Suzanne Cleary Click here for black & white and for sepia images of Suzanne Cleary










IN LINE AT CVS, WAITING FOR HIS MOTHERíS PRESCRIPTION                                     

									for Russell Jackson
Itís nothing that you flat out say, Russell, but your email reminds me that six months into pandemic, five months into quarantine, CVS remains open 24 hours, its harsh blue-white light steady, as nothing in nature is steady, those long florescent bulbs still dive-bombing lumens so that midnight is bright as 8 a.m., or 4 a.m., or 2 p.m., or 7:30 p.m. You can see that I struggle to carry one thought to the next, these long days. I spend hours on the Internet, becoming expert on the height of actors from Hollywoodís Golden Age, on the 25 Cutest Photos of four-year-old Princess Charlotte. I now know that Elizabeth Bishop was a bit taller than I am, a bit heavier. Her clothes would be too big for me, as no doubt her shoes. Russell, what is it that supposedly concentrates the mind wonderfully? Samuel Johnson said it, in Boswellís biography, which I have never read and never will. I know my limits. Lately, I think that I know little else worth knowing. My only advice for your poems, Russell: wash your hands for as long as it takes to sing Happy Birthday. Did you know thatís no longer copyrighted? Five years ago, U. S. District Court Judge George H. King ruled Happy Birthday is Public Domain, the 1935 patent applied only to the melody and specific arrangements of the tune, but not to the actual song itself. When Judge King writes actual song, he means lyrics, but I hear him saying song is something beyond the reach of law, beyond reach of language. Song is like a kernel of light, inside of things, steady. Russell, be like CVS. I donít know what this means, be like CVS. Russell, dare to say what doesnít make sense, then wait patiently to see the sense inside of it. Be like CVS. Be like the bewildering variety of toothpastes, decongestants, hair conditioners. Be like orange Velcro knee braces, like spools of pastel ribbon that hums, pulled across a scissor. Be like the aisle of bare shelves where the cleaning products stood, where the white metal shelves now display only how each shelf, with a simple ingenious hook, fits into the frame. Iím telling you nothing that you donít already know, Russell. Be like whatever accepts the horrid light, and shines in it. Be like the 8-ounce can of lightly salted cashews, for which you are newly willing to pay $12.99, as you stand in line waiting for the blue-gloved hands to hold out to you the small white bag, which is not for you, except in that you are the one who will carry it where it must go. (from The Moth magazine and The Foward Book of Poetry: 2022 ©2021) CRUDE ANGEL My angel is the crude angel at the door of Our Lady of Perpetual Light, the angel who waits outside the church, at the top of three flights of black marble. Its thick wings appear to sprout from a granite tarp, as if the sculptor abandoned the angel's body, the bowed head with featureless face, so as to fathom the angel's hands: folded in prayer, a prayer-fist like a flame arisen from stone as the Savior is said to have risen. My angel's blocky wrists rest upon a gown with folds so broad, so flat, it is hard to tell if my angel kneels or sits, or if, beneath the gown, my angel stands, its body broken in some way that the faithful understand themselves to be broken. My angel drags itself to the door of this church it will never enter. Nor will my angel rise into the air, my angel exhausted by the weight of the stone of which it is made, as we are exhausted by the stone of which we are made, we who love the angel's heavy, useless wings, wings that make us imagine rising, on nothing one can see with the eyes. (from Crude Angel, November 2018) ITALIAN MADE SIMPLE tells the story of Mario and Marina, and by the end of Chapter 1, I've got it: the r is a d, and Mario and Marina will fall in love, he an American planning a business trip to Italy, she an Italian teaching English in a school in centro, downtown, which I take to mean Wall Street, maybe Tribecca or Nolita. For the first lesson, they meet in Marina's ufficio, where they repeat the half-dozen Italian phrases for hello. Both of them remain patient, cheerful, even, in the face of their task. They name every single blessed thing on the desk. What good fortune it is they cannot yet say, so many small things here before them: the pen, the paper, and the pencil, too, the newspaper, the lamp. Marina pronounces each word slowly while Mario watches her lips, repeats. What is this? Marina asks in Italian. What is this? and Mario, under a spell, answers, although he cannot yet be said to understand these words that are little more to him than sounds, air blown through the shapes that Marina's lips make his lips make. By Chapter 4, simple Italian leads Mario and Marina to the window, to the words for street, hospital, bicycle, child, where simplicity threatens to abandon these two people who are just