© 2018 Gretchen Fletcher

TWO GIANT MEN IN NEW YORK –

 

one smokes Camels on a billboard

incessantly puffing circles of smoke

to float over Times Square.

The other giant – my father –

points to the billboard with one hand,

the other steering our ’40 Pontiac coupe

down Broadway – Watch! Watch!

Here it comes again! – he shouts

as he flicks ash and sparks

from the tip of his Lucky

out the car window

into the New York night.

 

Another New York night –

the lights of Times Square out,

the headlamps of our Pontiac painted

black except for thin slits

that guide us over the dark bridge

to our home in Brooklyn.

Air raid sirens scream

as an unidentified plane circles the city.

My father smokes in our closet

lest the Germans see the small red dot

I watch as it moves through the dark

from his side up to his giant’s mouth

and back again incessantly.

 

Connections: New York City Bridges in Poetry, 2012

 

 

 

 

JUST A TASTE OF FRIENDSHIP

 

Down rows of espaliered vines now

in this season cut back

almost to stumps

past oak barrels stamped “Beaune”

to wood planks set on sawhorses –

makeshift tables for momentary friends

who like as not will never meet again.

We sit like lifelong pals and watch circles

of California sun float in our glasses.

Our laughter grows like our friendship.

The Cabernets are fun,

but then the Pinot Noirs become really funny

and make way for knee-slapping Chardonnays

followed by hysterical Zinfandels.

Our new-found friends become wittier

till, the sun low, we vow to stay in touch

then go back down those rows

of vines and leave, forgetting

to exchange e-mail addresses.

 

Wine, Cheese & Chocolate, 2014

 

 

 

THREE HAIKU

silent flakes fall

wild turkey’s red feet

crunch the snow’s crust

 

fragile feather beats

against an adobe wall

driven by the wind

 

blue juniper bush

springs from a bed of rocks

keeping its foothold

Lifting the Sky: Southwestern Haiku & Haiga, 2013

 

 

 

 

EXCESS IN PARIS

 

where after sex we wrapped ourselves

in Porthault robes, ate gift basket pears,

and stepped through French doors onto the balcony

where we could look into that designer’s atelier

and down on the Rue de la Tremoille where

someone was always playing “La Vie en Rose”

while we watered geraniums

with little green bottles of Perrier,

an excess, yes,

but you had to be there, I guess.

It seemed to make sense at the time.

There was so much of Paris,

and we didn’t want to waste a drop of it,

wanted, instead, to use it up,

and order every morning

those little melons with heart-shaped tops

and piles and piles of fraises du bois,

then at night suck powdered cocoa

off fistfuls of those almonds from Les Princes

before making love again.  


The Way to My Heart, 2017

 

 

 

 

THE SAND WOMEN


 

The sand women of Mali

practice their trade in Araouane.

Six days by camel north of Timbuktu,

they bear bowl after bowl of encroaching

sand away from doorsteps, lest homes and

mosques be buried under a constantly shifting

Sahara.  But as swiftly as they clear away the portals,

the wind brings back the contents of their bowls.  The

women grit their teeth and pit themselves against the desert

relentlessly battling it with wooden bowls whose surfaces are

sanded as smooth as the women’s skin, constantly abraded by the

same grains that sift into their nostrils and lips and form rows of ridges

on the desert floor down which continually trickle small pieces of the desert

in their inexorable trek toward the doors of the sand women, one hundred sixty miles north of Timbuktu.  “Poor primitive women,” say their sisters in their cities, “doomed forever to perform tasks that will only need repeating. Why don’t they just give up?”

 

Inkwell, Winter 2000

 

 

 

 

TRANSFIGURATION AT TANGLEWOOD

 

Ozawa’s mighty arms spread out like wings

to bring a symphony across the lawn.

The orchestra’s broad brass and sustained strings

fling out gold stars that light the sky like dawn.

Mahler echoes out across the hills

and drops like rain from Berkshires’ massive pines

down on my ears until my whole soul fills

and makes me feel as drunk as though from wine.

Our picnics packed so carefully lie shut

lest opening them would break the music’s spell,

and stop the train of Mahler’s powerful thought.

While in my heart the music starts to swell

like a balloon too large for me to hold.

It bursts and I become those stars of gold.

 

Prism, 2007

Music in the Air, 2013

 

 

 

 

THEY HAVE THIS THEORY

 

They have this theory that

the universe is all tied up,

a colossal, celestial parcel, bound

round with some sort of strings

no one’s ever even seen,

the only proof  that they exist,

the strings of formulae

as fragile as chalk dust

laid logically in patterns

on boards in an attempt to prove

that if this be true, then that.

One false step in logic,

one misplaced ergo,

and the strung-together theory

unravels.  Its conclusions

fall as flakes into a chalktray.

