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Category archive for: Rachel Wetzsteon

The Commission

Rube Goldberg met with Cupid in an alley,

said “Look, I’ll help your broken arrow get

to where you want it. First off, let’s forget

a mountain’s any different from a valley —

we’ve never heard of obstacles. Next thing,

I’ll need a quiet place to work, some room

where I can’t hear the roaring traffic’s boom.

This attic’s perfect. Job well done. Now bring

me earplugs and a crate of beer, then scram.”

Cupid obeyed and flew back to his cloud

as Goldberg rolled his sleeves up, and a shroud

of secrecy descended…Leeks, a pram,

dining-room tables and a duck were seen

entering the attic on a pulley

while the paparazzi dutifully

cluttered the corridor where they had been.

Days passed—or were they weeks?—time was a blur

in this electric climate of creation,

just say time passed, when hoots of celebration

coming from the attic caused a stir

among the small dogs on the street below.

Goldberg got Cupid on the phone and said

“I’m going to take the top right off your head:

come quickly to my room so I can show

my latest masterpiece to you.” Quaking

with highest hopes and sheer fear, Cupid paced,

put on his darkest sunglasses and raced

into the teeming city, wings aching,

mind afire, and nerves completely raw.

He took the elevator to the ninth floor

where, beaming, Goldberg met him at the door

and let him in. And this is what he saw:

metal and feathers rose up in a narrow

shaft that ended in a triangle

part plywood and part leafy vegetable;

Goldberg had made a statue of an arrow.

Cupid knew Goldberg wasn’t serious;

the real contraption waited in the wings!

But when he realized the plain truth of things

he raised his arms and cried out, furious,

“I wanted you to steer a fragile dart

through shark-torn waters and crow-blasted skies

to where my icy-cold beloved lies,

not mock it with this stiff, this ghastly art.”

“But frozen sorrow offers such a thrill,”

Goldberg replied, “to those who caused the pain

that motion’s loss will be persuasion’s gain.

If this doesn’t melt her, nothing will.”

“Oh Goldberg, Goldberg, would that it were true.

I also used to feel deep in my gut

that works of love could cure indifference, but

I’ve given that dream up, and so should you.

I wanted rockets surging from the ground.

I wanted pyrotechnics and not planks.

Your artistry’s beyond pathetic; thanks

for a great big nothing. See you around.”

But Goldberg, not one to be silenced, spent

the next day polishing a marble bow,

and marveled at how Cupid could have so

misunderstood what moving really meant.

from Silver RosesFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2010
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

The Bluest Evening

“I’m writing titles with two tentacles.”

“Last time I checked, songs were not octopi.”

“Scoff if you like, I’m speaking not of squid

but stretchability; I’m on the prowl

for lyrics looking back and looking forward

so any evening when you sing the tunes

all time is yours, known, captured: In the Still

of the Night and Day; The Way You Look Tonight

Won’t Be Just Any Night; Kind of Blue Moon.

The Café Carlyle’s windows would look out

on scenes from childhood, and on heads of grey!”

from Silver RosesFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2010
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

Interruptus

There was a lull, a break from bliss

when I turned to face the window

looking for all the world, you said,

“like I was composing a new verse.”

Even on our pleasure barge

there are lapses in understanding,

for this groping for words (I thought but did not say)

is not a gasp for air but a further plunging;

I stroke you with both tangible hands

and feet unstressed or thudding…

but “sorry, love” did seem in order

before the revels resumed. Or continued.

from Silver RosesFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2010
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

Five Finger Exercise

When things get hot and heavy this weekend or one August

twenty years from now and I start tapping hexameters

up and down the shoulder-blades of my beloved (insert

auspicious, trustworthy-sounding, stolid but fun name here

for I can conjure none), I hope I do it right,

never losing sight of the skin whose golden toughness

allows the counting, never moving my fingers so briskly

that I can’t hear his breathing, and never forgetting, even

in the lonely heights of sublimest inspiration—

What is your substance?… O rose … and grey and full of sleep

to flip the warm flesh over and whisper, It had to be you.

from Silver RosesFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2010
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

Mum

Call it saving face —

all that time I spent

pumping oxytocin

when I should have sprayed mace

I can’t share with you,

unless nebulous tales

of gashed receding sails

qualify as true.

