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Category: Suzanne Buffam

Plain Greek

 

Fate’s wind can be cold it is true.

What is the wind to you

But an impression of wind

 

A phantasia

As Epictetus puts it

In his Handbook

 

A fact you must weather

Like any other fact

Such as daylight adultery taxes

 

And naturally death.

Face the facts.

They do not matter.

 

What matters is the use

You put them to.

The Iliad consists of nothing but facts.

 

Epictetus wipes his nose

And explains this

To the students growing restless at his feet.

 

Fact prompted Paris.

Fact prompted Helen to follow.

If fact had prompted Menelaus

 

To count his blessings

In the face of Helen’s absence

Not only the Iliad

 

Would have been lost to us

But the Odyssey too.

When the wind blows

 

Do not long for warmer climes.

Epictetus puts it

In plain Greek.

 

Wipe your nose

And do not accuse God.

If all is fire

 

You may warm your hands

By thrusting them here

Into this burning book.

from The IrrationalistFind more by Suzanne Buffam at the library

Copyright © 2010 Suzanne Buffam
Used with the permission of Canarium Books.

“For the first time in six weeks, no mid-level administrators”

 

For the first time in six weeks, no mid-level administrators, no visiting scholars, no artists-in-residence, no junior associates, no senior assistants, no mentees, no prospies, and no traveling spouses of acquaintances from college accompanied us on date night, last night. We were alone together, beyond our bolted townhouse door, for the first time since Thanksgiving. Things began on a sweet note. We took the train to a trendy new trattoria in the South Loop. We shared a cigarette under a streetlight in the softly falling snow. We held hands across the table and ordered Whiskey Sours. Things soured, as a result, rather swiftly. The waiter—an impassive, moustachioed hipster with a map of Hades tattooed on his neck—refreshed our empty goblets and withdrew into the shadows with a bow. My husband glowered through his grain-fed-duck-fat fries. I speared my quail confit through angry tears. In a cozy corner booth, a lovestruck couple with thighs entwined under the table hurried through a half-carafe of house red and hustled off into the night without dessert. We downed our dregs in stony silence, and when the candle on our table fizzled out, at ten to ten, we forked over the exorbitant tip, hailed a cab for the extortionate ride down Lake Shore Drive, and shelled out a final fortune to the spent sitter, who was drooling on my pillow in front of The Bachelorette when we got home.

from A Pillow BookFind more by Suzanne Buffam at the library

Copyright © 2016 Suzanne Buffam
Used with the permission of Canarium Books.

Dim-Lit Interior

 

I’m done crying in my beer about love.

 

My days of riding the shiny brass school bus are behind me as well.

 

The changes come slowly but suddenly.

 

One day the sun will burn so brightly it will turn all our seas into vast boiling vats.

 

Freedom comes from understanding our inability to change things.

 

So lead me O Destiny whither is ordained by your decree.

 

Just please don’t force me to vacuum the stairs.

 

The quiet that follows the storm may be the same as the quiet before it.

 

Let the wind blow.

 

Let it blow down each tree on the bright boulevard.

 

The things I would most like to change are the things that make me believe change is possible.

from The IrrationalistFind more by Suzanne Buffam at the library

Copyright © 2010 Suzanne Buffam
Used with the permission of Canarium Books.

Ideal tree

 

God is in the forest counting trees.

You are in the city writing poems.

You put a tree in a poem.

A tree without roots or branches

Or squirrels or sap

Without even a shadow

In its crown, for it grows

Without even a crown.

You are so pleased with your poem

And with the sound it makes

When you read it out loud

And when you whisper it

Into your pillow at night

You call your poem

“The Tree of Everlasting Love”

And plant it lovingly

Between the waiting pages

Of an unwritten book.

There it dwells for many years

Untainted by moss or regard.

And when you finally publish

Your book of sad poems

No one even notices the tree.

No one sees it burning coldly

Through all the foggy mornings

Of your misinterpretable world.

from The IrrationalistFind more by Suzanne Buffam at the library

Copyright © 2010 Suzanne Buffam
Used with the permission of Canarium Books.

Enough

 

I am wearing dark glasses inside the house

To match my dark mood.

 

I have left all the sugar out of the pie.

My rage is a kind of domestic rage.

 

I learned it from my mother

Who learned it from her mother before her

 

And so on.

Surely the Greeks had a word for this.

 

Now surely the Germans do.

The more words a person knows

 

To describe her private sufferings

The more distantly she can perceive them.

 

I repeat the names of all the cities I’ve known

And watch an ant drag its crooked shadow home.

 

What does it mean to love the life we’ve been given?

To act well the part that’s been cast for us?

 

Wind. Light. Fire. Time.

A train whistles through the far hills.

 

One day I plan to be riding it.

from The IrrationalistFind more by Suzanne Buffam at the library

Copyright © 2010 Suzanne Buffam
Used with the permission of Canarium Books.

“I press my cup against the testy dispenser”

 

I press my cup against the testy dispenser on the fridge and tinkling cubes tumble down the chute. The kitchen glows. The pillows on our couch have been plumped. Thanks to Estela, who comes every couple of weeks—when she remembers, that is, and can get herself here from across town in her Datsun, which is tired, she explains, and in constant need of repair—I can study my new jowls in the microwave’s dust-free mirrored door. Don’t get me wrong. I like Estela. What’s more, I trust her. I am grateful for the tidy piles of change she arranges by the bed and the gummy earplugs she retrieves from between the sheets. I marvel at the way she combs the snarls out of my hairbrush. No matter how hard I try, for that matter, I cannot master Estela’s inimitable technique for balling socks. But it is hard to work, I find, when Estela is here, working so hard—so much harder, to all appearances, than I am—with that smirk of unfathomable peace across her face.

from A Pillow BookFind more by Suzanne Buffam at the library

Copyright © 2016 Suzanne Buffam
Used with the permission of Canarium Books.

Vanishing Interior

 

Little patches of grass disappear

In the jaws of lusty squirrels

 

Who slip into the spruce.

Cars collapse into parts.

 

Spring dissolves into summer,

The kitten into the cat.

 

A tray of drinks departs from the buffet

And voilà! the party’s over.

 

All that’s left are some pickles

And a sprig of wilting parsley on the rug.

 

When I think of all those

Gong-tormented Mesozoic seas

 

I feel a ripple of extinction

And blow a smoke ring through the trees.

 

Soon there will be nothing left here but sky.

When I think about the fact

 

I am not thinking about you

It is a new way of thinking about you.

from The IrrationalistFind more by Suzanne Buffam at the library

Copyright © 2010 Suzanne Buffam
Used with the permission of Canarium Books.

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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