O Cocheiro De Tchecov, Translated into Portuguese

ELES TÊM ESTA TEORIA

Eles têm esta teoria de que
O universo está todo atado, 
um embrulho celestial e colossal, 
com um tipo de cordas à volta 
que nunca ninguém viu, 
a única prova da sua existência, 
as fiadas de fórmulas 
tão frágeis como pó de giz 
escritas com lógica em padrões 
nos quadros num esforço para provar 
que se isto é verdadeiro então temos aquilo.
Um passo em falso na lógica, 
um ergo fora do sítio, 
e a teoria ligada por cordas 
desfaz-se. As suas conclusões 
caem como focos num tabuleiro de giz.

translated by Francisco Jose de Carvalho
 

 

 

AT ARLINGTON: THE COLDEST SOUNDS

 

Fired salutes echo

off  Virginia hills

like sad thunder.

With smart snaps

gloved hands fold silent

flags into triangles

for women who cry

through Taps

that signal the end

so we go to the cold kitchen

where we eat ham sandwiches

with the crying women

while his skinny-legged dog

with a graying muzzle

clicks sharp toenails

across the linoleum floor.

 

Tidal Basin Review, Summer, 2010

 

 

 

 

LISTENING TO CHOPIN'S BALLADES

 

                     1839

 

Lit by candles

flickering on wall sconces

reflected in mirrors

dripping wax onto table tops

and even his precious Pleyl piano,

a small circle of friends and patrons

sits in his Paris apartment.

Women settle into semi-circled chairs

with a rustle of peau de soie skirts.

Candle flames send sparks

from jewels circling necks and wrists

and dangling from eager ears.

In a corner Sand sits in a halo of smoke,

comfortably-trousered legs crossed.

His hands hover over the keys.

No one dares cough.

His friends exhale only after he strikes

the opening two-octave C's in F major.

 

                       1959

 

Lit by the greenish glow from the stereo dial,

we lie on the floor of your apartment,

watching the record circle the turntable,

listening to the tweeter and woofer balancing

the sound of your prized LP –

Horowitz playing the Ballades.

Your arm pillows my head.

The album cover reads:

“a quiver of excitement runs through”

the third and “the main theme...

recaptures happiness...every time it reappears.”

 

           2009

 

The dimly lit memory reappears.

I see us, I hear the Chopin,

and I quiver with happiness.

 

Chopin with Cherries, 2010

 

 

 

 

ISLAND COLORS

 

Back to the heat

of summer, let’s go back

and be girls again

when all the island’s technicolors

pulsed hot – except for the cool

dampness in your father’s greenhouse

that gave us shade to hide under

and share our brilliant whispers

behind his sprays of Vanda orchids.

You tell me again

your most cerise secrets,

and I’ll splash you with my yellows

oranges and tangerines.

Our stories will once again fly

through the hot air between us

like the squawking green parrots

in the ficus trees above us.

The incessant scraping of cicadas

in the black-green casuarinas

will keep our stories

just between us girls.

 

A Bird in the Hand, Risk and Flight, 2011

First Place Winner

 

 

 

 

DEEP SLEEP

I dive deep into briny sleep,
a semblance of the salty sea
I swam in before I was washed
onto the shore of life. There, where
time marches on without chronology
things not yet experienced
are forgotten
and things already in existence
can be created.
Submerged, I explore wrecks
lying long-forgotten on the bottom,
now crusted over with a calcified patina.
Just ghost forms of the originals,
they lie oddly juxtaposed
with phylum-less creatures that swim in
and out of hulls and bulkheads.
Their jewel bodies flash past
in the murkiness, and I strain my eyes
in vain to see them again.
Their movements defy Newton's laws;
their forms negate Darwin's theory.
These depths are governed by their own rules.
I hold my breath and buy into the chaotic
order of the place. I'm only passing through,
after all, and will resurface at length.

 

Deep Waters, 2012

 

 

 

 

FISHING WITH MY FATHER

 

The memory flickers like a film

continually projected on a wall –

my father and I are baiting hooks.

We cast our lines and set our reels.

 

Continually projected on a wall

I see us now as we were then –

we cast our lines and set our reels

and settle down to wait for bites.

 

I see us now as we were then –

my father and his only “son” – a girl –

we settle down and wait for bites

and talk of God and space and time.

 

My father and his only “son” – a girl –

separated only by our age and sex –

we talk of God and space and time.

The images run as off a movie reel.

 

Separated by our age and sex,

we bait our hooks and wait for bites.

The images run as off a movie reel.

The memory flickers like a film.

 

Tigertail, A South Florida Poetry Annual, 2005

 

 

 

 

FISHING

 

It all starts with a line

whisked from behind

the head, flung far out

across the shoulder to hover

over a pregnant stream

before breaking the suspense

of its surface and sinking,

sinking till thumb-stopped

and set with a backward crank.

Then down there in that black world

a midge-sized feather of an idea

goes to work, looking,

looking for something to hook –

something to use –

some prism-scaled trout, perhaps,

that will land flapping at our feet,

gasping our air with vermilion gills.

