sleepover :: rachel hadas

Ida and Isidor Straus sleep side by side
eternally in an Egyptian galley
fronting their Woodlawn mausoleum.
Symbolically they lie. Their boat is small;
nor was her body recovered from the Titanic.
And yet the image of the voyage holds.

Why not embark? A river runs behind me
on the other side of this dark window.
A dream called Night Boat
arranged us side by side in a black craft,
sailing the river of forgetfulness
until the stars went out.

It was poetic license. I didn’t dream that boat.
The boat was dream, and we were passengers
balanced on the slippery cusp of daylight,
unless you had already disembarked
in some shadowy port,
leaving me to sail along alone.

the chorus :: rachel hadas

A Greek I worked for once would always say
that tragedies which still appall and thrill
happen daily on a village scale.
Except that he put it the other way:
dark doings in the sleepiest small town
loom dire and histrionic as a play.
Cosmic? Perhaps. Unprecedented? Not
to the old women sitting in the sun,
the old men planted in cafes till noon
or midnight taking in the human scene,
connoisseurs of past-passing-and-to-come.
These watchers locate in their repertory
mythic fragments of some kindred story
and draw them dripping out of memory’s well.
Incest and adultery; exile
and murder; divine punishment; disgrace:
the trick is to locate the right-sized piece
of the vast puzzle-patterned tapestry
from which one ripped-out patch makes tragedy.

This highly skilled and patient process—find
a larger context, match and patch and mend—
is what the chorus in Greek tragedy
has always done. And to this very day
spectators comb the tangles of a tale,
compare, remember, comment—not ideal,
but middle-aged or older, and alert.
Beyond the hero’s rashness or the hurt
heart of the heroine, they’ve reached the age
when only stars still lust for center stage.
The chorus, at a point midway between
the limelight and the audience, is seen
and unseen. Lady chaperones at balls
once sat on brittle chairs against the walls.
“My dancing days are over,” they’d both sigh
and smile. Or take the case of poetry.
Mine used to play the heroine—me me me—
but lately, having had its fill of “I,”
tries to discern, despite its vision’s flaws,
a shape. A piece of myth. A pattern. Laws.

flying home :: rachel hadas

Down milk-bright colonnades
the leper’s bell recedes.

Shades lowered against the gleaming waste of ice,
I sit back, bathe in lukewarm acquiescence.

Dutiful, prompt,
strapped, doped, a little drunk,

squinting at international afternoon
I’ll soon pass GO again.

And if these colored pencils, nose drops, passport
should plummet with the rest of the huge oval,

giant time capsule soft for the shark’s maw,
will a notebook ambered back to front with words

rescue me from oblivion?
Syrup of skittish travelers, fame. I yawn.

green and gold :: rachel hadas

     Stivenson Magloire

Amidst the glossy dark green foliage
of trees around the hotel pool,
I spy a low-hanging golden fruit.
So many trees whose names I do not know
and for the first time do not care to learn.
The overwhelming now in its countless inflections
cancels vocabulary: eyes lips skin
instead of words. Still in the pool,
floating on my back as the sun gets low,
I look at the mango, if that is what it is
(I think it is some wholly other fruit),
and suddenly smell garlic sautéed in butter.
Chefs in the kitchen under the trees
are getting the hors d’oeuvres ready.

Yesterday in a dim, airless gallery,
following your lead,
I hunted down an iconography
written in a grisly alphabet
yet full of life, the haunting gaze direct,
transcending death. Death had in winning lost.
Art trumped death and life trumped art. Last night
(our third together — sleep
a whole new texture in a bed with you)
I gave you space and found myself at the border
of a far province in the king-sized bed,
a dimly lit hinterland where paintings ruled,
a region wholly devoted to the work
of the same painter, mysteriously killed,
stoned to death (“lapidated” was one word),
assassinated — why? A mystery
to be solved by iconography?
Death had won but also death had lost.

Garlic and butter. Glossy dark green leaves.
Voices across the pool. A hanging fruit.
An azure splash. And as the sun goes down,
you sit by the window in our room,
drawing pictures of this this this time.
What to call it? Colors in your hands
trump words. Like the fruit,
like the solution to the mystery,
something I am at a loss to name.

the fountain of blood :: charles baudelaire

translated by rachel hadas

A fountain’s pulsing sobs—like this my blood
Measures its flowing, so it sometimes seems.
I hear a gentle murmur as it streams;
Where the wound lies I’ve never understood.

Like water meadows, boulevards are flooded.
Cobblestones, crisscrossed by scarlet rills,
Are islands; creatures come and drink their fill.
Nothing in nature now remains unblooded.

I used to hope that wine could bring me ease,
Could lull asleep my deeply gnawing mind.
I was a fool: the senses clear with wine.