trying to live, an idiomatic expression for to make money. No, says Marina. That is not a child. That is not a girl. a woman, a car, etcetera. Mario loves the word eccetera, which he figures will save him lots of time. When their time is up, Mario and Marina walk to the door, at exactly the same moment say la porta. The next moment, they laugh. Eccetera, eccetera. Because I cannot live in the simple present, where Italian Made Simple begins, I read ahead. In Florence, on his business trip, Mario buys for Marina a gold bracelet. A gold bracelet Mario buys for Marina. Mario for Marina buys a gold bracelet. He does not yet understand that Marina already knows that he loves her, that she has loved him since Chapter 5, Familia, wherein Mario showed quick concern for her ill niece. Mario, alone in Florence, on the far side of his voyage through the definite pronouns, the prepositions, the baffling procession of possessive forms, Mario sits at a cafe, drinking the beverage he ordered by mistake. When the waitress sets it brightly before him, Piacere, Mario says, ever gracious. Mario, at the end of my textbook, of your slow, sometimes laborious story, how will I live without you? You do not yet know that the final lesson finds you and Marina deciding to marry, to live in Rome, yet here, in Chapter 20, Firenze, still you sip and savor. You open your dictionary. The small table at which you sit is called tavolino, just as you had thought, and you smile to yourself, now that you are lonely, now that you know you know by heart, the meaning of every single blessed thing. (from Beauty Mark, BkMk Press, © 2013) ECHOCARDIOGRAM How does, how does, how does it work so, little valve stretching messily open, as wide as possible, all directions at once, sucking air, sucking blood, sucking air-in-blood, how? On the screen I see the part of me that always loves my life, never tires of what it takes, this in-and-out, this open-and-shut in the dark chest of me, tireless, without muscle or bone, all flex and flux and blind will, little mouth widening, opening and opening and, then, snapping shut, shuddering anemone entirely of darkness, sea creature of the spangled and sparkling sea, down, down where light cannot reach. When the technician stoops, flips a switch, the most unpopular kid in the class stands off-stage with a metal sheet, shaking it while Lear raves. So this is the house where love lives, a tin shed in a windstorm, tin shed at the sea's edge, the land's edge, waters wild and steady, wild and steady, wild. (from Trick Pear, Carnegie Mellon University Press, © 2007) ANYWAYS For David Anyone born anywhere near my home town says it this way, with an s on the end: "The lake is cold but I swim in it anyways," "Kielbasa gives me heartburn but I eat it anyways," "(She/he) treats me bad, but I love (her/him) anyways." Even after we have left that place and long settled elsewhere, this is how we say it, plural. I never once, not once, thought twice about it until my husband, a man from far away, leaned toward me, one day during our courtship, his grey-green eyes, which always sparkle, doubly sparkling over our candle-lit meal. "Anyway," he said. And when he saw that I didn't understand, he repeated the word: "Anyway. Way, not ways." Corner of napkin to corner of lip, he waited. I kept him waiting. I knew he was right, but I kept him waiting anyways, in league, still, with me and mine: Slovaks homesick for the Old Country their whole lives who dug gardens anyways, and deep, hard-water wells. I looked into his eyes, their smoky constellations, and then I told him. It is anyways, plural, because the word must be large enough to hold all of our reasons. Anyways is our way of saying there is more than one reason, and there is that which is beyond reason, that which cannot be said. A man dies and his widow keeps his shirts. They are big but she wears them anyways. The shoemaker loses his life savings in the Great Depression but gets out of bed, every day, anyways. We are shy, my people, not given to storytelling. We end our stories too soon, trailing off "Anyways...." The carpenter sighs, "I didn't need that finger anyways." The beauty school student sighs, "It'll grow back anyways." Our faith is weak, but we go to church anyways. The priest at St. Cyril's says God loves us. We hear what isn't said. This is what he must know about me, this man, my love. My people live in the third rainiest city in the country, but we pack our picnic baskets as the sky darkens. We fall in love knowing it may not last, but we fall. This is how we know home: someone who will look into our eyes and say what could ruin everything, but say it, regardless. (from Trick Pear, Carnegie Mellon University Press, © 2007; Southern Poetry Review, Spring/Summer, 2003) CHEESE-OF-THE-MONTH CLUB For Jo Ann Clark At first, it had seemed such a good idea, to open your home to the creamy, the crumbly, the stinky, the blue, to open your home to this new life, the life where you open your mouth not to talk but to taste, to