Edgar Poe Tries to Get His Act Together
for Sam Bemiss
Mr. Poe sits in Mrs. Shelton's parlor, freshly
purchased hat on freshly creased knees,
the place smelling somehow, he's decided,
like a chemist's cupel. The sullen weight
of the room's horsehair and mahogany
gathers in his eyes.
would his hands and feet be cold
in the heart of a Richmond summer?
He almost told the girl a sassafras full of seraphim
detained him till the hour was nearly gone.
(He planned to smile, then, charmingly.)
The old flame he hopes will warm him
wouldn't have heard of the crazed crudities
of William Blake—but she knows Poe's
never seen angels, though he's always
given dead women every chance to shine.
How dark can a parlor be? he's thinking,
knowing this gloom is all the rage,
yearning with shame for the bright lamps
of the Temperance meeting, crust
of bread, gouge of greasy cheese, anything
to ease the hot pinch in the pit of his stomach.
Maybe she'll tell the girl to bring some tea.
cluster thick as flies at the edge
of a blinding plain of salt.
That nagging out in the street: boys
arguing about their dogs and the fishing
in the James. Not one of them may live to Advent.
But they've got youth's good odds written
all over them in wholesome dirt, no doubt,
and Poe, as clean in person as he's been
in a fortnight, feels eternity pooling
in his shiny boots black as the ink he's been
unable to scrape from beneath those longish nails.
He curls his fingers under the Panama's brim,
into the O he thinks of vaguely, not without
humor, as a mouth that wants to swallow
He looks to the shadowy archway
where she'll appear soon. She's not herself
anymore, the cool paleness he lost forever,
not sweet Annie, not one of those airy creatures
he's always had in mind, spirits floating
in his mother's fragrance of orrisroot, is, in fact,
a thickening widow, one who sees, he believes,
in that desperate look he's had to face
in the hotel's cloudy mirrors the beguiling pain
she found in his younger eyes. He'll settle,
he's convinced himself, for a firm, flush soul,
shrewd, yes, but kind.
and their cumbered mules
he'll never make out
taller and taller across the whiteness
toward a bloated sun.
for Ann Tretiak & Emily Kennedy
Clattering zing of the tram, motorino flash
and growl, exhaust and garlic gusts, sweat tang,
urine and bread on the breeze and the sweet grief
of tarnished saxophone, accordion's tattered wheez,
ing noonquake of Gianicolo cannon and
bells, all the push and babbleshriek, all the duets
of greeting, markethaggle, flawless sybaritic clusters
of grapes, pomodori, all the catstretched Ciaos and
the perfect stiletto posture clicking the heaving cobbles
that leave you wobbling
past a gallows of salami,
a fishschool of bananas, over the walled-in, restless,
resentful river, imperial jags and jumbles through
ringing rills of sunlight spraybounced into fountain,
showered, veiled over marble muscle, so much
texture, so much color, so much ...
your every Puritanical, carnal inch, rewires you,
viruses you, rushes you with visionary blazes, cascades
of memory, incandescent logic—everything you've ever
read, beheld, conceived, foreseen comes at you from
the battered flutes of a fallen column, the haughty toss
of a handsome head, the cunning, theatrical stoop
of a beggar, flaking paint, abundant verdant
And here's the soaring, vain intimidation
of the Circus side of the Palatine, the shaped green
absence at its feet hauling eyesight out of your head
like harpoon rope, like fireworks. How can you see
for all this seeing? Already you need the nap that's
five weeks in the future ...
STOP. Light crumbles
against the faceless faces of the Tiber Island herms:
Here: Touch their chalky cheeks: Touch them:
Catullus may have: And Clodia, Cicero, Ovid,
Cleopatra, Anna Magnani ...
But Roma shoulders you on,
pulls and jostles you, courses through the cords and
channels of your sagging, aching body with all the be-
wildering intensities of childhood and sex, searing
awareness of eternity's turbulence, irrevocable change,
heartless, yes, heartless continual renewal ...
in memory of George Ocran Squires
He was lonely and he died. How can the heart
of England be the end of the Earth? Such silence,
in the brown fields, in my scoured head.
A lifetime later, I drive my wife there, but
everything's different, I'm different, I'm not dead.
Hedgerows flourish and the narrow ways are smooth.
We have tea with a clucking lady who knows
some people we know in Richmond. Fancy that.
And biscuits. So. I saw Farrar's stone table, for all
the world like a pagan altar before its tiny temple.
And the bog and the bone chips and the talc floating
like a spirit. Then, I was off toward the late sun,
the early falling sun, dragging a huge cape of
despair behind me, grinding my grief like teeth
all night, off with another packet of ashes to cross
a line the legions slashed on Eliot's darkness.
Always lurching off after coffee, improvising,
doubling back, up to the Brontes' bone yard,
down to Tintagel, nothing but a sea-thrashed rock
for tourists to snap. When I wasn't a leaking corpse
I was a knot of thorny fire ...
Its Ghostly Workshop
Louisiana State University Press
Copyright © 2013 by Ron Smith
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission