Conjunctions:62 Exile

Five Poems

“An event must in some way end before its narration can begin.”
—Christian Metz


And then doves and the thrush and the late
afternoon of the swallows under the bridge
and the fathoms of sleep and then the hollows
of dialogue aspiring to contain the rich facts
of what didn’t happen when it seemed to have,
and then a disquisition on the luster of windows
in the morning when a psalm is read
before lightning strikes the spire of a tall church
in the city of your birth, and then centuries
of robes of saffron or black and vespers or prayer
on cold granite or at a wall where guards
stand with AK-47s, and ghosts witness their attempts
with sorrow, unlike human sorrow, which is a stream
that evaporates when language interrupts its flow.
And the ministry of a quiet voice when what
is needed is a bell or a glass filled to a certain
level and made to vibrate with a spoon, and before
this ending another ending and after that another
and no agreement between parties as to whether
the story is over or this is a respite between
exhaustion and pleading. And the irises shallowly
covered in dirt emerge purple in spring,
world without end, as words are endless,
sending their tendrils toward the next refrain.



“In a film a house would be a shot of a staircase.”
—Christian Metz


The chambered air
surgical, smooth,
until location itself
seemed an invention
of will. The house,
particular to our longings,
its blue light dimming
then returning
to the story every morning.
With no name
for love’s statuary
its swans or ready doves,
its trees awaiting
clarification, objects
drifted until we recovered
the ancient art
of listening as we
spoke our names
in a new language
occasioned by desire.



“All one retains of a film is its plot and a few images.”
—Christian Metz

Their shadows carved in snow,
ghosts wander in eternity,
their habit of existence
escaping our cognition
until we surrender
light and location,
dried bark and dead leaves,
decayed in their mystery
no more than summer’s
cloth lowered in the garden
with its flowers behind
flowers. Lost on the screen
is the morning he said
this and you that and
the future hummed in bushes
like a slow, windowless fire.
We haunt the world looking
for ourselves, the ones
who know the soft antler buds
of deer. We forget the scene
in the room of the said,
where curtains and bed and light,
latticed as lace, made your face
unfamiliar, mine too shrouded
in layers of hope, which are,
as gauze, a semblance
of our hiding. As we opened
to the other, beyond seasons
and borders, the world,
with everything in place, held
small truths untold by any voice.
A vista and a ledge, custom and dust
of living, spread. Our story obscure,
the room shuttered, the lateness
of the day a tender omen. You
said a word that filled a
momentary gap, lacing the world
in tangled sound and string.



“Forbidden flowers and herbs are history’s foodstuff.”
—Bei Dao

Old snow falls in this poem about the past,
our secret lives remembered
as funerals are remembered
by those who never attend
but imagine the slender coffin,
the sheen of its bright handles.
There, on the dark lawn,
you meet your former self asking
a lover to step aside as memory
impinges on an invitation
to dance. The next scene
comes unbidden as an outbreak
of disease: There he stands with his eyes
mercurial, there she weeps at her rendition
of their sorrow. Snow falls on them both,
laden with reasons and candles,
and in the corner a table is set where your
former self shares its dinner
with the one you have become.
The radiant fruit you taste has gotten
overripe, waiting for its season.



A crow tends a branch
on meaning’s tree, where
a single word’s limit
meets trouble’s dark road,
deadpan map stolid
as Keaton’s face. The story
swells and grows motives,
as weeds disguise gardens
in summer’s amplitude.
Nothing undoes day’s dazed
grace unless it is captioned
or chiseled. No word whispered
encounters the ghost of witness
as a glass that holds water’s history.

Maxine Chernoff is a professor of Creative Writing at San Francisco State University and a 2013 NEA Fellow in poetry. She is the author of six books of fiction and sixteen books of poetry. Her latest book, Under the Music, is a collection of prose poems from MadHat Press. In fall of 2016 she was a Visiting Writer at the American Academy in Rome.