Lynn Strongin


     the paper chambers flush and fill with light
          that comes and goes, like hearts
— Elizabeth Bishop: “The Armadillo”

OPEN THE CHILDREN’S BOOK for consolation
Tattle a girl with wooden doll, glossy brown hair
Cheeks painted pink.
I lift the pen to scrawl in ink the open heart of feeling: we cannot find old fashioned
               air mail paper, not even in the Papery downtown.
Our child’s hem is turned down                too many times
Like being turned down in love
Offers to sweet to publish.
Birmingham was a stunning children’s illustrated
Now burnished, his pictures grace pages of century-old books.
Once, long ago when I came up here there was a book nook “Joan’s Book Nook.:
In that nook up the hill & down over I sought refuge
Turning pages slowly
Tears against my nightly drinking
Not to replace prayer
But in the terrible face of immigration’s

ANY STONE BUILDING in the Cotswolds
With a duck in front of it
Sends me.
A tiny congregation of forgotten children
Colors of war, green-tinged edges
Howitzers hidden & green streaks of envy
Give in to a Cerulean sky.

This is what life throws at me:
Dickinson’s envelope poems about to achieve breakage with paper & fine nibbed pen
Of porcelain
Domestic things that hold together
Scattered like shards of sky                around. Abound.
This is what life throws at me
& a sister’s words upon her music then her painting:
From our mother,
“First you stole my music from me, now you steal my art.”
Envy leaves a greenish streak that parts parent from child. O wild late life
One learns this striking the jugular
It seems wise, wit will & wisdom combined
To retreat to my shell
Pearly, nacreous
A nun with none of the trappings
Initiate in silence, & to long stretches of horizon unbroken
By figure or shadow: back I go, elated as by first year’s snow: Strong-
Er than before
To the bed from which sprang my song.

Frail matchsticks of a paper balloon
Wobbling as they hold it to the moon
Like a child a penny lit with neon.
I have come home to whom I belong
Hearing about Helen’s life in the short run
Was the only way I would
                Because the long run
Was not to be mine, not that cordon.
Love is telling the whole story
But it fragments off into parts
Which pierce the heart:
      A strange color blue is left beneath the right rib
But heart-side there is a sieve
Of small pebbled
Culled on sand
As wild animals are culled during a war
Because the enemy would shoot them
& the populace is starving.
My own heart goes about alone:
Dressed in those feathers left on earth when all is gone of flight but bone. But song.

COME INTO A ROOM white as wool bloom
Bloom of sheep under scud clouds
Entering the last phase of life:
Fodder for the film of breathing.

The child with flyaway hair,
Wild, the nest
The upside-down child
Her mum dropped her off at crèche, Dublin, three days a week.
The Aha moment
The flatiron building looming
Pressing Manhattan sky into the background.
I know a woman who loves house cleaning.
I love the turning in the doorway
Back to the heard
The held breath
The piercing
Singing of birds.


     A bird over lost earrings, a soap
We’re not so bad.
Look at Frida Kahlo and her muralist:
The second disaster in her life: the first being her tram accident at age 18
When, the last to fit into the trolley, with her then boyfriend
An accident so violent, vibrant occurred that a doorknob was implanted in her pelvic bone:
After conceiving three babes                she kept the unborn in jars of
               varied colors & sizes on her sill in Casa Azure her home.
We bounce our voices off stone.
Send & receive.
      A marital moment, a martial
Howitzers morning-t-night:
Bury my right eye in Alabama.
Flicking open her cigarette lighter she flares up
As in a film directed by Stanley Kubrick.
Flicking it off
Finlandia died down:
A diver into gellid waters                stiffening ll limbs to a freeze
Like Icarus, Auden’s, boy forever frozen:
I turned to turn my face to the wall
Once again—on an abacus of a thousand
You, & you alone, in stark but saving light                were my chosen.

HAVE BEEN HOUSEBOUND so long I live within the song
“I live a very small life,” said the new mother of one: “deeply domestic”
Children don’t go away. Neither does pain, nor loss.
It is true we tell ourselves tales in order to survive.
We light a campfire.
We thrive in the telling, the listening sharpens
Our every wit
As night does an owl’s pinfeathers.
Blinds of private houses drawn
As coffin passes
Released soon after.
Shops reopened.
Children who had ceased to play in Carley Langer began rolling hoops, shooters marbles again
Tomorrow’s Mass would bring a bishop.
For now, in pale tweed a man photographs the scene
Who had earlier cycled miles from where she lived, then held up by funeral traffic
Come to photograph town’s meeting hall which also held the burnt-out cinema
“Are all its pictures gone?” asked a child, mournfully.
One stayed: hung:
The girl, a child, I, housebound
Freed after being cot bound in a hospital
Washing every rain
Wash the tiles
Had become her sacred duty.

ROYALTIES (Coal Yards & Public Houses)
Throwing out papers for the shredder, or dustbin
I am afraid my lover will read my royalties
Which are so small
They would fit like a key in a hole:
Fragile-seeming hands, slender her hands, like my own.
Our love is not small
But disturbed by deaths
Settles again into its many tender routines.
There is a tenderness to them,
Strange like accepting refreshments, trays of cups arriving, at a funeral
               carried from first floor sitting room down to kitchen
Glasses scatters gathered up
Windows thrown open
For fresh air in a home
Where a girl who hovered with tea towels hung dot dry is sent home.
It becomes evening.
Unlike coal yards, public house, the Square has undergone transitions
               that reflects habits of several generals as a place of trade.
At first a catering establishment for permanents resident
Serving three meals a day
It has become a bed-and-breakfast for travelers.
So our lobby
Our foyer
Sun from ground floor grandeur in a marble lobbied building
To an overnight library stop
But in an original Heritage home.

A needle into eternity.
Ash green North Carolina sky
My childhood voices
Fell away
Like petals from a brown-eyed Susan, daisy.
Another literary exile in the twenty-first century
Overlapping the twentieth
Like hot molten lead.
Lighting a cigarette, on the terrace, I watch the village lights go on
Prague. Croatia. My cousin who is dying
Gets on with his life
Brushing thru wildfire grasses
Breaking the heart of his mother at home.
Logic is apparently infinity, the language of logic
The light breaks over the backs of laborers coming home
Back bent with the yoke of harness.
Back home, the yoke of work
Of service to work
Tells another story:
Liquid as the last rains of autumn
Before winter clamps the sky
A box of mystery: cobalt to alabaster: luminous, pearly.

A Pulitzer Prize nominee several years ago for SPECTRAL FREEDOM, Lynn Strongin has been nominated five times for the Pushcart Prize, and this year for the Lambda Award. Received an NEA creative writing grant in New Mexico in the seventies. Studied with Denise Levertov, Robert Duncan, and others.
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