Even some ancient algae-d boot

will do, home to worms and leeches,

trailing long, untied strings

and strands of water weeds.

Then the process starts

all over with the casting,

casting about for something

to write, line after line,

to the last line.

 

Poetry as Spiritual Practice, 2008

 

 

 

 

9/12/01

 

Now to poets falls the chore

of weeping onto pages the words

of those who can only stand agape,

frozen in silent, Munch-like screams.

 

“Oh, woe,” the poets cry.

“Oh, woe.”  And, “Oh, no.”

 

Poets must now wrench new words

from their guts, gagging on similes,

as they cough up dust-choked metaphors

too deep for others to utter.

 

“Oh, woe,” they say.

“Oh, woe.”  And, “Oh, no.”

 

Poets now search through thesauri,

Bartlett’s, and their memory banks

for words by poets of an older order,

but they find no words for the scream.

 

So, “Oh, no,” they write.

“Oh, no.”  And, “Oh, woe.”
 

There are no fresh images for the stale

stench of deathly dust that stifles words.

So this poet now resorts to the remembered

sing-song words of childhood.

 

“Ashes, ashes,” I write.

“We all fall down.”

 

Echoes from the Heart, An Anthology of Poetry for Peace

 

 

 

 

BRAIDING

 

I stood between her knees,

locked into place so I couldn’t squirm

as she pulled each triple-strand hank

eye-wateringly tight, lest wayward wisps

work their way out of the proscribed pattern.  

Left over center, right over center,

always the outside coming across

to become itself the center.  With each crossing

she wove into my head with Germanic precision

a preference for order over chaos, then added

the incongruity of bright, ironed, grosgrain ribbons.

At length, released from the prison of her legs,

I went, braided, into the world, bound

to her as strongly as though by ropes

or that severed cord that once made us one.

 

Family Pictures, 2007

 

 

 

 

THE DAY THE KING DIED

 

We went to the City in heat

too hot for my long-sleeved dress –

my sister-in-law and I –

to celebrate my birthday.

 

August 16, 1977,

we rode the bus up Fifth Avenue,

the brightness of my day

dimmed by city haze.  We looked

 

at golden breastplates

fit for Scythian kings

and drank iced tea

in the Metropolitan’s café

 

then came back to our husbands

swimming in the Jersey suburbs

who said – Did you hear the news?

Did you hear?  Elvis died today. –

 

To think: on my big day!

And then I was sorry I hadn’t gone

to see him when he came to town.

That was before he was The King.

 

To think: he died on my big day!

– Does anybody want a drink? –

my brother-in-law called as Scampy

jumped into the pool after a tennis ball.

 

Sincerely Elvis, 2005

 

 

 

 

COMING OF AGE IN THE TROPICS

 

How’s a teenage girl to feel

when the sticky, thick scents

of gardenias, frangipani,

and night-blooming jasmine

 

come through her bedroom window,

and the night’s so hot

it makes her sheets wet

so she takes her pillow outside

 

and sleeps on the prickly zoyzia

grass blades under the palm tree

where the fronds filter moonlight

into stripes on her face?

 

How’s a teenage girl to feel

as she squashes the ripe red flesh

of fallen Surinam cherries

with bare, tanned feet

 

or when she halves a fallen avocado

and squirts onto its velvety yellow meat

the tangy juice of a Key lime

she found in the white sand?

 

How’s she to feel  

when she breaks star-shaped flowers

from the ixora hedge and sucks

drops of nectar from their long stems?

 

How’s she to feel

when everything’s blooming or in bud

and her backyard’s full

of alamandas, oleander,

 

bougainvillea and hibiscus,

with only ficus and banyan trees

to shade her from the heat,

and the names of other trees,

 

Australian pines and Brazilian pepper,

sound like places to run away to?

How’s a teenage girl to feel

coming of age in the tropics?    

The Chattahoochee Review, Spring 2001

 

The South Atlantic Coast and Piedmont, 2006

 

 

 

 

MEMENTO MYSTERIUM:

A LITANY FOR LOST REVERENCE


 

For the Kyrie and Agnus Dei

sung by young boys

For antiphonal notes

reverberating off marble floors

and rising to balconies

I mourn

 

For hosts of angels dancing on pins

and that other Host on the silver paten

with its accompanying chalice

For the belief that it is

what it doesn’t appear to be

I mourn

 

For prayers that soar dome-ward

through dust motes in sun streaks

stained the colors of the windows’ glass

For incense rising from silver censers

to carry those prayers heavenward

I mourn

 

For faith upheld by flying buttresses

For awe in the presence of mystery

lying behind a dossal curtain

For smoke from snuffed candles

joining the scent of lilies

I mourn

 

For droning litanies recited by rote

For dogma accepted without question

For devotion proclaimed without thought

For sworn allegiance now betrayed

I mourn

Quiddity, Spring/Summer 2008