Of the Meadow
“Did you like Switzerland?” you ask for the first time
And motion for someone else to take the wheel.
Trope of what? You are no one’s mother,
No one’s daughter-in-law
And are not exemplary.
What of the meadow?
Lavish, syntactic, new in the natural key,
Frugal and obscure in translation.
So you want to put it in a jar
On the mantelpiece to steer us in a direction,
Into casual excellence, once wild.
Something about it makes you hurry
Before the next one comes along
To render it formal, instructive, true.
You want to be known
As the one who got out from under,
Who’d survived the winter. But
Yesterday I heard you say “shredded,” “dice,”
Taking what you could get, like a stranger.
Say, “We did not get what we came for,”
And then proceed to your destination
Like a commercial without sound.
Strip away the drama, the script,
And come to the task refreshed.
Days pass, with rain, with mice
Busy in the eaves; another pond nearby.
Engage it to drain or flush
The episode out: kneeling, as children,
Against the event, plucking the bloom
From the Chinese screen which, you believe,
Later went up in flames. But that could be
Only the fatigue of memory washed clean,
Bleached, newly ransacked and incredulous
But for its renown, wandering
The upper tier of a proscenium
Garbed in quotations, acquisitions,
Sheets of white linen already, initially, inscribed.
You tell yourself to wait, say
The actor is the audience, the audience asleep
On a bench in a park in a small city
That the troupe might visit.
The water seems to lengthen in the breeze.
Later, dream the image, adding time to space,
And someone, correctly, says, “We knew all along
That the city was beautiful.” So things
Manage to go on in a parade of similarities:
Lilies on this pond; that pond.
And the long curtains divide
Still touching the shore, the stage, the glass.
On the pier, among the banished,
Sealed away from the hot toys
Listed on the page as “fable”
Our sightseeing continues
Like a flock risen from ashes
Where the fire stood bequeathed, or stolen.
“Where are the matches?” I had asked, my feet
Wet from long grass.
That girl keeps running by the door.
That man keeps speaking into the microphone.
That kid keeps asking questions.
You keep saying, in answer to mine,
“No, I am happy.”
So I go on coming to it
As to the edge of water,
Blind with a fiction of recovery.
Is this what you meant by persistence?
The voice recorded into mimicry,
The water folding light into its surface,
The girl materializing like a path along the ridge.
What are the signs, now
That you cannot correct the impression
As I arrange the flowers, as I notice the incomplete.
The French Girl
& the breaking mounts.
Raw material for worthy forthcoming;
Rhapsodies as the air cools
And vanquishes: noting sits still, yet.
The land is a result of its use, I explained.
Everything else rested while the kids made a girdle
Removed from classical syntax. Shed, and
Something breaks, mounting
The small hill to its vista: I saw
A rope of trees in another country.
I could not say “I am lost” in a proper way.
The season is huge.
This house is haunted: I planted it.
Where? In the shed, and
Spoiled by attention. You see?
Every bit counts, when the morning displays
The serious ratio of the given stars.
What made us tear the hours into lines?
So things became a burden to shed, and
Astute as a hungry pilgrim
But not brave, sucking and expert.
It is impolite to stare. Is unwise
To plunder the easily forgotten,
Easily shed, and
They drummed and drummed, attached to a vestigial
Clamor. The heat splayed; sparklers
Ravished the fog.
Morning tore the dead back to shore;
Enemy ships floundered and were forgotten.
Still, nothing was appeased:
The living silhouette drifted into view
Like an ephemeral sail promoting ease
Not speaking a word of English,
She animated the landscape
With abundance, a chosen self
Freely translated into the color of her eyes;
Awkward, luminous, a stilted charm
Separating figure from ground, and solving it.
What pushed us toward the abysmal
With such new appraisals, such sure interest?
The mute girl had seen glories
But what had she come to know?
A finite figure in a rainy field.
A naked figure in a pool.
A skipping figure across a bridge.
A lost figure on a city street.
A moaning figure on a huge bed.
A smiling face in a photograph.
All summer, I circle the garden for her sake.
Ann Lauterbach has published ten collections of poetry, most recently Spell (Penguin), as well as several chapbooks and collaborations with visual artists, including work with Ann Hamilton, Lucio Pozzi, and Ellen Phelan. She has written on art and poetics in relation to cultural value, notably in a book of essays, The Night Sky: Writings on the poetics of experience (Penguin). She has written catalogue essays on Cheyney Thompson and Taylor Davis, among others, and has been a visiting critic (sculpture) at Yale. Her 2009 volume, Or to Begin Again, was nominated for a National Book Award. Her poems have been translated into French and German. She has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, The New York State Foundation for the Arts, Ingram Merrill, and The John D. and Catherine C. MacArthur Foundation. Since 1990, she has served as Co-chair of Writing in the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts and, since 1997, David and Ruth Schwab Professor of Languages and Literature at Bard College. She has been a contributing editor to Conjunctions since 1984. A native New Yorker, she lives in Germantown, New York.