The Poetry Porch presents

the sonnet scroll ii

Copyright © 1999, 2000 by Joyce Wilson

    What the Leaves Say
    by Rhina P. Espaillat 

    What the leaves say is what we want to hear:
    “I wish,” or maybe “hush,” as mothers may
    who comfort children fretful out of fear
    or sleeplessness. October-dry, they say
    rest after summer’s surfeit, whisper green
    again after March, when geese return;
    all summer long they comment on the scene
    with unreflecting joy we never learn.
    But no, leaves don’t say anything. God knows
    what they would say, or could, if any speech
    were granted them. How tempting to suppose
    they may be curious too, want us to teach
    them our heart-made palaver without end,
    the song we raise for what we cannot mend.

    Copyright © 2000 by Rhina P. Espaillat

    The Life
    by Rhina P. Espaillat 

    Q:  So in the end, was it the dummys personality 
    or the ventriloquists that people liked?
    A:  Well, of course it had to be the ventriloquist! 
    The dummys not real, silly!
              —Melanie Rehak interviewing Tim Robbins, 
    The New York Times Magazine, January 2, 2000, p. 8

    That’s what this is: each page an out-of-town
    gig for a house always about the same
    but different; folks who never let you down,
    although the take is low, but use your name
    to summon someone elsethat other who
    sometimes waves from the stage, amiable, trite
    with good humor. But it’s really you
    they come for, come to watch you sneer and bite,
    artifact, creature on the maker’s knee
    miming the motion of his harmless lips.
    Look how they follow each exchange, to see
    how one of you is chafing at the blips
    to sayfor once, for themsay out of sync
    what they’re sure only one of you can think.

    Copyright © 2000 by Rhina P. Espaillat

    by Rhina P. Espaillat 

    A shallow forest spangled with mille fleurs;
    a horse, head down, grazing the noonday shade;
    a knight, morose with duty. Nothing stirs
    except perhaps one raven, and a maid
    cramped by the window of her tiny tower
    an inch or two away, under gold eaves,
    wimpled in white, holding a single flower,
    her grief contained by a fine lace of leaves.
    The horse would turn and take familiar roads
    back, but the rider’s on a quest that leads
    him on beyond the tasseled frame, and goads
    master and mount alike, although one needs
    nothing but grass to crop, and one will find
    nothing to want but what he’s left behind.

    Copyright © 2000 by Rhina P. Espaillat

    This Morning
    by Leo Yankevich 

              —for Dylan Thomas

    This morning I woke to the sound of bells
    and to the dark sermons of black-frocked rooks.
    The air was fraught with the breaths of angels
    and the sky stood strangely above the roofs.

    This morning I woke with the taste of stale
    liquor lingering on my twisted tongue
    and entered the deep grey of my heaven-hell
    with a cirrhotic liver and mucous lung.

    This morning I woke to the coughs of cars,
    to the clangour of crammed trams turning
    corners, kissing the whey-faced hush of a nun.

    This morning I woke opening strange doors.
    In the skull’s temple: white candles were burning,
    and the coins on my eyelids saw the same sun. 

    Copyright © 2000 by Leo Yankevich

    by Leo Yankevich 

    A blue elf’s smile on the surface of milk
    in a bowl is pleasant delirium,
    much nicer to look at than blood on silk,
    than a spider bellowing kingdom come.

    If I could understand the words of wood,
    crucified with nails, I’d say that it hurts
    to be wood, but wouldn’t be understood
    except, perhaps, by lizards wearing skirts.

    The world’s so definitive, there’s no room
    for gnomes and angels, for nymphs without clits.
    Yet, a few men have existed for whom
    trees walked in perfect accord with their wits.

    This poem in part is written in their praise
    and for the bright Light that never decays. 

    Copyright © 2000 by Leo Yankevich

    by Leo Yankevich 

    Say a prayer for Susan, the sad leper of my tongue.
    She taught me the ways of love, how to down hard whisky,
    how to watch the rooks above the rowans, ever young
    and ready to spread her legs in amorous pity.

    Say a prayer for that girl with limbs limp now in the eaves
    among the mud of past autumns, among the sins of
    whore-masters and cheap fates found in fortune cookies,
    among the sweet breaths and buttocks of much-needed love.

