Lynn Strongin

                                   RAG DOLLS
                        Touch IN A TIME OF PLAGUE
          Pressed flowers as manifestation of the Muse
We studied the rows of stamps under glass and thought about how their tiny castles, poets, cars, and flowers would soon be sent off to all cardinal points. . . ‘Nostalgia’ was invented as a diagnosis in 1688 by Swiss medical student Johannes Hofer, designating a pathological homesickness in mercenary soldiers. Donna Stonecipher, The Ruins of Nostalgia, 59
ONE HIDES much during the doctor’s visit: Flowers pressed under glass. That we are a ship passing the middle passage: Life is all about kinship & histories: Yours is Britain: a child one of five, all have shoes. World War II. There on the smoking ground. Mine across the pond our family. . . approaching emotional dissolution: what nerves are left are dried flowers long-stemmed placed in a water glass. Ruin, bravely, gallantly, brushed, covered with the care one does truths with the dr: or the caution a painter takes to gloss a patina. Our love engine was failing. Now our own marriage Has passed bleak waters: It’s been a year since being bathed, body & soul Stem- to-stern. Everything is dialed so low. To lie in intimacy. Again, The one that got away. Rabbit under glass all fur showing. Our pitching ship. Pitchblende air: I am putting on my oxygen mask & going back for you: I will be near, clear, here: under glass clear as a glass of water, blue-green as the atmosphere. EVERYTHING IS DIALED so low One presses the ear to the little cities of the radio. One cannot wizard it thru Nor can polio croon a love song. “Leave the door ajar.” Hanging sister’s picture on the wall Like leaving the door ajar for ecstasy. What does the mobile heartspeaker say? Lyrical invention & dark wit lift cloud cover of day:: Across the north, showers—rain or snow—could be tapering off. Lo waist-high wheat like faith: I promise ye: Tomorrow’s heat, door ajar, will dial things higher: still not pitched toward soprano, pure & sweet. MY SECRETS are like butterflies Cocooned; catalogued. Catafalqued on yellowing vellum. Ladybugs in hibernation, slow-shifting cloud, an orange-black colony, in the bath window. You are wholly outstanding, fascinating. How does one order a bed for two in a Boston marriage? Shame, pain of hiding. Bluestockings are another thing. The fatal sting. I could feel your heart on beams, burning. The hive humming Nuns homing. White wimples blooming. This is the downstream extremity: The Bible of hexagons, the virus, the lost last honey. TO TOUCH the deepest sort of anguish Wear no gloves: Milk silk. Wear bravery in the heart Hidden like dancing shoes When your legs are gone. So, wearing the invisible Leave the door to ecstasy open: Your gift, devotion. Mine, to write, the ocean Upon rocks which could kill beating In memory of the world, the metaphysics of longing. (Johann Sebastian Bach) ORPHANED by ten father re-married to lose his second wife within ten moons. Boy in nightdress, seductive as a girl By moonlight Copying notes from music manuscripts. Bright, ivory nightdress: pearl Horses cantering White, bright as inspiration shafting Johanne: Flat, lean chest of a child, boy-groom, girl-bride in the wings: Pen scrawling in the orphanage of wild things: door left ajar to the mind of metaphysics, heady, mulled wine. RAG DOLLS I have begun: The mist started to rise leaving us partially exposed; Though I am in age, silver-haired, Do you palpitate returning to me? You have plucked photographs, birds from berry bushes I lift words thorns of the sea. Look. See. We may soon be missing each other. Sea-thorns: Earthborn Two older Lesbians: I saw in your eyes. The one I would marry. In my eighties rag dolls loom: Rouge kissed off cheeks: dangling button eye. Why do we lie formal & still as ragdolls after a year’s forced celibacy? IF YOU CAME HOME wounded, young thing, bird Well, you know I can mend a wing Or two. Framed on the page We two Like a black & white still. Winter sun matchstick-lighting our window sill. Where the flowers you bought last week Hold fragrance If not color still. But the backbend Of a swan Is beyond me So would be words then: Kept in a box like pearls They would glisten thru tears which are salt & cut corrode them. Coldly beautiful Relentlessly Truthful. I’d stay pure: You would, too, in my mind. Beside you The lens. The tripos that blew over in the wind. I would be beside myself with what strengthens, lengthens to be strong but never bends or blends. *** A VENTRILOQUIST THROWS her voice into a doll A cowboy a lariat We throw out bad-broken things. Not birds Not bent wings: That would be to jettison flight. I have day-frights & night-frights. ‘I really give off static when my nails are done’ says my community bather. I’m in the middle of a conversation With silver, my computer: why be haunted with rag dolls in a time of war? & robin’s egg blue sky & red bricks. The sun just ignites you. Too pale against sky to photograph To hold too treacherous a blue. I DID NOT GET YOUR Hannukah flowers Blue The color of van Gogh’s sky The unsafe side of the mind. Our room fills with the bloom of printer’s ink. Why do I miss rag dolls in a time of plague? Without arms & hands How can they reach out to enfold Now old I dream your Hannukah Flowers: too hot to touch, In a welder’s arc, acetylene blue, killing to hold. WHAT IF I COULD SMOKE in the doctor’s waiting room That would be back in the former century. So far a better one. You know, one can take a smoke outside the hospital lobby where the