Lynn Strongin

FAR BACK AS A RAILROAD starting from outhouse to forever
Stretches this struggle.
Syllable by syllable.
Glistening grains of opium in your wings my work angels
Nerves glowing
The way for a while I was haunted by a German woman:
Her silhouette, profile alone
Seductive       by her dark voice.
When it cane to the finer things—
What was missing I cannot name;
I put my finger on it:
            We were a ward of weeping, not tears by stumps.
Child amps.
Not war amps                        but survivors
Of amputations
Separated from the paralytic children.
So surprising                        so peculiar an event
Like topping on a birthday cake of a twelve year old:
She touches & it is gone
Far back a railway station stretches this grief
Beyond binding
Up in sheaves            yet is brilliants out its message like the alien corn.

Smokers stubbing out cigarettes in streets.
Audiences more receptive in the bars & swings /swigs
Of bourbon                        her voice her slinky body            links of mesh & water:
What am I doing in this sleepy province?
Born girl-crazy.
She sings, Hannigan, of
The moment, musically, of the beginning of the century
Decadent, the ending of things; Kurt, Mahler.
I turn over ash roses
& racing heart                        propels me out of doors, swollen cheek or not.
She is giving concerts no jacket required
About the German girl                    that    dark pearl, who loved me “totally” for a few months
that language                        cannot assuage any grief:
I shuddered at German as a child when I heard in the street
Still shuddering
Turning toward / from
Love / hate:
Luminous, dark, coal cay, amber night.

FAR BACK AS A RAILROAD its roundhouse near the brickworks,
By turns elegy
& praise,
& psalm,
if childhood was a slammer—who ever promised the moon?
A wooden, wordless feeling: a love for uncommonly loved things.
Like weaving wool                        the hands weave pain
The weaver unseen.
Sun sets thru our Dutch lace curtain
In a hundred year old house, the Tonkin house
Rafter of slanting oak
Beams lit like candles with sun-
Set a table for one:                        once set for two
That’s what happened to my parents
The romance drained out
First the flowers swept off the mirrory dining table
Then one-by-one candles blown out
Then the little girls
Till daddy left the big house in New Rochelle bought after the war
Sun set
Over the brickworks
Glowing red as a forge
Which always contains fire
A little alphabet of little things:
            Thrown to the dog, hitting concrete with the small hell that burns, then rings.

Two clock hands ticking, hearts like quietly loaded bombs.
Our visions braided: chestnut & blond.
Typing in “Sunday’s Child’ I cast a wide net
Knowing I break open to let the real person out.
I smell the heating coils in our own home:
Early warning systems fail
In our black watch nightgowns side-by-side we welcome sleep.

PINCHING PENNIES the brass rubs off on my heart, my soul
My documents official
Technical writer, please
Transcribe these Sunday evening thoughts for me            into wings
Crewel-work, more cruel
Cancer looked at under the microscope
Never up to now did I feel more desolate up north            in Canada
Frustration level      shot thru the ceiling:
My skate-key had been confiscated because mother was chagrined:
My eldest childhood friend, with leukemia now, living cell-count to cell-count
Spent whole days sobbing
But loved being 80 & a grandmother:
She’d battled her mattress
The topper burst
Which she flung on the floor up there in New England
But she had a wretched night’s sleep.
Now all is pearl. Sunday
I wish this, that weren’t happening
Yet the sense of portals being open
One flinging one’s arms like a windmill
A silver-nitrate pool of evening
I was riding trains to the great beyond:
Beyond the brass
Beyond trying to reach everyone
      In a more vernacular American speech, that of the Ozarks, the Blue Mountains, North Car’lina
      Where Annie Flynn rose from her creche & I paid your fee in lamb skin: an ice-transcription.

STRIPPED TO NEAR NOTHING the dark complications of life set in.
Not all my circumstance is dark: but this set in ivory even recedes, rather than glows:
I was nine, ten
Mother had confiscated my skate key
Due to misbehavior.
Where was it hidden? I looked in the vegetable bin
I looked in the bone ivory convolutions of my brain, the white cases which are the skull.
Ocean tides kept rippling up & down my rib cage
Now they purred like a cat
Low ripped like a swan thru rough waters,
a swan whose wings turned to serrated saw blades & cut the fish beneath
Cut no chase for me
Who stopped dead on the head of a coin
The morning I was paralyzed
Turning into evening
Chancing from vertical girl to prone:
Now miracles slowly, like twilight, seeped in.
Not the cherished twilight of the fairy tale doll in rainbow colors swishing in taffeta,
Her breath, her invisible dreams, imagined breath set the ripples moving the skirt
Now skate keys were superfluous as skate keys:
I might as well have thrown them to the dogs or swans:
Or burnt this to a crisp, charred keys which would open nothing.

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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