    Say a prayer for old whoredom and for the happiness
    she gave a few lonely men in the dark for a while.
    Say a prayer, say a prayer, for her and good-heartedness.

    She flies above the rowans with a flock of rooks now,
    flies above my whisky as I long for her living flesh
    and have one for her soul as mistaken as her smile. 

    Copyright © 2000 by Leo Yankevich

    Poem in October
    by Leo Yankevich 

    On this breezy October morn I walk
    in the swift shadows of cloud-cursing rooks,
    watching the world wake on the horizon.

    In the brush I hear the tangerine talk
    of blackbirds, and, in a crumbling wall’s nooks,
    the tumult of thrushes halving a bun.

    And I see the first cart of dawn turning
    the corner, see its owner’s toothless grin
    amid a pile of leaves lit by the sun.

    And I smell the scent of something burning,
    of something smouldering deep within,
    fouler than all the hills of Polish dung.

    Thirty-five years have transformed my life’s leaves
    into an outcast’s smoke upon the breeze. 

    Copyright © 2000 by Leo Yankevich

    After a Rain 
    by Mary Rotella 

    Flood drives you out and now you’re caught, exposed,
    futile. You writhe against unyielding grounds
    with senses useless so far out of bounds,
    stripped of soil and slime, your wormy flesh unclothed.
    Out of the soup and into the skillet,
    fish bait, bird food, boy’s temptation just
    to stomp your stupid blindness in disgust,
    some nameless dread arousing lust to kill. 

    Fear not, for I am neither wanton tough,
    nor fisherman, nor hungry bird of prey,
    though some have called me each along the way.
    I stoop and pluck and, not quite gently enough,
    hurl you back into the muck from which you came,
    longing for the hand who’ll do for me the same.

    Copyright © 1999 by Mary Rotella

    Summer Wild
    by Joyce Wilson 

    It is summer in the garden, and I am summer wild.
    In my hair the curls are tangled where moths and eggs are piled.
    You will find me in the shadows, far from the travelled aisle,
    Dreaming ’neath the trumpet bower to tunes the branches dial.
    And when I leave these hiding places, alone but undocile,
    I will breakfast on a tadpole, well-fattened and mobile.
    Bottled rain will slake my thirst, drawn through a willow phial.
    Don’t observe my crystal face, the blankness in my style.
    The forests hide their dappled fawns in passion and denial
    And camouflage their silvered plaints with thunder’s gusty smile.
    They are mine, these windy mornings that noons and nights defile,
    Where the bluest breaking wavelets return my strange profile,
    And my dreams infuse horizons and whisper sweet exile.
    My home is kingdom to the wolf, my song the stubborn child.

    Copyright © 2000 by Joyce Wilson

    by Andrew Tully 

    I paint a black hole inside my head
    big enough for brainwater to drip out
    but too small for apricot ears to bleed.
    With a surgical butterknife I cut
    my eyelids apart this morning
    and glue them together again tonight.
    After the day stops burning,
    I wedge myself between an unwashed sheet
    and a chicken dressing itself for a roast,
    wondering if this is the first or last 
    time that my skull will start to rust.
    Rolling around the breakfast room,
    I scrape the wax from my smiling ears
    and replace it with fresh iron ore.

    Copyright © 2000 by Andrew Tully

    by Andrew Tully 

    Driving the autobahn bare-assed,
    diamonds are this man’s best end.
    Rubber wraps itself around the bend.
    Ignore grave road signs, get gassed.

    A day without speed is a day unsure
    of the turnoff, the place I show my fur.
    Towns in between, traffic lights recur;
    as in dreams one can never really secure.

    When she gives me a heart attack,
    double lines hover above my bed.
    Is this prosaic, or just prozac?

    In the collision my tongue wags
    at a woman disguised in red––
    I can’t live without my dual air bags.

    Copyright © 2000 by Andrew Tully

    The Bagpiper Waits
    by Andrew Tully 

    A man stands on a street corner and blows checkered bagpipes.
    Pinched commuters pour out of the subway, dried earth clumps
    coughed up by that dragon below. Too busy to pay attention,
    they allow him only muteness, indifference, or ignorance.

