The Bread of Telling


Here is the time for telling. Here is its home.

Speak and make known: more and more 

the things we could experience are lost to us, 

banished by our failure to imagine them.

Old definitions, which once set limits to our living,  

break apart like dried crusts.


Rilke, Ninth Duino Elegy


In my dream I stand on the hungry lip of the tide,

the Costa Viola where Homer knelt open-mouthed

at the swordfish arcing in splendor.


There is a web, like a skein of almond milk over the air,

a resignation in the sea cliff village Scylla,

so that it is a place of mourning women,

children clothed in dust carrying wine-globes

up the stone steps from the market.


For we know now what cargo lies beneath

the rumpled Messina Strait,

the submerged writs of odyssey and return

of a people robbed of contentment –

how is it that an all-mothering sea

should become the repository for loss and death?


I was innocent of all of this,

the claims the ruthless dons had upon exquisite Calabria;

we walked there together even up to San Luca

to pick wild roses; you took me out in a small blue boat

and we breasted the swells under the ruthless sun.


Your mouth safely took my terrors from me,

that I had braved the journey by second-class car

through sweltering tunnels.

You bade me cast my bread upon the waters with you,

let go my sorrows and I did, and the scavenging gulls

took them off, crying and victorious, to Palermo.


I could feel the darkness on the horizon,

and yet how dazzling the beach,

how remarkable Mozart on the bistro jukebox,

the Cinzano burn in my throat,

the ecstatic ache between my legs. 


Years later, at the twilight hour

I cannot stop my heart from returning there,

imagining that you are not among the damned,

that I find you an old and virile gardener,

your face igniting when you see me. 


What would become of us, would we shed our years

in the moon-spell of the gilded harbor;

would your hands remember what I taught you,

mariner, silver-haired vagabond –


who doesn’t dream of such things,

yet, in such a reverie, skiffs drag the port waters,

fishermen exulting in the catch,

hauling in the great stopped clocks

from the fallen empire of love, lining the beach

with their mahogany bodies.


A Bar in Mantua


And suppose the darlings get to Mantua,

suppose they cheat the crypt, what next?

. . . Such sour years it takes to right this wrong!

The fifth act runs unconscionably long.


Maxine Kumin, Purgatory


I remember speaking with Maxine,

picking at our salads in a white hall,

long windows, snow flurries. 

She was telling me of chopping wood

to take her mind off Anne’s death.


I bent to her words, made myself a shell

to catch her grief-dark voice;

later I walked to the Commodore for a sherry

where Fitzgerald’s ghost wiped the marble bar

clean of fingerprints and ashes.


I sat in a nest of mirrors, and saw Juliet –

long hair, vestal peignoir, pinned against

the speakeasy dark like a paper doll

for heretics. 

No clock, and no cock crowed.


I was refracted in the seas of light

until there were too many of me to bear:

I fled through the snow-laced midnight

with my notebook. 


How is a winter of discontent decided,

or that an ax should nick the thumb

of someone rent by a cry from the underworld?


A bed descends to the stage and the lovers there

sing that a lark heralds break of day.

Then fate’s knell, an aria to scratch the stars

and the paper doll drinks the poison.


You wrote: It was the sound of her going / I drove

into heartwood. 


But no fifth act, Maxine;

that crypt, its lovers in pale eternal stillness,

bear our grief in star-crossed keeping.



They give you a map and now, through the window

where you type, you can move the pin.

You can cursor 'paradise', think the word,

let it settle like confetti to the page,

the blinding white.


What is a map, but a way through?

Or the tenth utility pole at the end of the field:

ten from the door, ten out

to the longest grass of our deepest fears.

And what of the stars, how they move

from where we thought we had them staked,

illimitable confluence of sparks.  


We are the pins in the map, the demographic

of the afflicted.

We want Eden, we want paradise.

We have gone down the stairs of night

like Dante, supplicant at the edge

of the confessing fire.


How shall we mark the place

where we felt most whole?

I cannot orient myself by you.

Donne’s compass has rusted shut.

But I saw a flock of swans coursing through

the winter air


and I thought: heaven is this,

and the mares in foal, 

bearing themselves over the white field.


In 2010, after a disabling fall from a horse, poet Jenne’ R Andrews gave up ranching in Colorado and returned to a full-time writing life begun in the 70s. Her poems have appeared in Belletrist CoterieThe Adirondack ReviewThe Ontario ReviewThe Seneca ReviewThe Colorado ReviewThe Lamp in the Spine, and many other journals and anthologies; her collections include Reunion (Lynx House Press), The Dark Animal of Liberty (Leaping Mountain Press) and In Pursuit of the Family (Minnesota Writers Publishing House, edited by Robert Bly). She completed the Colorado State University MFA in 1988 and is a literary fellow of the National Endowment of the Arts. She posts reviews of contemporary poetry to her blog Loquaciously Yours and work in draft to La Parola Vivace. 

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