gift shop & grand piano are. Wreaths would cloud the saint’s face in the garden. IV in arm. Who would call a prison warden? Down from the cancer ward, in wheelchair: In the last twenty seconds of life Will the camera click The lens letting in what darkness waits, what light greatbird beats, the great admission. My name is EMMA STONECIPHER ADORABLE BADNESS, you are a blessing Stringbean Unheard Marginalized I drop off for you a mitzvah, mother’s sapphire ring, one stone missing: the best kind of sapphire black-blue The unchanging landscape is death The every-changing landscape of life Touch thru quarantine Paralyzed since the age of twelve Here’s the touchstone; I see bears in yellow oilskin slickers This recurring cancer is merely refrain: The part of the burden you carry The inside story Invisible pain Bedbound Holding the poster for a horse, reined by a sheet. Nightboat mine, I grieve, I mourn. I also compose songs. O the sky is tangerine over your loss. My nightbed too. I need you. I tire of my daybed terribly The snow doesn’t depict every one’s bestiary: But here is mine: the sound, the color of the bees. Yes, too, there is failure To stop cancer To quit fear what kind of future will I have to die in? But in adorable badness Little you comes back to shove the adult out of here. Bring me back to the jars of honey. Watching hydrangea from windows: The evolved lifelong struggle for courage: Suffer for courage. It is worth it. I rein this sorrow with a sheet of sleet, snow soon That euphoria which comes when you know you’re dying To get out Of ennui spun darkness & mischief: Of watching folk carry refrains to & fro To markets Of most tender touching. It is unimaginable I would be inconsolable over the loss of you. “The metaphysics of the quotidian” Charles Wright “tomorrow” in Sestets HEART beats in a time of dark-age plague: Each room, the four chambers, well-hewn, hinged Open On love’s repair. In the work room is a dead bird, A book of poems, got stuck in one spoke Silver spokes against rain: wheeling, “If you don’t shine, you are darkness” Searching among rubble for the light which shines from an outreached hand. Moving out into the universe where Crows bleaked day, an umbrella I ran into Clare. One oncologist was “Scary.” The radiation oncologist kinder. Passion drove me out of this cot into the weather. Our old fourposter, stored in the hall Scarred with the illness flame torch touching every nerve: “If you don’t shine. . .” TWO-YEAR-OLD in a winter of plague After his bath, . . .waves to the babies on the swing calendar in the hall. His mother chloroxed the playground jungle gym this afternoon. A winter soldier At two years of age, Caleb. In the not-quite-dark of the afternoon spins his top: Sun has already dipped for the day and will stay down for a long time. The sea was his father’s origin: Powerful Destructive, loving. As winter approaches, his son misses him most: Twice-vigilant. This year Caleb has seen more giraffes than children. A child walked down the street yesterday, “Uh oh, people,” he said to his mother. Dream me next to the one I need. I missed the rising moon last night. When my parents argued, my light was out: it was eerily late: But that was worse than missing a birthday cake, dialed lower than a lost play date. THE DISEASE has altered the choreography of funerals CHILDREN will pop in & out of frame How to take the pulse Of parents? The 1940 population survey reflected father, mother & me Censused in a baby. Two Italian teenagers fall in love in Rome during the Renaissance Winter water Winter soldier one feels so fragile I touch a brittle branch, and it breaks. Night falls while the choreography of funeras Alters The dance. NIGHTLY WANTING TO MAKE SURE the world remembers you The ornaments of the world The bright balloon of my desires sinks & lowers An anchor Against despair. The library & other places for connection provide a “Template against the great ocean of longing that can flood this life. If these doors darken What then? Are we not back up against the bleak portals of quarantine during the Black Death? Where is the partridge in a pear tree? Two turtle doves Three French hens The four calling birds from France 14th century Skip the fifth? Oblivion. Forgetfulness. Put snowfall on the screen. The sixth day Now you are remembering: your name carved in sand. The dry years. . . winters that will not wash away. Perpetual comfort. Peace. Poor little Jesus Boy. When the light goes out on love You open the drawer and find not only feathers but a bird gone long ago You open the drawer & find not only Wanting to make sure the world remembers you You write letters, bake ginger With longing Bread, close your eyes and play the piano. Hum anything. HE ARRIVES at a commandeering church in the mountain A freezing outpost ravaged by typhus. Cinematic. Epic. Streaming. Emily Dickinson enrolled in Mount Holyoke When she was sixteen exquisite forgotten herbarium at the intersection of science and poetry composed with passionate patience & sensuous attention. Botany allowed women to enter science thru the back door. She pressed flowers as a manifestation of the muse. YOU WANT TO step gingerly around belief Onions are turning golden. I want to make my life go slowly to last making whorls of lace: Patience, nails, and wood.. . Hands for lace-making. Mine for keyboards. To give love love love Without giving in. . . . egg icicle star: We all need a break from being who we are I lived hard. I was here. I am the milky sky. The steely. Weigh your soul against a feather If soul is too