    Women who pass give strange looks, and men shake loose heads.
    Empty, his bag sits rumpled, open, and unmoved on the sidewalk.
    Blankly, he stares ahead, blaring the same melody for ten minutes,
    then starts a new one, a funerary march played by elephants on fire.

    Teenagers in baggy pants and pierced eyelids appear, laugh, and point
    at the strange noise, but he blows on against the din of their rap music.
    Their hand-held boom box offers no competition to his live instrument,

    that wide, metal echo produced by human breath instead of batteries.
    Necktied men stop in their tracks, but, unable to recognize the sound, walk off, 
    while his howl pierces the sun that falls behind gray granite buildings. 

    Copyright © 2000 by Andrew Tully

    State of the Art 
    by Judith Liniado 

    When I consider all the years of waste,
    The chances overlooked or undermined,
    I wonder what might shape my present taste
    If other choices I had then divined.
    Perhaps my present state of artfelt woe
    Would see a somewhat altered circumstance:
    The Art World would be less a baffling foe
    And more a friend against decreased finance.
    Thus, art would thrive and gladly be exposed
    To all, not just the wealthy and sedate.
    The venue less exclusive and enclosed,
    Each artist would be master of his fate!
    But what’s the use in counting what is lost?
    I’ll still create and disregard the cost.

    Copyright © 2000 by Judith Liniado

    The Last Round 
    by Peter H. Desmond 

    What is this love affair of ours? A bout?
    Why did you come out swinging just this morning?
    For three days I have watched you sulk and pout.
    You spring out of your corner without warning, 
    jab, then deal a verbal roundhouse right
    before you walk to your mother’s nursing home.
    Brockton is where Marciano learned to fight;
    Your hometown must have been a combat zone.

    Seethe the day, or two or three, then boil,
    say you despise the very breath I breathe.
    I watch your pent-up bitterness uncoil,
    think I will not mind it when you leave.

    Absorbing blows, I wait until the bell. 
    Love was heaven; living with you is hell.

    Copyright © 2000 by Peter H. Desmond

    The World of Swinging Singles 
    by Peter H. Desmond 

              (after William Wordsworth)

    The world of swinging singles is passé:
    boozing and cruising, wasting years in bars,
    leeches gathered at sordid meat bazaars.
    Our glory and our dream: another Lay!

    Satyrs then, Professionals today,
    We drink Perrier and drive imported cars.
    To further our careers, our rising stars,
    we network at a business-card soirée.

    I’d rather see your Red Cross card. My test
    was negative. We would feel less forlorn
    if, intimate, immoral, we undressed
    and sought success arrayed as we were born.
    Ah! pretty flower tattooed upon your breast!
    Oh, Maenad––do you blow my wreathed horn?

    Copyright © 2000 by Peter H. Desmond

    Requesting the Pleasure of Your Company
    by Kathleen Hill 

    I fix the invitation in my eyes
    And wonder how effective it will be.
    It’s been a long time. You, to my surprise,
    Reply with pleasure––and some urgency.
    Your passion is contagious; I respond.
    My invitation has achieved its goal:
    Restrictive doors I longed to be beyond
    Now open to the knocking of my soul.
    I glory in the many parts of you.
    I touch. I love with body, mind, and heart
    Then comprehend my invitation’s true
    Intent and stop! Then hesitate. Then start.
    When I invited you to let me in,
    I opened doors to hurt––to trust again.

    Copyright © 2000 by Kathleen Linton

    On What I Counted Most 
    by Paul Breslin

    On what I counted most my world’s possession,
    If once there was or since been any choice,
    A day of terror died without your voice,
    And worlds were lost––I humbly make confession.
    I walked in brooding forests of oppression,
    Deceived to think I heard your silent voice,
    Whispering this pledgéd reason to rejoice,
    “I love you, Distant One,” in sweet succession.

    The trees are scratching at November skies;
    The emptiness they clutch pours black and bleak;
    And, in their brittle, to-be-pitied tries,
    I sense my hopeless fault, as though they speak:
    “If arms are Love’s sole binding ties,
    Your heart eludes the ultimate you seek.”