I looked to Love to cure my old disease.
Love led me to a thicket of IVs
Where bristling needles thirsted for each vein.

forgettery :: rachel hadas

When a voice is silenced,
the language goes on talking,
the language from however high it falls
lands on its feet, stalks gracefully away.
Nor does a recently vacated space
fail to fill. Replacements
lurk behind every bush, are never shy
about stepping forth to take up the tale again.
Everything conspires to make us oblivious
to our own obliviousness.

This train skims pleasantly enough along.
See me gazing vaguely out the window
in expectation of what I don’t remember.
Gleaming green behind its tattered promise,
a line of trees divides the visible
from something else. The view clears: no more trees,
little hills instead, fields, slice of river.
What was that flicker, that
quivering of attention
as if at something hidden?
The impulse to discover is that strong.
I could have been in search
of nothing and have found
just what I was looking for.

fast thinning throng :: rachel hadas


The two stand in the fast-thinning throng of victims,
but they speak as if they were alone.

– Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

I’m angrily packing to fly to my dying brother.
My husband stands and watches. As a tree
might look at someone, he looks down at me.
For him each death is walled in its own courtyard.

When, on the other hand, my friend hears news
of mortal illness, empathy keeps her up.
She lies awake anticipating death
steering in her direction. And it will.

Like Sydney Carton and the little seamstress
lined up in the “fast-thinning throng of victims”
in the shadow of the guillotine,
each of us gets to claim a place, a turn.

That shadow frightens; saddens; irritates me.
My husband’s distance, my friend’s fascination
rub me in equal opposite wrong ways.
But those whom we feel freest to reproach

are the lucky ones with whom we live.
Only at them are we allowed to fume.
Rolling my little suitcase toward the front
door as my husband stands, tree-like, in the far

corner of the living room, “Do more!”
I want to snarl. “Give, help, care, love me more!”
But I am not lovable today. Should I know better?
Which of us can walk into the place

where death presides and know just what to say
and do, and say and do it, nothing more
and nothing less? No person that I know.
But poetry, that mix of memory

and measured time and what can be reprieved,
with grave decorum tells the bad news, mourns
with tact, and running out of things to say
reaches the last line, ends it, shuts the door.

fleshly answers :: rachel hadas

Doomed beauties, my companions, my familiars,
your long arms braceleted with snakes of danger,

a questions twines in all the undergrowth.
How can we tell the living from the dead?

Puvis de Chavanne’s tall pearly figures
dressed as sturdy Spartans at the chase

turn out to be pale paper dolls in space.
And how can we be sure that we’re alive?

Our bodies, aging, changing, slow and stiffen.
On flesh if not yet quite inert increasingly opaque,

bite or bruise or blemish pose the questions
Where have you been? What have you been doing?

My sister’s leg, scaled by a manic cat
nearly three years ago, still is scored and punctured.

Last September I picked blackberries
bare-armed; here are the scratches ten weeks later.

We are passing through the world.
This is some of what is does to us.

dawn dreams :: rachel hadas

Dreams draw near at dawn and then recede
even if you beckon them.
They loom like demons
you tug by the tail to examine from up close
and then let fly away.
Their colors at once brighter and less bright
than you remembered, they
hover and insinuate all day
at the corner of your eye.

summer nights and days :: rachel hadas

So far the nights feel lonelier than the days.
In light, the living keep me company,
and memories of voices through the years.

Each summer threads a green familiar maze.
Emerging sun-struck, you can barely spy
the slow kaleidoscope of clouds and hours.

Those flannel nightshirts chilly sleepers wear
as summer wanes: I’m giving them away.
Pass it on: you keep at the same time.

A bough has broken from the Duchess tree.
Rain swelled the apples. Too much lightness weighs
heavy: the heft of the idea of home
tempered with the detachment of a dream,
or tidal pulls, like ocean, like moonrise.

only so much :: rachel hadas

I bend to the open notebook; distracted, turn my head.
Tiny brown ants are climbing up a stalk of goldenrod.

It isn’t clear what goal they hope to reach.
I pick up a sharpened pencil, start to sketch.

A passing cloud; the sky goes dull. I shut
the notebook and open it from the back, to write.

There is only so much we can notice all at once.
Now this morning’s dream makes an appearance:

packed lecture hall where students overflow
to aisles and floor. What do they want to know?

I have the sense they’re gathered here to learn
some kind of surgery. The brain donation

card, wallet-size, arrived in this morning’s mail.
I close the notebook. The patient ants still crawl.

A sudden breeze: the grasses toss their tops.
Wild strawberry runners are clambering over this rock,

where, if I sat here long enough, eventually
the tough, lithe tendrils would also crisscross me.

I could climb down from my temporary tower,
go to the house and fill a glass with water,

get out my watercolors, dip my brush,
memorialize this moment with a wash

of color; sketch the runners, trace a border,
as if imitation equalled order.

Or I could take a walk down to the brook
or stretch out in the hammock with a book

or let my thoughts’ red runners trace a line
to the null magnet of my husband’s brain,

the hospital where he’s “undergoing observation,”
the arid wide plateau of the condition—

a battleground to which I will return.
But there is room for only so much attention.

From The New Yorker