Lyn Lifshin, US




Free Verse




          rose lichen
                    gamble oak
                              globe mallow

          bent in rain

                    blue lupine

                              juniper mistletoe

     it rains and keeps raining

these rocks
          pulled from each other

     two million years ago

          wrenched like a woman
whose child is grabbed

          on a cattle car

                    smashed into stone

her eyes, streaked
          like tonight’s sky

a Monday, all sipapu,

     a spirit entrance

          into the underworld





Past Mogollon River
            the limestone ruins
scrape it with your finger
                      and the floor breaks

                                    The talc
                       must have dusted
            their dark
bodies as they squatted on these
            floors grinding
mesquite and creosote

No one knows
            where they went
                       from the cliffs
            with their
                       earth jars and sandals

Or if they
cursed the
            desert moon
                        as they wrapped
their dead
                        in bright cloth
                                    and jewels


Now cliff swallows
            nest in the mud
where the Sinaqua
until water ran out

High in these white cliffs
            weaving yucca and cotton
                        How many nights did they listen
                                               for cougar
                        as they pressed the wet
                                    rust clay
                        into bowls
            they walked
200 miles to trade in Phoenix
            before it was time to leave

40 years
before Columbus


Noon in the

            it is summer the
                        children are sleeping

The women
            listen to a story
            one of them has heard
            of an ocean

                        Deerflesh dries in the sun
            they braid
willow stems
            and don’t look up

When she
is done
            they are all
stoned on what could come
f                        rom such water

It is cool and dark
            inside here

                        This was the place


The others
have gone to find
salt and red
            stones for earrings

                        The children

climb down

                        To look for lizards
            and nuts he

            takes the girl he
            for the first time

                        Her blood cakes
                                    on the white chalk

                        Her thighs

                                    will make a bracelet
                                                in his head


Desert bees
            fall thru the wind
            over the pueblos
                        velvet ash and barberry

They still find
            buried in the wall
                                    a child’s bones
                        wrapped in yucca leaves
                                    and cotton

bats fly thru the
            ruins now
                        scrape the charred
            walls white

                        The people left
               the debris of their lives here
arrows, dung
                        And were buried
            with the bright
turquoise they loved
            sometimes carved
into animals and birds





always women in the
dark on porches talking
as if in blackness their
secrets would be safe.
Cigarettes glowed like
Indian paintbrush.
Water slapped the
deck. Night flowers
full of things with wings,
something you almost
feel like the fingers
of a boy moving, as if
by accident, under
sheer nylon and felt
in the dark movie house
as the chase gets louder,
there and not there,
something miscarried
that maybe never was.
The mothers whispered
about a knife, blood.
Then, they were laughing
the way you sail out of
a dark movie theater
into wild light as if no
thing that happened





wild cat in the
wood pile, deer

you can’t see.
I drift with

the poem you
sent into an

river where

Indians eat
fish so old

they have no
eyes. If I

shut my eyes
I hear the

water that
flows under

the columbine.
When I touch

the chair I hear
bluebirds that

were wild in its
leaves when there

were red flowers
in its branches





Milky summer nights,
the men stay waiting, First National Corner
where the traffic light used to be, wait

as they have all June evenings of their lives.
Lilac moss and lily of the valley
sprout in the cooling air as

Miss Damon, never later for thirty years,
hurries to unlock the library, still
hoping for a sudden man to spring tall from the

locked dark of mysterious card catalogues to
come brightening her long dusty shelves.
And halfway to dark

boys with vacation bicycles
whistle flat stones over the bridge,
longing for secret places where
rocks are blossoming girls with damp thighs.

Then nine o’clock falls thick on lonely books
and all the unclaimed fingers and
as men move home through bluemetal light,
the Congregational Church bells

ringing as always four minutes late,
the first hayload of summer rumbles through
town and all the people shut their eyes
dreaming a wish





paint chips slowly.
It’s so still you
can almost hear it
pull from a porch.