    Copyright © 2000 by Paul Breslin

    When Last I Saw You 
    by Paul Breslin 

    When last I saw you, darling, all the land
    Was cold, shivering for its blown red cloak.
    We kissed––and, strangely, under Fate’s strong stroke,
    I saw you smile. I didn’t understand.
    “Is mine so heavy––hers, so light a strand?
    Is parting’s flesh-ripped violence a joke?
    From, thirst that makes my throat and courage choke,
    Is she so free?” I didn’t understand.

    My ultimately Wise One. Cliffs could rumble
    Into ruin; everything that’s solid, break.
    Above the mountains, roaring as they crumble,
    I’d hear your laughter over a lava lake
    With silver certainty. Your love is humble:
    Love’s stronger love that loves the mutual ache.

    Copyright © 2000 by Paul Breslin

    Year’s End
    by Rhina P. Espaillat 

    After the first evasive flurries make 
    their quick reconaissance of the terrain 
    and vanish through the underbrush to take 
    reports elsewhere, a tapping on the pane 
    announces the advance of better armed, 
    more plentiful platoons that clear the way––
    the natives at their chores still unalarmed––
    for white battalions by the close of day. 
    The housewife at the sink, peeling her spuds, 
    the newsboy tossing flyers, cannot guess 
    how every landmark has been flagged for floods 
    of cloudy troops and tagged for wilderness, 
    as on a map of which they’re not aware, 
    quite altered by the powers of the air. 

    Copyright © 2000 by Rhina P. Espaillat

    Remembering My Parents Remembering Books 
    They Read Together
    by Rhina P. Espaillat 

    Imagine this: a railroad flat three flights 
    up half-lit stairs above a midtown street 
    where, decades past, my parents spend their nights 
    playing seventy-eights in August heat, 
    or dominoes with some post-dinner guest, 
    or, best of all––memory’s chosen scene––
    speaking of books they love: maybe Beau Geste
    or Don Quixote, War and Peace. Between 
    them, details spin: imaginary places––
    or places real enough they’ll never see––
    illuminate their young, remembered faces 
    with light enough to light the page for me. 
    So poor, so much endured as man and wife; 
    but blessed by this one bond that held for life. 

    Copyright © 2000 by Rhina P. Espaillat

    8 Sonnets from "Modern Times" 
    by Chris Wallace-Crabbe


    It is the unrolled plenitude of pain
    which goes along with reading blasted novels
    that gives you pause, yet and over again:
    not a jot like our hearing liquid Mozart.
    It is the daunting drag and tow,
    causation heavy in the very grammar,
    that proffers an impending blow.
    (For density and hope, read damage.)

    It is the grimacing whatnextitude
    that ploughs and pants it all along
    through young love, maiming, beatitude
    and blasted hopes. A strung-out song
    whose tune’s the dry wreck of common lives:
    whores, bandits, Brahmins, kids and wives.


    Yet the novel tends never to deal with such things
    as our sorting out socks from the line into pairs
    (reluctant bachelor sock!); or trying to wrinkle
    residual dry gnocchi from the wire mesh
    of a colander; cutting toenails; nicking
    oneself in a shave and staunching the blood
    with toilet paper scraps; a cupboard door
    that sticks every time; or loss of the shopping-list.

    It forgets those hazy morning moments when
    one thinks in French or Italian by mistake;
    the broken fingernail; a squeamish tummy
    after rich dissert last night; your mislaid keys
    (unless they enforce the plot); and the lost noun
    you only recalled half-a-day later in town.


    The swarthy, companionable map of sky
    flaunts all its rhinestones at another spring,
    the evening is drunk with jasmine: me with wine.
    Every day is a small new offering,
    winding history further back, like the Japanese
    model train that went bung on Boxing Day,
    whirr, then . . . plunk! Such disappointment
    was part of education's natural way.

    How can we ginger up mortality?
    What presents do we place along the track
    to make up for golden moments we have lost?
    Take every flicker there and grasp it back,
    discern it with van Gogh’s intensity
    or the comic fine-tuning button of Marcel Proust.


    Even doing it abstractly, I feel: ––

    Small rough solids which are grating against
    a curved patina rather like brushed steel
    here and there randomly indented,
    dimpled with mathematical cavities:
    shadowy with plum-bruise purple
    and approximate silvery tans, what has
    now become a grainy, rude arena
    over which thistledown of luminous
    gases will keep on blowing lightly
    from the north by sardonic north-east,
    softly coloured like the pre-dawn dreams
    of our favourite dogs and horses
    when the prospect of bad weather has increased.