heavy, it will descend to be eaten by crocodiles “Lincoln Park after Dark” or “Russian Navy” “Leonardo’s Model color” My children are all far-shining stars I stay here. Nostalgia even for the unloved, One finger swirling the sand. I don’t know what to do this little hospital bed. I want to hug you. There may be many Penny Farthings. Only one dream-coffee Why must we be in different countries You want to step as though walking on eggs or glass Breathing carefully Around what gives wood its holy gloss. [Carel Fabritius]. . . for Fiona and Gail OUR HOUSE IS A basket of light Containing cherries, Hard glass candies, Nibs mainly. Our house is a bowl of night- Falls holding erasers, Erasures of faulted love, Losses mainly. See the child run after the ball You run after me I run after the word that slid from me like an oiled pearl or like a child as I embraced another day. All I have given to age in one year is a litany; Bath-happiness Swinging my body From bed to silver wheels. Dining with the beloved kitchen hours piano evenings Now in a hospital cot, more than ever I love thee Like poet's poem memorized Lifted from page As painter lifts paint with palette knife. No quarrel with quarantine; but this is my private quarrel with God. Carel Fabritius was a great painter even after he Lost most of his work un the great fire in which that historic city In Holland burned. One painting achieved fame; ‘The Goldfinch’ Caged, feathers alight with hidden fire; ignited one-by-one feathers borned, burned. Water-cool his song cerulean-ceramic green. WHAT WOULD we touch Given hands again? After the hand grenade exploded in our hand, Thrown across the bombed street as a toy to a brother? How would we look in mirrors after Hiroshima? This morning is a mirror: “. . .the rows of stamps under glass. . . their tiny castles, poets, cars, and flowers . . . soon. . .sent off to all cardinal points” Donna Stonecipher, The Ruins of Nostalgia, 59 The fragility of all things: digits, wristbones. Microscopes, vaccines, third test runs. Morning exhaustion Midnight weariness. Viruses shaped like crystals. Feathers under glass in wood cases, Paper roses, silk violets gathering dust circles, cabuchons of water drops glistening on real roses. People are not cut-outs on stone Park benches Blood being richer than water It pulses in wrists Purple blue As though wounded They are enduring a mortal wound. We need extra balms during this anxious year. This is the real world: not cutout grass rising thru concrete: London’s pride after war. This is the real sorrow Thirst for touch which against all odds blooms: This is nostalgia: not its ruins. THANK you for your time & patience If you have any extra A free lunch A tent city in the park. We can’t get there. Not from here. So from where? Otherwhere. Trucks roll out from Belgium in the dark of dawn. Deep breaths are taken in Britain as the beginning Opens Survivors carry unseen scars In Bergamo: We who have endured a year isolation for bedrest Reach out a hand Anyway. We do not look at the hand. It has a new ring. God forbid. Everything. The Royal Free Hospital in London is one of the first. The worst wave returning to wash out schoolchildren In New York My home The Big Apple. Be with you in a New York Minute. Everything I cherish & yearn for Visible now only in a broken connection In a heartbeat be with you for our salvation. I REMEMBER peace: It was Picardy third in a Bach suite Ending a minor melody on a major. Key. The whole world still is at grave risk. The Blue Ridge Mountains in Kentucky Twilights People smoke on porches, careful to take the tobacco out of paper wrapper & crush. The only place, beloved, you can go is the library Which was the peak of my ecstasy as a child Stony-cold sober, I saw two of every thing . Now old: running a home from a bed I knew a woman who ran her home from an iron lung. I cannot keep hiding what we are, a Boston marriage: That is all & that is everything. The middle of January can be a dark time. Don’t hold your breath. There’s death, horses in harness. God bless. I am That’s me Getting high outside the hospital room door: It is like emerging from a Pennine blizzard And total obscurity to become a celebrity. In a telephone booth A kiosk Always red, a large love is being conducted. This dream-story will take much revision. My most archival friend: I tell you this. If we are still masked by spring, you will still have a spark in your eyes: I’ll be ripe for ignition. THE KINDNESS OF STAGES Backstage Houselights flicker like a moth: off. On. Twenty-minute bell, The house is open. “You’re on.” “How many curtains?” Smoky green room in its watery circles dimming, a heart brighteningl Applause Then curtains Everything steeped in the smoke of the green room. I want my legacy to be clear-cut, one winter after another; Nights asleep in the kiosk, Bird, Head under wing. For a human it would have been spine-wounding. Is the color of my bruise Purple-blue, Beinine, I ask you, Pierrot in harlequin diamonds. Our family was fractured Frameless Brown rooms melting. . .old sepia photograph Given years on the outermost rim, We each fought for center-stage. And won. Crystallized. Not in stages it came Unkind The opposite of moonrise over the Appalachians flowing of the Mississippi Robbed of poetry Outside the wheels of the paddle boats turning Taking the curve ball & cramming it down the batter's throat: Like the heart’s varied oscillations. HOW MANY HOURS to stare at a doorknob? A doorframe Cut flowers in a room fondly    
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