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Grey Sparrow Journal

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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THREE POEMS BY FRANCES CONNELL




Excerpts from “Le Gare St-Lazare: After The Painting by Manet”

 

               Love is ……

                                

                            1 Corinthians 13: 4-8

 

This poem is my gate*

to the field behind the fence.

 

Patience glows,

like Victoire Meurant’s beauty,

Manet's odalisque nude,

she stares out fully dressed,

 

gloved fingers mark a place in her book

as smoke shrouds a train,

at station edge she waits

for what is not yet known.

 

Love gifts kindly,

a limp pup nuzzling in her lap,

mist muting this place named for the one 

raised from a stone tomb, the fourth day.

 

It’s neither envious nor boastful,

resembles swallows returning

to moss-swept archways in old missions

year after year.

 

Harbors humbleness,

fading poppies on Victoire’s hat,

exploding strawberry and apple fonds,

cascading curls in rusty gold.

 

Love has a purity, nothing  arrogant or rude:

a child’s blue sash and white pinafore,

lace at a mother’s neck

floating the way fresh snow falls.

 

It never insists on its own way,

but rides in the secret sorrow

between two creatures facing out,

solitary before crowds.

 

Balancing space,

her posture still,

the girl grasps fence, tilts head,

a nascent body filled by absorption.

 

Unposed as a run-away,

love’s neither irritable nor resentful,

steady like Victoire’s stare, a black ribbon,

pendant earrings on curved ears.

 

It does not rejoice in the wrong,

unjudging like bold buttons closing

a bodice so often bared for art

in amber candlelight and flickering fire.

 

It bears all things, reticent, 

two females alone caught between trips

on the corner of Rue d’Amsterdam

and Rue de Londres.

 

Expectant

the woman’s eyes hail the street:

is there a carriage

holding husband, father, painter?

 

Someone

to steady  the journey,

renounce black lines,

open the gate?

 

                                                 Love never ends.

 

* From Jane Hirshfield: Nine Gates

 




Amber


A drop hangs.

 

I rub transparent cognac,

the pendant's smooth curve.

 

Like no other mineral

it feels warm.

 

Dark globs

jeweled to lighted honey,

track bartered history's trade routes.

 

Washed up along the Balkans,

in Germany, Sicily, England,

in Burma, Mexico, New Jersey,

 

squeezed in petroleum bedrock

94 millenniums old, as ice crept,

flattened, shellacked, embalmed

 

seeds, leaves, feathers,

bees, conifer pines, crustaceans.

 

Unshakable, a fly's blood

suspends in an air bubble

30 million years.

 

Imperfections petrified,

it shines yellow red, green blue,

the purest navy brown,

a trick of the clouds.

 

Its resin mutes horsehair,

smooths melodies.

Aromatic,

it spills the pine woods.

 

For all its hardness,

warm,  it softens:

heat it and it burns,

scratch it and it shows its scars.

 

Through smoky champagne brown,

my eyepiece, I see you.

 

Like swamp air

hot minerals press my throat

to temper speech.

 

Bees pulse, ferns twist,

stony excretions echo light:

 

deep inside I cup

a single teardrop.



 

 

Drinking Fountain

Houston, Texas 1957


I.

Clear wet parasol, the water squirts up

as my child’s hand twists on the cold handle.

It heals tongue, coats throat in neutral tones

like sepia dissolving TV station letters

striped black and white bands

signing off at midnight.

 

Beside me the old man’s tongue laps water,

woolly-haired elder made to dip over

metal and porcelain Henkee & Pillot fountain

like a temple basin.

He bows decorously, left and right,

catches my stare,

looks away.

 

I count the terrors larger than an old black man:

radio voices reeling off robberies,

children found locked in closets

emerging shriveled up, albino, drooling,

the man who haunts the alley

where friends play Sheepboard Away

huddling in his car, then flipping on his light

to reveal something in his lap.

Sirens aping exploding bombs,

long silent class lines hunched over

hands over head, scuttling under the desks

when the sound pierces,

screaming: the End of the World.

 

But there is wrong here, I know,

a full-grown man tasting from a tiny drinking fountain

stooping to  the level of an 8-year old girl,

above the signs: “White” “Colored”

 

II.

White is bleach

parts of the skin hidden from the sun

places where ticks can burrow,

ice tipped from aluminum trays

dress gloves squeezed on for a wedding

that will break up in a year,

new underpants and t-shirts

in cellophane packages

anklet socks that go with patent leather,

Sunbeam's spongy bread

you can wad up and coat with margarine,

Easter lilies, insides of melon seeds:

It is the crayon that disappears--

snow, cotton, filled in clouds

 

Colored” is a rainbow

rising with mist

after a pelting thunderstorm,

a whole box of paints,

satin reds, sunflower yellows

turquoise morning glories

twining the back fence,

dark cocoa browns--

thick mud shaped into patties

on a make believe table,

clumps of field clinging to a brother’s baseball cleats,

moist dark worlds Mother digs in garden rows.

 

III.

White. Colored. Everything separate

beauty salons, barber shops, lockers for miners

waiting rooms and theaters

schools, libraries, telephone booths

lunch counters, boating and fishing docks

prisons, hospital entrances

reform schools, circus ticket booths

wine and beer stores, parks, burial plots

mental institutes, buses,

public toilets

drinking fountains.

 

IV.

The man straightens, pats lips with handkerchief

as a woman, finely-netted, lavender hat

nested on head, pressed ivory suit coating slim arm and hip

emerges, grimacing, from the “Colored” toilet.

 

I nod,

pat newly-permed hair

springing out in ponytails

over jug-handle ears,

hug bandanna midriff,

shorty shorts skimming tanned legs.

 

In the flooding water I swallow again,

unwinding a pale universe.