    It’s not the thing I thought it ought to be
    Nor is it what it mustn’t be at all;
    It doesn’t satisfy me, certainly,
    But got so close it’s very hard to call.
    It’s not a fault, nor could I declare it "in",
    Dithering somewhere just about the line.
    What I have written does look pretty thin
    When I’d intended to sound rich and fine,

    To turn our phrases burnished like old gold,
    Reveal the vibrations of a heart,
    At least prove a green walnut not a lime . . . 
    Call this a sonnet? Looks more like a crime
    Half-bungled, or a fried egg eaten cold:
    The cool change brought me not a sniff of art.


    R.A.A.F., 1952

    Surely the gravel impressed me first,
    Hours on the zephyr-swept bull ring
    With remarkable inter-class relations
    Nattering away in Nissen huts.
    We rose like the sun in our navy-blue boilersuits,
    Folded our blankets according to the rules,
    Shaved, shat, coffeed, crunched out cold
    Onto parade: an example of litotes.

    The important thing for Australia was
    It had to be boring all the time,
    Keeping us firmly away from stimuli.
    It was on those flat volcanic plains
    I learned to read Dante and Doctor Chekhov,
    And swore with augmented fluency.


    Today we broke up auntie’s rustic chair.
    Seventy-odd years it stood foursquare,
    Sturdy in hard, arthritic tea-tree,
    Legs, back and arms natively arabesqued.
    One gesture at repair, and it was gone,
    That sturdy fabric fallling away at once
    To lengths of timber for a fire, at best;
    But we still have her mother’s cabin-trunk.

    Summer nights are nostalgic as hell, like this:
    You gaze north over the black ridge, there
    As ever are the delicate Pleiades,
    Kitchenhand Orion, Canopus and the Dog . . .
    Time keeps pouring through us like red wine.
    Today we destroyed Violante’s tea-tree chair.


    Back in the drowsy, non-addictive city,
    Nightmare cars purring down gigantic streets,
    Old men with hose or foxie, tennis balls
    Endlessly bouncing off convenient walls.
    Just up the way, judging from the ringlet spirals
    Of silver beet and all those feral fronds
    Of parsley, it would seem that our contadino
    (Compulsively neat) has fallen really ill.

    It’s alarming: clutches coldly at my heart.
    His microcosmic urban farm has flourished
    Neat as pie for all these little years,
    Each crop weeded and well-nourished,
    Rotating in the best virgilian way
    Onion, tomato and red pepper seasons.

    Copyright © 1999 by Chris Wallace-Crabbe

    On Opening a Book of Poems by Michael 
    Drayton and Finding Pages Uncut
    by Joyce Wilson

    The introduction made excuses for effect.
    In publishing this book, it hung, an albatross,
    Around the printer’s neck, while bringing on the loss
    Of the first editor, who died at mid-project.
    I turned the heavy pages, hard-shelled like a nut,
    But in the printed sequence found that some were hidden
    By a self-made envelope, as if forbidden: 
    Folded, stitched, and bound, but not yet scored nor cut.
    It seemed a failure or confusion that implied
    A book was made that would withhold what lay inside.
    Still, it reminded me that readers with a knife
    Can open up a book as well as take a life.
    I sat to read and comprehend another age
    From long ago, when ink like blood infused the page.

    Copyright © 1999 by Joyce Wilson.

    Two Temperaments
    by Joyce Wilson 

              —for J. B.

    One rises from the bottom and explodes
    in revelations sparkling on the surface;
    the other sinks in basins of the cosmos
    to steep and ruminate the ancient codes.
    How good it is to choose contemporaries
    and spend the hour articulating phrases
    under the aegis of centuries of sages
    refined in labyrinthine-halled libraries.
    If time should prove these conversations wasted,
    O let each be served with sugar or with lemon
    in cups or ladles, cisterns of the czars!
    Let no one deprecate these trends we tasted
    as we compare the Greek verse with the Roman
    or reconstruct those years between the wars.

    Copyright © 1999 by Joyce Wilson.