Lynn Strongin

FOR MISS EFFIE ELSIE on her 85th birthday 

MISS EFFIE ELSIE plinks on her piano in the parlor
She will grow up to be doctor
Is there foetal pain?
The mystical satisfaction of stretching her arms up to sky
Of running round the house soaking wet
With her sister
& not being scolded when back in:
          That was Miss Effie Elsie’s beginning
          The color of indigo in the sky turned to anemia: “What’re you doing with a hillbilly like me?” 
                    she asks when I fall in love with her. The paradisal lushness of my north misted by  
                    the shyness in her lady-doctor eyes.
THE GRAVY’S thin tonight, a string.
She wants to nail things down
A girl with a dusky alto, soft southern drawl, slight lisp.
When she becomes a doctor, this voice comforts people.
It’s like jazz
A warm music
Which doesn’t make demands; but tells it like it is.
Her sister once rode her pony into a nest of bees.
That was back in Pawnee. She wanted to cross a bridge.
Back then, I, child crouched by the orange tube of our radio, a warning light flickering
          While she noticed that the gravy was thin: she knew she'd raise a daughter, careful, not become unhinged. 
                    She lost two sons.
          The homestead wavered: womanhood was coming on: she was alert, heart-racing, pulse dangerous she walked in.
(On Andrew Wyeth’s painting of son Jamie, “Faraway”)
Couldn’t be further: otherworldly: his agate gaze scours a kettle-world; metals: copper, iron tin heaven.
Knees to chest, hands folded over.
Coonskin hat the embryo he just comes out of: image reflected in stone sky.
Among the undressed
wind, globes of clouds
(give me a boat to carry me)
A bulb goes on, the sun Though bread loaf-color dry the land, palomino-biscuit beige.
Airless: the grindstone. A flash frost look in his eyes.
Each straw-blade of grass a pocket knife: in its own light, no air.
          Is there foetal pain? Oystery the porcelain doorknob.
          Trees are time-travelers but there are none. Heaven scraped for abortion. twig-branches, a sign of 
                    terminal stress: blue-green black like his agate eyes, storm warning. His father painted him. 
                    Incubator-tenderness: closing-opening darkening.
HER DRESS SLIPS revealing a strap
Shoulder sun-bronzed.
An explosion could spread specks of fire, flecks on the wind, beyond.
I myself rose at night, on another part of the planet,
Knowing guard rails were weakening.
Now, after radioactive forest was plowed up, a plant is turned into a forest.
How would Wyeth paint this?
How survive in Exclusion Zones?
Being old, my body will not let me sleep: not past four a.m.
          These are not the dark hours of the soul
          But the faraway, the doughnuts at the drive in, the eats with the hole.
o prove
A sky that looks scraped for abortion:
The hospital room I lay in
May come again.
In age, even terminal, the words leukemia, transfusion would return: I would miss
Home. You in fishing waders, winter’s Loden coat
Albino light turning to smoky.
          Eggshell walls. Oystery doorknob, four poster, color of molasses:
          Our vacated room back home: a spiral seashell: the kind you listen into bone enfolding bone.
SHADOWS fall on your thread-thin flowered dress inherited from a cousin.
When the sun comes around to High street,
It will bleach it, then shade it in with old leaf elms.
Look your sweater over hips become ready to bear a child:
Knot it.
Great aunt’s friendly manner, the sun-warmed kitchen chair, chirr of birds:
On the back porch turning nightfall,  you sit shelling beans
Evening comes. Stars come out like stick-pins.
Welcome, you were looked for. Cloth-covered spell open on the grass.
          One day tour lab-coat, starched, iron
          Will hold you together: stethoscope, shadows of wild birds, no more braids:  
                    glacial hospital light; breast-pocket’s holding pen, tightly clipped over 
                    your sternum.
         You bathe in the claw-footed tub.
Star-pointed ears of a fox redden
In night, and the spilled box
Of attic sweaters.
. . .You use a rolling pin
recalling confectioner’s art that would grace your first prom gown.
Wyeth painted wind. Thru curtains in Chadds Ford. Blow away the clouds, let the sun diamonds shine.
There is a drab monotone
To radio evenings. You’d keep tuned in hoping for resurrection day: dial drama up till mama 
          says she needs earmuffs. Sky bodes snow. Look sharp; abalone. Not even another bath  
          in the claw-footed tub will make Chadds Ford become anything but the epitome of depression.
                   Kids playing in bomb ruins Terminal life is finding an old roll of film.
Home, monotone
Mornings upon morning of oatmeal. The gravy thin for the doorknob biscuits.
Raisins even didn’t break the monotony.
Who says the poor inherit anything?
Curled up like a snail, watching London Pride grow. Poking thru earth like stix.
Knitting needles, bone
Pearl the mortal, the mortar: between bricks, you raffish one!
Doomsday weapons are stockpiled. The clouds that began following my paralysis are forming once more:
          Beneath the glacier of emotion,
          Stream torrents of memory. An old roll of film: Kids in bomb ruins.
THE REMAINS OF MORNING. . become crumbs: .life’s twilight:
My mother, if she hadn’t been a painter, would have been an actress
Her voice wasn’t strong.
Her bold colors, however, linseed mixed with turp,
Haunted my childhood
Brace maker carrying my braces to me in the shop: German, his back
Me in undershirt, twelve year old chest just budding, the blood waving.
Looking toward him, down
The remains of childhood were ashes, soft as flax.
          What do we have except we love each other
          & that’s a helluva lot, so go for it! golden girl, go.

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.

Strongin’s work has been featured recently in UK’s "Poetry Kit" as well as winning second poetry prize in ART4US, in DC, for "Flowers Swallowing Bees." Mike Maggio said of it: "This poem uses language and imagery in new and fresh ways. Language flows across the page almost like the bees it evokes. . ." She has been featured in Brett Alan Sander’s blog with her cycles "A Wondrous Thing" and "Saturday Afternoon Taffetas." A chapbook, SLOW DARK FILM, was recently published by Right Hand Pointing. Her new book of poems THE SWEETNESS OF EDEN, in which the above is included, will be published by Right Hand Pointing online this winter.
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