Cold grass claws
like fingers in a
wolf moon. A man
stands in corn bristles

listening, watching
as if something
could grow from
putting a dead child

in the ground





light on the ball
of glass, on
the puddles
under the Hilton.
The St Lawrence glows,
the flag poles,
edges of buildings.
A yellow car in the
salmon light.
Lights are starting to go on.
Green copper roofs glow,
shadows of clouds
over sailboats
on the water.
The smell of leaves,
cool wind blowing.
The water
a ripple of light
like a flag of glass.
Diamond ripples.
I think of Diamond Head,
light that seemed
magical in a strange
town. The only
familiar sign is
one that says
Kresge’s. Light
that will glow
when what
seems to
might not.
Green diamonds,
red diamonds,
blue diamonds
starting to cover
the hill





all that sky
a flat black
with only a cat’s
eyes blazing

people wait alone.
Wind changes in
the cornleaves.
People hear it like

a chord augmented.
Houses chip slowly
stranded in snow.
Only the sky is fast





the long curved
room, the walls

starting to
shimmer, breathe

A Chinese girl
sitting on the stone
bench next to me,

dazed, smiling

The lilies moving
into both of us





picking the leaves
Monday early in
a cool rain huddled
in wet sweatshirts.
Hours in the grey,
knees and fingers
numb. Our skin
smells of violets
while they soak
in the red pan
overnight till we
boil the green.
Then the pectin
turns them lilac.
We pour them into
glass, amethyst
the sun comes thru
on the window
after snow





December, the
water moves
dark between the
snow dunes in ten
thousand hills
pulling light
around the
black stones, a
sound to sleep
and love by
like bells
running thru the
children’s sleep
when they dream
of blue sleighs



SEPTEMBER 26, 1996


this morning the pond
looks like marble. Rose
and charcoal dissolving
to dove, to guava, rouge.
Only mallards pushing
holes in the glass, so
unlike the pond, deep in
trees, almost camouflaged,
startling as coming upon
your reflection in a mirror,
just there under trees and
the wooden bar and the
driftwood benches blackly
jade with pines dripping
into it, shadows close to
my hair. What I didn’t have
blinded me so I hardly saw
the small birds, blue,
pulling out of moss and
needles as if reaching into
the dark for their color





when the black ducks come,
winter opens, a kick pleat in darkness

Eyelash fringe of ferns on shore.
Late fall thunder after a long
Indian summer.

Branches creak. Muskrat slither into
the pond like a stone the tide covers
in the glow of a stranger’s flashlight





one minute, the sun was out, it was fall.
Geraniums under a quilt last night, a
            blotch of red opening.
On the front step what looked like lint
has small pink claws and feet.
Next the sky was the color of lead.

Geraniums under a quilt last night
like a child you’ve tucked in
or a body wrapped in the earth under leaves.
In the swirl of sudden snow, what
was left of the headless fur blows west

Like a child you’ve tucked in
whatever was living, a just born
squirrel I suppose, hardly a living thing
            except for feet.
In fifteen minutes, the light came
back, cars stopped sliding

Whatever was living. Or just born
must have felt the wild snow was a warning.
I thought of the lover wrapped in dark
cloth and left in the leaves while, not knowing,
I took a ballet class. The geraniums

are still under a blue quilt this Tuesday.
One minute the sun was out, it was fall





as if a feather
quilt exploded,
a white you can’t
see in the dark
but breathe, a
wind of white
rose petals,
wave of fog
in the shape of
flying things.
Like radio
voices on
the pillow,
lulling, keeping
what’s ragged
and tears at
bay, the geese
pull sky and stars
in through glass,
are like arms
coming back
as sound





I move thru the first
floor at 3 AM, past
the cat who is curled
in a chair half made
of her fur, turning
her back on air
conditioning, startled
to find me prowling
in the dark as if I was
intruding on stars and
moon and the ripple
in water that spits
back the plum trees.
Grass smells grassier.
The clock inches slowly
toward the light. A
creak of wood and the
soft scratch on the blue
Persian rug the cat claws
gently merge with some
night bird I’ve never
seen like a poem that
goes along and suddenly,
at the end, like a banked
fire, explodes into the
wildest flame that finishes
off everything that has
come before it perfectly





Temperatures falling.
Moon slivers on the
rolling skin of water.
Geese in half light,
armada of feathers.
Wind blows them closer.
One silver band glows.
Their onyx, black flame
in a night fire





Today in Virginia, unseasonably cold,
high only in the mid 30’s.
I think of a night drive from Austerlitz
an hour north to bring in my plants, early September.
The sky tangerine, guava and teal.
My own house strangely quiet, my
cat at my mother’s.

