Lynn Strongin

GREW UP IN MILL TOWNS in Massachusetts
A townie she was: a mill town
The color of the brown cane, an inverted umbrella, a color that shattered childhood
Like picking up a hand grenade in a garden mistaking it for a shovel: exploded childhood
Scattering dolls, shreds of wood dollhouse table, her box of playing cards.
She sat down on her bed, sagging in the middle  it looked like a jump rope
the girl who’d had polio
It was 1945. Her bangs always got in her eyes so she’d sweep them aside with one hand 
while she thumped our wooden floors with anger. She was vehement bending over the water 
fountain & during bomb drills moving holding the rail with one hand the iconic brown 
cane with the other.
Once, I slept over with her & dreamed brown cane wallpaper.
One girl got to unlace the brace and put it on after nap time. Once I did. It was crushed violet
Purplish, blotched, as darkness ironed out misery disability
The whole darkness of the mid-century while nightfall took over our classroom
Also overtaking mill towns in Massachusetts
Where she lived before moving
In to our suburban twilight:
Re-creating like hands with clay, or molding crepe paper a new type puppet
Punch & Judy: papier mache:
Her name was Marjory.

Her mother is aproned, moving in the painting’s background
Feeding sicks to the fire
To get her daughter warm
But in this painting, the light is done with needles, so lace covers them, mother & daughter
Without warming
The cold leaks thru the lace
While Brueghel's Hunter in Snow hangs on the kitchen wall, crooked. All the ceilings slant
And the floors in this hundred-year-old house
Where girl meets childhood
Head-on a quiet collision of one “made a little lower than the angels”
Feathery wings silent, salving.
Laying her cane beside her everywhere.
She’d be pretty
Except for her frown.
When chosen poster child of the year for the March of Dimes,
They hung her photograph on the hall wall
The divorced family
Brownness of war
Seeping into all corners
Painting with brush strokes
Still fresh
Smelling of linseed oil
Blessing the two
Their lifelong physical & spiritual struggle
In the kitchen
Or in the upstairs attic where Marjory loved to climb
It was a bit closer to heaven. It was her toyless, tragic, too-late haven
Tardy as she had always been.

stares into the forest with bright yellow eyes

We returned home, put up two kettles to reach boil
Yanked my Blue Willie’s sweater out of a drawer.
Once I’d crawled into foetal position
You lay one hot water bottle (birdie as we called it)
At my back, one at legs.

It was the bottom of my spine was afire:
I stared into the darkness like the little saw-whet owl.
Had I the iconic darkness of an owl’s face?

“L’s a writer,” the pain specialist said, mildly anesthetizing the circle at the base of my spine 
where the needle would be guided.
Night sky lighting up outside the window
My very own hospital window.
I was center stage again.
Ready to leave it all behind:
Stars rose picking out my name:
I closed my eyes against the thirst
to taste mountain brooks again
to climb the highest mountain in New York State: Pinning my hands behind me I turned into 
a falcon as night came over us on & on.

We drove home in a world as silent as oxygen
A caul
The after-birth
If you have a sorrow, tie it to the lime tree.
It’s the end of light in the Blue Ridge
The hickory flames
The Cherokee-light fades.
Something in me smaps:
This shot is not taking
Will take me
away.By now I fear another spinal attack; it is a vesper flight 
I can zoom out but can never get back:
You have not gone on dark days out of the waiting room for pain a way from me
Flown on a tether
A Jesse
wild falcon:
I am still wearing-bleached-sky denim.
Holding a psalm book in both wing-beat hands.

A boy & his father run for their lives
Taking refuge among trees 
the mother has thrown them out
soldiers march
As thru a dream
In winter the boy’s mother dies.
Their’s is a Brokeback age


Stand up & keep the peace:
Take the love
In your own hands.
Will it deepen wounds
If your whole life had not become the boy of snow
Although so slow
The drift it becomes
No shallow thing but holy as wren in her den, fox in her hollow.