No one wants to hear

Not until now have I

fallen and been caught by

such wide arms. But we’re

(call it safe to bet)

not in any hurry;

every last sob story

will sail from these lips yet.

from Silver RosesFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2010
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

Exquisite Corpses

A long day sunk in old ways:

my corpus needs a core, but when

I draw the blinds and strip I find

not pearls, but panic, a voice

telling me for the thousandth time

the sole self drowns in freedom, cries all night.

With what giddy gratitude then

do I hop the A train, descend

to a web of pleasure and duty

where I cannot work alone,

whether watching a double bill or

making exquisite corpses with your son:

he does the head, folds it, passes it,

I trace a torso, he sketches thighs,

I add the feet—and oh my darling

we cannot enter each other’s minds

but our motives hum and work together,

form a whole body when the drawing’s done.

from Silver RosesFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2010
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

Ruins

I sat on the subway sipping latte,

reading a short history of ruins.

Then, boarding the bus at Ninety-Sixth Street,

grabbed by mistake—such screwball

anti-élan!—a blind man’s cane

instead of the post beside his slouching form.

Then home to my journal and ordering in.

There are times when one feels oneself

the star of a movie about one’s life,

all nuance and dimension replaced

by scare-quote features, floodlit in plain day.

There are times when one feels a frightful cliché.

And yet the coffee tasted good,

the book set me brooding helplessly,

hopefully, on the folly of recent woes.

To every cliché, a germ of truth.

To do otherwise, a terrible falsehood.

And so, to the unthumbed cookbooks,

to the lavender lipstick bought

in a you-must-change-your-life frenzy,

a gentle not yet: this caffeine high,

this madcap tribute to Hepburn’s ghost,

this zeal for aqueducts and abbeys

compose a life, though someday they may rest

in cobwebbed attics, dear ruins of former selves.

from Silver RosesFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2010
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

Nightingales

Yes I know what it’s from, and so do you,

when after some bird makes a sound outside

you speak of drowsy numbness, and I shoo

the thought away and claim the thing that cried

is day’s lark, warming up to travel far.

So carve your chicken, talk to someone else;

our words are getting friendly at the bar,

our legs are making finite parallels….

And is it strange, this cluttered way of talking?

I’ve always been a sucker for the charms

of influence, benigner form of stalking.

So many clothes you’d think us free from harms!

But layers bring a fine heat, not a numbing.

Now pass the wine and keep the good lines coming.

from Silver RosesFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2010
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

Little Geometry Quiz

If faced squarely,

is this triangle’s third side

on which chatter and lurk your old loves—

the potheads and Grace Kelley dead ringers,

the tall rich sylphs, doctor-players,

mope rockers and philosopher queens—

something I’d see crushed?

If they vanished, would the line become

a newly firm base we viewed

as we flew like a flexible hinge

or carefree bird to wide skies?

Or would we collapse on the instant

like a tent in trouble,

the harem in hindsight the very haven

I’d thought I sought, the smiles that plagued me

the pain that kept the passion going?

I who was once good at math

a hop and a jump from your house

come up short, madly circle the question

but despair of an answer, hoping at least

the fact that a triangle

is percussive but also tuneful

will make the music of the brooding sweeter.

from Silver RosesFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2010
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

Silver Roses

The strings, as if they knew

the lovers are about to meet, begin

to soar, and when he marches in the door

they soar some more—half ecstasy, half pain,

the musical equivalent of rain—

while children who have grown up with one stare

steal further looks across a crowded room,

as goners tend to do.

My father loved it too,

warned me at dinner that he’d be a wreck

long before the final trio came

(Ja, ja, she sighed, and gave him up forever);

he found his Sophie better late than never

and took the fifth about his silent tears

but like him I’m a softie, with a massive

gift for feeling blue.

I went with others, threw

bouquets and caution to the whirling wind,

believing that the rhapsody on stage

would waft its wonders up to our cheap seats;

but mirrors can be beautiful fierce cheats,

delusions of an oversmitten mind;

I relished trouser roles until I had

no petals left to strew.

Up, down the avenue

I wandered like a ghost, I wondered why

a miracle is always a mirage,

then plodded home and set back all the clocks,

spent hard-won funds installing strong new locks,

telling myself if violence like this

could never sound like violins, I would

to art, not life, be true.

And I am trying to

fathom the way I got from there to here,

the joy that snuck up when I’d sworn off joy:

we’ve made a sterling start, we’ve got a plan

to watch it on your satin couch downtown

and I’ll be there upon the stroke of eight,

bearing in my trembling ungloved hand

a silver rose for you.

from Silver RosesFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2010
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

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