Two Poems

A. E. Stallings

Cast IronyWho scrubbed this iron skilletIn water, with surfactant soap,Meant to cleanse, not kill it,But since its black and lustrous skinDespoiled of its enrobing oils,Dulled, lets water in,Now it is vulnerable and porousAs a hero stripped of his armsBefore a scornful chorus.It lacksInternal consistencyAs ancient oral epicsWhere a Bronze Age warrior might appealTo a boar’s-tusk-helmet-wearing foeWho has an anachronistic heart of steel,Will of iron—from which metalsNo one has yet forged a weapon,Much less pans or kettles(Though there must have been betweenTwo eras, awkward overlapEnacted in the kitchenWhen mother-in-law and daughterWrangled over the newfangled,Over oil and waterIn proverbial mistrust,Brazen youth subject to iron ageAs iron is to rust).There can be no reasoningWith sarcastic oxygen,Only a re-seasoningCan give the vessel’s life new lease:Scour off the scab the color of dried blood,Apply some elbow greaseTo make it fast;Anoint it, put it once more in the fireWhere everything is cast.Little Owl(Athene noctua)It’s not what we see, but what sees usMakes us who we are.Do you remember years ago on Spetses,Under the evening star,As the surf rolled and rolled on its glass dowelWe strolled along the sea roadAnd spied a little owlLess a birdThan a small clay jarBalanced implausibly on an olive branch,A drab still vessel attuned to whatever stirred,Near or far:Hedgehog shuffling among windfall of figs,Gecko, mouse.Then she swiveled the orbit of her gaze upon usLike the Cyclops eye-beam of a lighthouse.

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A. E. Stallings is the author of the poetry books Archaic Smile, which won the Richard Wilbur Award; Hapax, which won the Poet’s Prize and the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Benjamin H. Danks Award; and Olives. She has also published a verse translation of Lucretius’s The Nature of Things. Stallings is a 2011 Guggenheim Fellow and a 2011 MacArthur Fellow. She lives in Athens, Greece.

Like, that currency of social media, is a little word with infinite potential; it can be nearly any part of speech. Without it, there is no simile, that engine of the lyric poem, the lyre’s note in the epic. A poem can hardly exist otherwise. In this new collection, her most ambitious to date, A. E. Stallings continues her archeology of the domestic, her odyssey through myth and motherhood in received and invented forms, from sonnets to syllabics. Stallings also eschews the poetry volume’s conventional sections for the arbitrary order of the alphabet. Contemporary Athens itself, a place never dull during the economic and migration crises of recent years, shakes off the dust of history and emerges as a vibrant character. Known for her wry and musical lyric poems, Stallings here explores her themes in greater depth, including the bravura performance “Lost and Found”, a meditation in ottava rima on a parent’s sublunary dance with daily-ness and time, set in the moon’s Valley of Lost Things.

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