I WAS the youngest bad boy on the ward
Long legged from tree climbing:
I remembered it all, all renounced, all outweighed by this thing occurring to me now:
The whole world to be covered in snow would reveal
How to heal
But now I peel back
Layer after layer
Of gold-leaf: Times that made thief
Was vying with me
In being bad boy
Wild churl
Curling in a ball
To get out of & into it all
Slim girl.

Inside my long-boned twelve-year old body
Are volcanoes erupting, miniature, fierce
& there are estuaries
But where can the reality run off
The only place I know
Is the turnover
Of poetry:
Childhood being rubbed out by acid, by ashes
While now I learn
To stand again
On a wooden contraption
Called tilt table
As the fury of autumn
Maps inside outside my window

WINDPIPE, tracheotomy, transom
That shuttle against the lead
Could be an owl.
I will surprise you:
Beyond the treatment room dwells an owl
Sliced long the bare trees what is that thing?
Your thin voice above the radiation room.
It hovers
Then floats away
Only the chimney lets out a purple flight of smoke
Like Icarus
Feathers dissolving
Because he flew too near,
He dared the hope
Harrowing at first
At last
All but boy body slow-motion
Filmically from from the sun.

THE LESS OF SELF the better
The bedroom door neighs like a horse
There is a scent, undefinable, magnetic like honey  suckle
I follow it
Hoping not to be hit
By a haven with way to exit the wound. The dream of ever getting well, all the way? the less of self, the better. 
Put on your chamois sweater.

One finds another territory despite all travel forbidden by limited mobility:
Under bruised skies,
Over Bruge-tinted, rouge things:
where is the object which throws the shade: where the broom to sweep up endless childhood afternoons?
In my child-mind an uptown cloud over that town in Belgium of which I dream: as the bee-keeper tends her bees: 
to produce honey without harm.

Hearing the silence of the rained-on stone.

My favorite community health worker:
She belongs in a tumbledown bar
Leaning forward
Straddling a bench
With that one gold bead driven into the center of her tongue.
Catchlight to her personality.

War returns:
Despair’s strange peaks:
Child of war:
Then of ward
—that parish whose prayer was mischief, that of misery: not tree climbing but building:
Bed-heads we were: bald spots: 
pudding basin haircut
signature of the forties.  My poor abandoned little peacetime court: the home.

Call it kind.
No cavil with Valentine her sweetheart who was a hoyden
Like & unlike you I married.
Move me from the first charcoal drawing forward over the centuries each one a thorn-
Leaving blood bright.

Remove my face from its hoodie-hood:
Short-haired, trouser-wearing, villagers might mistake you for a comely young man
O handsome youth
Wanting a flaming place in the heaven of reputations, I was driven, young
The corner that holds us
Is this crucial world here:
Brits having flown their home isle
To roost in a Dickension village near
Rind of cheese eaten,
They who survived the Blitz undertake their lives here with mildness

(for Jim)
ARE YOU TRANS? I asked the little branch-bird
A wren, a finch?
Because I am
& have been since childhood.
I adopted the rose
I adopted the fire.
I’ll be your shelter I’ll keep you warm
I’ll keep you safe in rain & storm.
Batten down the hatches.
Nontheless thru wooden slats
I became a girl train-spotter, long-legged:
Golden skin
But you couldn’t see thru me nor soothe me. Because from my secret platform
Outside the hospital’s child crematorium, I
Saw trains slowing down thru night      Stood on tiptoe in heart of storm:
The oyster’s journey across the Atlantic
oyster in the Rolex:
All the upside-down people in the mirror
Began moving thru smoke
Then thru silver nitrate:
I gotta get me out of the hospital:
Children, small Ophielias, hair splayed out over pillows:
the sorcerer of night
Brought out the Mirandas in them
Oat-colored hair
Caliban enchanted
Who waved the wand and what are we that God is mindful of us?
There is a warp, a wave in the mirror:
I want to dwell here no more: I see life thru a smoky camera:
I am trans.
The drill of sorrow & age, a drill will bore
Thru me:
I want to dwell here no more
Mama, mama, take me to the box store. 

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.
previous page     contents     next page


Post a Comment

<< Home