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Poetry and illustrations by Nancy Price

The Dowagers d'Oro

Aging Venetian palaces
take sun along the Grand Canal,
old ladies faintly scandalous
in gemmed ogival necklaces.
Too wise to publish their memoirs,
retired from ball and bacchanal,
they bask in Adriatic wealth
of merchants, doges, emperors,
and try to guard their corridors
from Neptune' s old, familiar stealth.
Immortal, mumbling to himself,
all night he tries their crumbling doors.


Bark sags in folds from the crotches down
to where the roots begin, secret1y, deliberately,
to suck water out from under the lawn.
Children know how the knotholes seem to shift
sometimes. (Do gnarled sockets darken
when we walk between it and the young pear?)
Our living room is dark. We wish the tree weren't there.

It's alive with ants; brisk birds creep
upside down on its hide all day, grooming.
Twenty feet up, squirrels, grubs, beetles
hang with thick shade over us, a ceiling,
(tiny breaths, droppings). One dead limb creaks
just over our bench. Wasps dive
sizzling from it. Green leaves fall near us. It's alive.

It never seems to sleep; we hear how it tests
its tether out there, restlessly. All night long
it rubs against the roof. We think it remembers
old years before we were born.
It' s killing the grass.
We talk in bed about chain saws, ropes, danger. We take
care not to be heard: it's awake.

Cornered Eye

By sidewise light in the eye's crook
something shimmered like thin ice.
A flicked lash showed her a forked look
like a precipice.

She nearly saw how it waits in him.
She barely sensed how the danger lies
coiled somewhere on the narrow rim
of his half-met eyes.

Though she is frozen too cold to cry,
too charmed for battle, too fond for flight,
she mounts her guard in a cornered eye
in a sidewise light.

Out of Love: The Break

Cool at last, she has no fever
to make trees waver over
her as if she were a fire; no gardens wilt
into her arms. Once she felt
sun lie hot on her skin,
and a whole clover field crowd in,
fresh and common as desire.
Now every tree is still as a church spire.
Gardens are only flowers. Ripe clover
flushes pink and white, sways over
to nothing but the wind passing. Sun,
touching her, does not feel like anyone.

A Do-it-yourself Poem

In Colorado once, Iowans,
farm-hungry, scooped up that western dirt
in their callused hands. It was crumbling
and richly black.
They staked claim, out-waited the winter,
waited out the summer, and almost starved.

They had the seed; they had the plows
and the prayers
and the babies coming, yes, and the strong arms
and the willing backs. What were they waiting for?
Rain. That was all. And it never came,
and never would. Now, you go on, like they did:

say, "That's life."
Make your own metaphor.

How Do You Tell An Arrowhead From A Stone?

By the way rock
takes on meaning. Not much.
Enough to bind a shaft to.

Arrowheads are stone, most1y,
but a glint of light, an edge
always runs to a point along the grain

until you feel as much as see
a wedge of flint like a poem,
rough-cut to go straight.

In the Water World

In the water world when a fish swims not quite plumb
his gold friends are first to notice the way
he is listing. They tail him to give him some
friendly nips, follow him around and around. Someday
you may miss him, then notice that he has come
sidewise or bottom-up to the brim
of bis water world, turning a slow gray
and watching you with little black spots that swim
under glass like puzzle-games children play.
Until the game is up, friends stay away.
But when he drifts back, shimmering and dim,
They come around, solicitous, and eat him.


A water tower to stand
for monumental thirst
straddles our graveyard,
bears the town's name and
brims with iron-red hard
water, a toast held up
to common things we die
without. Across the flat land
we see that landmark first
when we turn homeward, come to lie
down under that lifted cup.


I catch myself drifting
toward love yet.
When I am tired, hours seem to be lifting
me into an old harbor. I forget
the tide is out now, foam breaking
on reefs. On black water, the hissing shelf
of the last wave shoreward, waking,
I catch myself.

Poetry and illustrations by Nancy Price

Safety Pins

Gross-skulled, they grip their papers tight,
sent from the factory in rows without expression.
Safety is their name, but holes are their trade,
and holding.
They will hold forever, if necessary,
while tears widen around them,
until metal glints from some obscure corner,
and there they lie in their rust: empty helmets
safely pinning ruin together.

Trick or Treat

The ghost is a torn sheet,
the skeleton' s suit came from a rack in a store,
the witch is flameproof, but who knows
what dark streets they have taken here?
Brother Death, here is a candy bar.
For the lady wearing the hat from Salem: gum.
And a penny for each eye, Lost Soul.
They fade away with their heavy sacks.
Thanks! I yell just in time,
Thanks for another year!

Stained Glass

From the day side you are pot-metal, no more
than crosshatch and stipple of dull planes
propped by iron bars to the downpour
punishment of the rains.
You are old wounds, bits of bubble and streak,
scabbed crust of lichen and heat grooves,
cobwebs, soldering, leads that leak--
but turn your face to me and the sun moves
by grace of your red scars; your blues lock
the sky in place, a shelter. I forget
in such light how the mullions crack and pock,
how north wind buckles the leads yet,
how your iron bleeds down the rock.

Getting the Picture

Holding her naked child, she squats
beyond words. Columns of newsprint
break ranks at her, go around.

She is young as old madonnas, foreign
like them, but her skin
is bone-tight, her bare feet wrung

tight to the tramped-down dirt
she seems to be trying to get into. She cries
something we can’t hear; her

eyes glitter and her baby dangles
until her howl, life-size,
is a black hole eating outward like napalm, until

too close, she draws past, blows up. Words
are huge on the page, but machines have arranged
ink dots in a cloud where a woman was.

The Aerialists

High-wire clowns catch us in cunning laughter.
X marks the spotlit aerie where they stare
down, teetering, crawling on all fours after,
bicycling backward along the air.
Such bliss is painted upon their faces.
Like children pratfalling overhead,
they make nursery floors of high places.
Almost, almost we lose our dread…

stripped of disguise, sleek on a glittering thread,
their grace bows, riding our stunned applause,
and there’s no net below. There never was.

To An Historian

By sea light picture a skin diver
flippering the ooze of an ocean floor,
the prodigal returned, a sole survivor
thought drowned millenniums before.
He swims back out of the certain death
of unplumbed air, dazzle and thunder;
strapped at his back he wears his chambered breath;
the fraíl shell of his skull crawls with a wonder.
Queer fish--see how he stands cold
to the lure of the maternal, circling sea,
for he's found two Greek amphorae from some old
beautiful world of his. Triumphantly,
he dives airward, leaving the sea behind
to grope for him at the shore's edge. Man is blind
to any past but the past he wants to find.


If grief existed, heaps of dirty clothes
existed too. She wore grief smooth and thin
and docile as old linen. Worry rose
yeasty but useful, could be kneaded in
to serve her. She knew how to keep her dread
scoured to the bare board fact. Make do, make do
her gnarled hands told us, but those glittering eyes
she skewered life with--what was it they said?
I knew her old, threatened with deadly new
dangers oí rest and peace. Without surprise,
she made good use of joy. When pleasure came,
she called it by its spare and proper name.

Seven A.M.

We find our way back, one by one,
to the coffee pot and the braided rug,
one by one out of the dark
to our kitchen light, a pitcher of milk,
the bone-handled knife in the honey.

No one screams, holding me. No one
cries that the children are all here.
The table is set again for us.
1 stand and stare at the cold water
falling, as promised, out of this tap.