find, the third Friday of every month, the box, heavy yet compact, its corrugated wings opening onto another box, shiny and white, taped to its top a gold-edged card identifying the cheese by name and story, to find at your door, dependably, a new reason to live in your body, to love your body: the Venetian Pecorino, coated with black pepper providing a distinct bite with a little heat, the Netherlands' Extra-Aged Farmer's Cheese, described as the dairy world's equivalent of a Rembrandt or VanGogh, the description, true, sometimes a tad overripe, still, it seemed such a good idea to learn, to know, to savor what at first you could barely discern, say, the Belgian Goat Cheese, fruity, slightly herbed, its texture chalky yet creamy. What could this cheese not teach you about contrast and balance, risk and poise? But now, each time you open the door, there is another cheese. Now, Month Six, you doubt you can keep pace with it. It is likely to outrun you, even the cheese that is not runny, even the aged cheese. You doubt your capacity for pleasure, your appetite for knowledge, your appetite itself. You doubt yourself worthy of the gentle Buffalo-milk cheese called Bishop's Blessing. And how, by the way, does a month pass so quickly? Do not ask for whom the cheese tolls. It tolls for thee, in Pomfret, Vermont, where a raw-milk organic cheese ripens in one of the few copper cheese vats in the United States, a vat that, given the chance, would sing like a steel drum, call everyone in Pomfret out into the street to dance in a long, swaying line, except that you doubt people dance in the street in Vermont, where, it is said, there are two seasons: winter and roadwork. Maybe you should live in Vermont, where nights are long and cold, where the cheese is mostly local, and you doubt people say much about it. You doubt anyone would approve of the gold-edged card that boasts of the subtle nut flavor, its complex finish redolent of a cove north of Pomfret. Redolent, you turn the word over with your tongue, your mind. Redolent of a cove is enough to make you sign on for another year, for isn't this what you want, what you have always wanted, to bite into life so deeply you can taste where it began? Isn't that desire what brought you here, somewhere south of Pomfret? (from Southern Poetry Review, Volume 46, Issue 1) GLORY My husband and his first wife once sang Handel's Messiah at Carnegie Hall, with 300 others who also had read the ad for the sing-along, and this is why I know the word glory is not sung by the chorus, although that is what we hear. In fact, the choir sings glaw-dee, glaw-dee while it seems that glory unfurls there, like glory itself. My husband sings for me. My husband tells me they practiced for an hour, led by a short man with glasses, a man who made them sing glory, twice, so they could hear it fold back upon itself, swallow itself in so many mouths, in the grand hall. Then he taught them glaw-dee, a distortion that creates the right effect, like Michelangelo distorting the arms of both God and Adam so their fingertips can touch. My husband and his first wife and 300 others performed at 5 o'clock, the Saturday before Christmas, for a small audience of their own heavy coats, for a few ushers arrived early, leaning on lobby doors. But mostly they sang for themselves, for it is a joy to feel song made of the body's hollows. I do not know if their marriage, this day, was still good or whether it seemed again good as they sang. I prefer to think of the choral conductor, who sang with them. He sang all the parts, for love not glory, or what seemed to be glory to those who wandered in and stood at the back of the hall, and listened. (from Keeping Time, Carnegie Mellon University Press, © 2002) ON HIS DEATHBED THE ACROBAT TELLS HIS DAUGHTER TO BUY LAND I see now it was never the sky I wanted though for years I perfected leaps and dives, arching, curling tucking my chin hard into my chest to spin free far above my shadow. Now I see it was always the earth its mysterious pull I was celebrating. It was always to return to the earth's hard bargain, on two feet my arms spread like wings. There are enough birds, Edith. The air is full of seeds far better than we can ever be-- invisible, merciful. When I watched you pass the hat I wanted to crawl into our wagon and lie with my hands crossed over my chest. I wanted to count the potatoes and flour and find for once enough. I wanted to melt my father's gold watch and buy you a horse and shoes of thin leather. Remember I never asked you to walk on your hands. I respected your fear of heights, of the fireworks we set off at the end of the show. The hard-packed earth at the center of town where the people gathered, their thin shoulders touching, that was my passion. Remember before each trick it was the red earth I rubbed into my palms. (from Keeping Time, Carnegie Mellon University Press, © 2002; Sotheby's International Poetry Competition, 1982, Third Prize)

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