Thursday, November 08, 2007

Ann Cefola, "Aspiration" & "Shelter Island"

Ann Cefola


Catbirds stop and tilt their slick black heads, look me
in the eye, muscular, too bold, gray.
Totem of translation.

The mocker’s inbred cousin sings like twisting bottle caps,
nails on blackboards, bug in the throat.
Has it
got my tongue?
The poet from Arles.
For her, I spend hours in my New Cassell’s from high school,
so overused its cover dropped off, creamy shell-less pages,
my fingers their spine.

Humidity white against green, air that resists breath.
Cicadas take off heavily.
I step on one who curses me like an old man.
I try to right another. But I am dying, it protests and spins.

Rattle of garden trucks: Labriola, Belantoni, Forgionne.
Mowing basketweave patterns.
Sprinklers throw streams like harp strings,
angular yellow arms darkening road in half-circles.

Sober quiet of small houses.
Night, the Hopper-like yellow next door.
Dryer scents unable to compete with honeysuckle unseen.
On Grand Boulevard, language of deep treads and unyielding concrete.

Black clouds, rains and fast floods.
Swaths of Texas-like storms flying northeast, people on highways five hours.
Don’t take anything with ‘river’ in it.
Hutchinson, Saw Mill, Bronx. Sprain Brook.



Inside, with my dictionary, I search for words like a foray into our cedar closet—
my-mother-in-law’s fur hats scattered on the floor, husband’s old suits like executives
flattened and pressed into silence—


scrape together
take up
pick up

My mother’s organdy dress, blue rose print, spaghetti straps, wasp-waist.



My crinkled black leather jacket. Unwanted loafers.


rub up
crop ends of

Boxes hold me as I stretch past woolens and plastic garment bags,
reaching for what? Certain I’ll know when I see it.

Clothes of people dead or close to dying:
Many are saved, few kept.

What will fit?


The poet and I circled the poetry island at the bookstore on 42nd.
Small talk of poets cherished and met ‘til I
admitted despair at not having a book,
and she exploded like Hera,
spoke so fast I could only translate the fury.
The book—my book—I must and would have one.
I laughed my American best, noted she had three already
and started to call her Déesse.

And so, once again, I slide bulk white envelopes across the counter,
that at least the clerk stamps
First Class.
The poet’s work; my own.
Like putting children on a train and surrounding them
in prayer as heavy steel wheels speed and glide down parallel tracks.

Your traveling mercies.


Summer of cysts: The man pulling my breast,
withdrawing a needle, sponging off chlorhexidine.

He shows me what’s extracted from deep inside.
We look, fascinated, at the needle’s gold liquid he tilts like a jeweler.

A radiologist once advised against this—There’s blood, she said.
Today I would tell her, There’s always a little blood.

These cells want their wholeness seen, the poet from Provence
wants us to see the calcification of the Isle Maïre.

And what I squeeze out from within, my own surgeon, blood,
gold rolling back and forth, an odd luminosity like low sun

at summer’s end, the cicada’s undulating lullabye,
unfathomable as the architecture of a gray feathered wing.

Catbird, these garments I choose for you:
Gather. Remind. Renew.

Shelter Island

Painting. What I do out of some sense of—not the bud—but the root.
That runs away, whose pigment dissolves.
My eyes, fingers on Braille.

I board the bus on Lex to visit Betty—neither godmother, aunt:
she who watched me sprout to shoot to what at 25?
Almost bloom.

Her low 30s bungalow on the water, coolly dark inside,
filled with art by her 90+ mother who, having lost sight, paints
ocean black, sky green and moon red.

Small framed pictures that already see another world.


Alone in my art teacher’s home I stand, 23, in the cavernous studio,
empty of students, floor freshly sanded, shellacked,
wall of window onto lawn.

Lured by the garden, I watercolor, dip brush in pigment and watch it spread against paper
textured white, uncontrollable colors I allow to merge.
Impatient to see anything take shape.

Colors running away.

Art an imitation of life. No, dear Greek, art pumps blue in my veins,
art the principality I came from, long journey equipping me
only to know its inflection, dialect, trade.

On the creamy page, once freed,
day lilies. Iris. Delphinium.


Down south a wedding: My tribe who smiles before we meet—
Sulie Marie, Hoyt Cleveland and Glenn Wren.
My cousin Allan the Cherokee.

Driving Texas to Kansas, Uncle Ben leaves his blinker on
Ben more a twin to Aunt Allie—squinting eyes laughter swallows.
Ben’s wife, Josie, like the shapeshift of a hedgehog.

Arriving at Shawnee Mission, the one-story ranch, they urge me to nap.
Obedient Southern Belle, I strip to my slip and lie surrounded by wheat, corn and
care of three old people tending the next generation like a flame.

Breeze blows sheer curtains out a dry yard.
Next door, Uncle Ben describes ketching a spider.
Aunt Josie, in an apron, pours tea.

My growing body washes ashore, a small shell.
Before life speeds up like a centrifuge, I am
16. In my underwear. Floating in the heartland on waves of white chenille.


After long bus ride out, my square window on marshy backyard. Dog barking.
Dinner on back porch. Next day I head to beach, settle on a low white clapboard house

and begin to fill the undefinable blue of day—sea wall separating sand from yard,
worn wood held by piles, four angled planks.

The black pigment my grandmother forbade I lay under for shade. Yard’s dry-rust grass,
trees and hills teal green. Water sapphire, beach with detritus of dirt

and seaweed a gray tide line. Spiky purple plant at the planks’ feet,
licked by salt air, reaching for sun, strokes rising like fireworks.

Not the delicate spaces my grandmother left in landscapes,
first pencil sketch then patient layering of color. No,

my brush mops up tint that merges, pools and runs like a river. My spine
straight as that weed in the thirsty breeze, where tide rises,

withdraws and leaves treasures, far from monochromatic house and storm cellar,
from sea wall bolstered like a dam about to break: Everything I’ve escaped. Oh my

gracious cousins, rule-bound grandmother and you, Betty, we’ve all built
walls against the flood crest. Run out and returned like tides.

Crouching in sand, breathing in salt air, talking to each hue, I find a landscape within
my authentic home: spiked lavender, lulling tide, rich black loam.

Ann Cefola,

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