must always avoid
stressing her pearly vertebrae.
Upside down—the opposite
of gravity is happy, Claire thinks,
when not such a little heart
hurts over Mother’s no-apology
no-coffee weekend. Vacations
seem so much harder than life.
Her husband, what a man, kept
upward of wind all weekend.
During mute hours Claire said
to herself now now, these excitements
drain the Jesus right out of me.
I’m full of bugs, need some silk
to soothe me until we can immerse
ourselves in radical thinking
the rest of our lives. Sunday
Claire prepares kale with gorgonzola
despite her fighting words
and pink hibiscus still rallies
by the grill on October’s balcony.
Monday, leaves unfurl at dawn
and perimeters revolve
not 180 degrees but 90.
Now Claire can see sideways.
ART OF THE FUGUE
Claire and her husband don’t slide down the row
when asked to. They’re a little tired. The pianist
opens with a bit of lecture—hair pinned.
Claire thinks, I wish only to feel the music in my body.
Oh my husband’s leg. Will you—! Melody rises.
Claire retracts—how is she here, past
middle-age and Bach still her raison d’être?
Though I have lived! she inserts. Claire has
divided her life into worlds. The music goes on—
years. Now the rain is falling. If only she could
she’d tell you—it’s like being on an acid trip maybe.
She envisions the black and white staircase, scaled,
slurred. Claire is seventeen. She is one hundred.
AUBADE WITH J. S. BACH
A solo bathed Claire’s ears this morning.
Perfect had already slipped away
in the dining room. From her husband,
she’d accepted luke-warm brew.
She knew it was time—as notes were played,
to listen to the spaces between touches
as though listening to the ocean’s
calling. It was time for Claire to trust
her ear. What had she been thinking—
to have turned from sound as her lifetime
dwindled, to figure her mind each day
from ideas born of useless guilt and hope’s drill?
In gauzy solitude, prison hum, someone said
Claire was on the verge of retreating or leaping—
if she retreats, she’ll toss from pillow to pillow the rest
of her nights. If she leaps, there is hope for sleep.