Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers.--John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Stars & ice, with Postscript

Snowflakes in the hair: so very romantic, six months straight. Or seven, or eight. Fall swept by too quickly. The last colored leaves are a transparent, thin red that lets the sun right through.

Hard for a Southerner not to feel a tinge mournful by the fall's fifth or sixth light snow. This year I missed the yellow wood that materializes in Cooper Park. All those half-invisible trees become wholly visible in October. But this year the leaves were not so bright and fell early. I wished for the yellow wood; I wished for the bright yellow pools that lie around the trees on emerald grass. The weird autumn twilight this far north goes straight to the heart, a message one can't help reading.


Here's a little poem I wrote long ago, about a young woman who lived on the shores of Mirror Lake, Lake Placid. She and her boyfriend lived on either side of the lake. One evening they told her family that they were going to marry. Then they crossed the lake to tell his family the news. As they returned, she fell through the ice.

The story felt entirely kindred to me, back then. I tried to write this poem many times. Once I typed my long hair around the platen* of my electric typewriter (so long ago!) when I tried to write it. Eventually it emerged very easily. But of course it never matched the dream in my head.

Now I live by an often-frozen lake. Last year Susquehanna the chocolate lab fell through the ice while walking with my husband (2:00 a. m., naturally.) Suppose I ought to write one for her as well!


Snow House Stories
To Michael


Our district's bedtime tales of snow are cruel.
The steps of toddlers, moving back and forth
Between two doors, the sled runs to a pond.

At Mirror Lake a woman slipped through ice
And drank the cold. In blue twilight she saw
Lucent souls of lost unlucky children

Suspended in the ice, or floating past
In sodden hoods and gowns, unharmed by smiles
Of pike. Claire spoke; then she forgot all words.

The man detected nothing. Logged, his sleeve
Now strained in silence that the blackbirds fled.
He felt the world attending as he fished.

Next he could feel the stars kneel at his back.
And he could feel the planets stare to think.
Then particles were getting in his eyes.

And afterward he proved the orphic voice
To be a kind of choking, stop and start.
The leastmost tendril crept across his wrist.

She didn't want to come. She didn't want
That birth. Claire wanted nothing. Still, she was
Upraised by hair from water's placid womb.

It seemed there was no link with nature's dark.
And after all, she lived. The neighbors sprang
From shining homes to help him lift her forth.

The snow kept on, tireless, wide spaced as stars.


From Claire (Louisiana State University Press, 2003); originally published in Carolina Quarterly

Slip down the page for the last batch of poetry aphorisms. Perhaps I'm done with those. Thanks to everybody who let me know the ones they liked best--and any more comments in that line will be welcome and interesting to me. And thanks to all for reading.

CREDITS: Chris LaCroix of London, Ontario took the picture above, "Ice shots on Lake Erie 3." He says: "These are shots of ice formations, taken about 300 yards out from shore on Lake Erie at Port Stanley, Ontario." Thanks to him and www.sxc.hu/.

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I’m a ‘Spotlight’ poet for the second time at The HyperTexts. This means that Mike Burch says some attractive things about my poems on the Current and Back Issues page, and that Spotlight links there and on the home page will take the reader to a group of my poems, most already published elsewhere. You can see a goodly selection of other poets who like to fool with form under the “Contemporary Poets” section on the home page. Other interesting things appear as well—poets of the Holocaust, poetry in translation, and more. Links to poems by the editors appear at the foot.

*Thanks to my dear mother for writing me that "a typewriter has a platen, not a patten." I thought it wasn't quite right, but unfortunately there are sooo many people on the web who think that it is a patten that I figured they were right. Next time, the OED.

12 comments:

  1. Just beautiful, Marly - all of it. Thank you.

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  2. Powerful and very scary, until the end. You've got that blue light running in your veins.

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  3. Sleepless in Raleigh2:24 AM, November 07, 2006

    It's 2:06 AM so I thought it an appropriate time to visit the Palace--looking for some stirring, but didn't expect cold and snow and ice (You must move South, my dear), yet I love to read Marly's magic, whatever the topic.

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  4. Wow.

    I should take a picture of the trees with my new 2-dollar Polarod camera and send you a picture. The leaves have been especially nice this year. I can clearly imagine Cherrokee running around doing thier thing.

    I interviewed an old Lithuwanean man who told me about a girl from his village who fell through the ice. Her father ran dow stream and busted out a hole in the ice and was able to catch her arm as the current pulled her down stream.

    I have an inherited hat that screams Thanksgiving. Just took this goofy pic with my Polaroid. Can you see it all? Should I go back to my old one until I get a better camera?

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  5. Since Herself is quite, quite occupied (must vote, must finish that infernal ms. today or else, etc), I am horning in. I also take the latest comment as belonging to my secondary career not as Kitchen Pot Boy but as Palace Advice Columnist. I get entirely too few questions, most of them from the scullery maids--and those of a depressing sameness.

    Herself will like the comments and the Lithuanian ice-tumble tale. Yet my feeling as a proper Pot Boy and aspiring Advice Columnist is that poetry is all very well, but... I prefer an advice-needy question.

    Yes, I can see the hat, with orange amorphous blobbilias decking its darker and remoter recesses. It is an excellent hat for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and the Dark Parts of the Year. I suggest a nice red velvet with sparklers for Christmas Day, but be careful not to burn off your hair. The brim should be generous and sturdy. Bring back the straw hat in spring.

    Keep your camera. There's nothing like a bargain to make a woman feel good. At least, that's what I notice with the Under Cooks and the Scullery Maids.

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  6. thank you thank you pot boy!

    I love you! Is this an incarnation of Marly? I love it.

    I can think of lots of things to ask you. I have an intense thirst for knowledge and advise.

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  7. Incarnation, indeed!

    You will not catch the Pot Boy attempting pot-boilerdom! I do not commit either poetry or fiction, thank you. The fool's game, I suspect.

    I am the Pot Boy.
    I burnish the pots.

    When asked, I give advice.
    Because I am also the Pot Boy, Palace Advice Columnist.

    C'est moi.

    You have come to the right place for answers, the meaning of your particular wacky universe, advice to the lovelorn, and so on. Angels fear to tread? I will rush in, armed in my disarming good looks, intrepidity, a pot-helm, and a ladle of gigantic proportions.

    Last smidge of advice: don't forget to vote.

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  8. Hello potboy. Good to see you again. I know you don't write, but are you an artist in any other sense of the word? I would gather living in a very verbal palace full of dreamers and writers that one must themselves have some artistic tendencies. Although I guess pot scrubbing and cooking are arts in and of themselves.

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  9. How delightful: a question.

    Answer:
    On my usual arrogant days I might well call myself an artist.

    Today I'm having a humble moment and would call myself a mere artisan of the pot, a craftsman of advice, and the delight of women.

    Scullery maids, most often. Cooks and duchesses, from time to time. Princesses, occasionally.

    But by tomorrow I may be pronouncing myself an artist and asserting my artistry as higher than the moon. In fact, I may hold up a battered pot and declare that it is the moon!

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  10. I went over the top Southern on my LJ today! Its so funny and it deals with poetry. I don't know why I wanted you to see it, but since you are a southerner living abroad thought you might like the sentiment.

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  11. How satisfying it is when genuine heartfelt pleas appear! Click on my name and go to comments for the latest in stellar advice to unhappy young matrons.

    I'm here, waiting for more, be ye unhappy young matron or happy old sot or whatever ye be.

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.