love and work :: rachel wetzsteon

In an uncurtained room across the way
a woman in a tight dress paints her lips
a deeper red, and sizes up her hips
for signs of ounces gained since yesterday.

She has a thoughtful and a clever face,
but she is also smart enough to know
the truth: however large the brain may grow,
the lashes and the earrings must keep pace.

Although I’ve spread my books in front of me
with a majestic air of I’ll show her,
I’m much less confident than I’d prefer,
and now I’ve started pacing nervously.

I’m poring over theorems, tomes and tracts.
I’m getting ready for a heavy date
by staying up ridiculously late.
But a small voice advises, Face the facts:

go on this way and you’ll soon come to harm.
The world’s most famous scholars wander down
the most appalling alleyways in town,
a blond and busty airhead on each arm.

There is an inner motor known as lust
that makes a man of learning walk a mile
to gratify his raging senses, while
the woman he can talk to gathers dust.

A chilling vision of the years ahead
invades my thoughts, and widens like a stain:
a barren dance card and a teeming brain,
a crowded bookcase and an empty bed…

What if I compromised? I’d stay up late
to hone my elocutionary skills,
and at the crack of dawn I’d swallow pills
to calm my temper and control my weight,

but I just can’t. Romantics, so far gone
they think their lovers live for wisdom, woo
by growing wiser; when I think of you
I find the nearest lamp and turn it on.

Great gods of longing, watch me as I work
and if I sprout a martyr’s smarmy grin
please find some violent way to do me in;
I’m burning all these candles not to shirk

a night of passion, but to give that night
a richly textured backdrop when it comes.
The girl who gets up from her desk and dumbs
her discourse down has never seen the flight

of wide-eyed starlings from their shabby cage;
the fool whose love is truest is the one
who knows a lover’s work is never done.
I’ll call you when I’ve finished one more page.

blue octavo haiku :: rachel wetzsteon

     after Kafka

 
In fat armchairs sat
indolence and impatience,
plotting my downfall

*

A wicked cage flew
across the long horizon
searching for a bird.

*

I burned with love in
empty rooms, I sternly turned
knives within myself.

*

“Behold the bright gate,”
the keeper said. “I am now
going to shut it.”

*

Hardly was the road
swept clean when ah! there appeared
new piles of dry leaves.

*

But nothing could kill
a faith like a guillotine,
as heavy, as light.

*

Happiness? Finding
your indestructible core;
leaving it alone.

*

Into the heavens
flew a breathless legion of
impossible crows.

silver roses :: rachel wetzsteon

The strings, as if they knew
the lovers are about to meet, begin
to soar, and when he marches in the door
they soar some more—half ecstasy, half pain,
the musical equivalent of rain—
while children who have grown up with one stare
steal further looks across a crowded room,
as goners tend to do.

My father loved it too,
warned me at dinner that he’d be a wreck
long before the final trio came
(Ja, ja, she sighed, and gave him up forever);
he found his Sophie better late than never
and took the fifth about his silent tears
but like him I’m a softie, with a massive
gift for feeling blue.

I went with others, threw
bouquets and caution to the whirling wind,
believing that the rhapsody on stage
would waft its wonders up to our cheap seats;
but mirrors can be beautiful fierce cheats,
delusions of an over-smitten mind;
I relished trouser roles until I had
no petals left to strew.

Up, down the avenue
I wandered like a ghost, I wondered why
a miracle is always a mirage,
then plodded home and set back all the clocks,
spent hard-won funds installing strong new locks,
telling myself if violence like this
could never sound like violins, I would
to art, not life, be true.

And I am trying to
fathom the way I got from there to here,
the joy that snuck up when I’d sworn off joy:
we’ve made a sterling start, we’ve got a plan
to watch it on your satin couch downtown
and I’ll be there upon the stroke of eight,
bearing in my trembling ungloved hand
a silver rose for you.

on leaving the bachelorette brunch :: rachel wetzsteon

Because I gazed out the window at birds
doing backflips when the subject turned
to diamonds, because my eyes glazed over
with the slightly sleepy sheen your cake will wear,

never let it be said that I’d rather be
firing arrows at heart-shaped dartboards
or in a cave composing polyglot puns.
I crave, I long for transforming love

as surely as leaves need water and mouths seek bread.
But I also fear the colder changes
that lie in wait and threaten to turn
moons of honey to pools of molasses,

broad front porches to narrow back gardens,
and tight rings of friendship to flimsy things
that break when a gold band brightly implies
Leave early, go home, become one with the one

the world has told you to tend and treasure
above all others. You love, and that’s good;
you are loved, that’s superb; you will vanish
and reap some happy rewards. But look at the birds.

commands for the end of summer :: rachel wetzsteon

i.

Deepen,
leaves, not with what
has made us sorry but
with what was profound about that
sorrow.

ii.

Make me
spontaneous,
gathering winds, but don’t
blow so giddily I teeter
too much.

iii.

Songs I
listened to all
summer long, accept my
thanks: to regress is not to move
backward.

iv.

Splash of
patchouli on
my wrist, remind me that
in this cauldron there is a world
elsewhere.

v.

Smile! Those
days of humid
agony have earned you
the right to a hundred purple
sunsets.

vi.

Come, fall,
I can feel you
stirring, I can hardly
wait for the things that will happen
come fall.

gold leaves :: rachel wetzsteon

Someone ought to write about (I thought
and therefore do) stage three of alchemy:
not inauspicious metal turned into
a gilded page, but that same page turned back
to basics when you step outside for air
and feel a radiance that was not there
the day before, your sidewalks lined with gold.