When I think of a night I drove from Austerlitz
to bring in the plants, my mother young enough
to swoop up suitcases, my cat,
I was looking for someone. “Aren’t you glad you
still have me?” my mother purred. The cat I
got after that one, now going on 21,
the ice yesterday a warning.

I was looking for someone. Each time I
left my mother’s rooms, drove thru
Vermont leaves there was an ache becoming myself.
When the wind tore thru yesterday, on the stairs, a
shape that looked like lint with claws.
Later I tucked the geraniums in quilts
like putting a child under flannel or leaves

That ache, a wind under my hair

My mother tucked in the earth.
The headless fur shape with its pink claws
or feet, on its back, a mystery.
Today in Virginia, unseasonably cold





Pale salmon light,
9 degrees. Floor
tiles icy. Past
branches the
beaver’s gnawed,

at the small hole
the heron waits,
deep in the water.
Sky goes apricot,
tangerine, rose.

Suddenly a dive,
then the heron
with sun squirming
in his mouth, a
carp that looks a

third as big as he
is gulped, then
swallowed, orange
glittering wildly
like a flag or the

wave of someone





no swath of light,
no smell of warm
wood shavings. A
rain-coming scent.
Last leaf in wind.
Walnuts on the deck
bleeding ebony. I
think of houses of
ice where there is
no light, of men
carving snow birds,
seals, caribou,
dream llamas as geese
fly up, a cloud of
feathers skidding to
the corn that floats
on the skin of water
the color of night





frozen, perched as
if listening for some
distant code,
news of a warm

front coming in
time. Meanwhile,
alerts go out on
local stations,

schools close
early. The “partly
sunny” never came.
30 percent chance

of snow. Trees tilt
east, the ground
hardens. Geese
take root as scarves

float in wind like
strange new flags





A woman went into darkness,
past the black ruby roses
and was never heard from again.
She moved quietly past
bleached grass a December day
it moved into sixties near Troy.
It was foggy and warm, very
much like today. It could have
been today. You probably think
this woman was me, it seems
there are reasons. But listen
I’ve never seen, only imagine
those tissue thin roses and
that last minute before light
collapses. A garnet leaf
on the pond is less red than
my hair blazing, the lone
signal to guide you in





with glow of
white branches,
clots of snow,
stars in clumps,
you have to bury
your face in
white. In
Syracuse, off
Comstock, the
lilacs just
starting, the
first man who
touched me
inside my
clothes pulled
me under such
white boughs
thru rain dripping.
Lacy boughs, light
filling the
dark orchard.
In this same
jeweled light
opening like
these clenched buds





glow like
stars of lace,
heavy snow
clotting on boughs.
I couldn’t sleep,
the sweet white
floating up
stairs pulled me
back to the
cove of an
old lover’s
arms deep in
such white
dripping branches,
white petals
on slopes of
skin, lips
studding Tuesday
with jewels
in the sweet
grass, locked
like antlers





for the moment, my
cat, who turned her head
at chunks of just
cut beef, now is nuzzling
nearly empty cat food
tins, purrs thru the
night. Limp as rags,
for a week under the
bed, she claws the
rug in the sun. I say
nothing, just listen
as I do to her crunching
food, lapping water
at 2 AM. In stillness
the sound comforts
like bells or words in
Spanish or French
I don’t understand. Her
chewing, like pearls
or amber warming to
skin soothes though it
is as untranslatable
to me as the nuances
under chatter in
the streets in Montreal
or Paris. Still, for
the moment, like music
or velvet, her paws on my
eyelids are a reprieve,
like June, or roses
or lilacs in early light
before anything scorches,
goes limp or loses
its rouge, while morning
glories are a necklace
of amethyst, exotic as
gracias, si, bon, merci





like dreaming of
some place after
you leave it. You
wake up in a daze

rain all day
in the pines.
It goes on
like that green,

like stained glass
between a bedroom
and the hall with
the light always

burning behind it,
cantaloupe and
peach light on
the bed all night









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