Klee’s “Bird Wandering Off” Sestina
In an orange and strangled sky, Artist,
you strung a moon—engorged it, painted
it pink. Your white peaks graze the picture’s
northern edge, in front of purple peaks.
Then, Paul, you tilted a hidebound pine—
forecasting your own tight rind? A bird, perfect
as truth, exits stiffly west, off the perfect
stair of a house or pyramid—artist,
you make us guess—and behind pines
skewed toward their black exit, darkly painted.
On Breakneck Ridge, precipitous peak
above the Hudson, the pigeon, living picture,
emerald–iridescent, aglitter, picturing
us, stepped out, one eye ruffled, perfectly
suspicious, the other calmly peeking
south, contemplating, like an artist,
the horizon. The scene was like a painting!
I offered food and the dove, pining,
captured it, flew up, an arrow into pines,
pushed forth by wind. Paul, did you picture
this? Was this what you truly painted?
Was that you, waiting at rock’s perfect
edge, sheer exterior, eye glowing like an artist’s,
beaked frown choking on air from high peaks?
Wasn’t this continent the peaked
world you found while slowly pining
away, skin hardening like paint on your artist’s
pallette? Didn’t you look for pictures
in all directions, Maker, your brush sliding down perfect
mountains, the orange sky? You painted
yourself right off living’s side, painted
yourself into pigment, didn’t you? You peaked
early and stayed there, perfect,
breathing heightened air like a stunted pine
in a heady, breathless picture.
You made yourself into an artist,
Paul, and during your slow demise, you pined
for perfection—-always conscious, Artist, picturing
peaks to paint even as you fossilized.
Note: Paul Klee suffered from scleroderma, a chronic skin disease marked by rigid patches of skin adhering closely to the bones.
Night and Loosestrife
This sequence begins before anyone wakes.
Yes, it is the dark of night, and the walls
have closed their eyes. The pillow speaks
of other heads, altruistic dreams; the pillow
is bent on spilling all its pledged secrets.
I, too, may choose to disclose many enigmas,
the black dress, flowing over the chair’s
slender ebony arm, scornfully reports,
I chiefly enjoy trapping evil in my seams.
The keys in their deep pocket clatter, ring,
discuss other doors. I? I cannot move, neither
more nor less; I am held in place by staid and
relentless coverlets. The loosestrife just outside
my window, lazy in its deep ditch, has traveled
a long way; it journeys by itself and in packs,
its pretty pink dress enough of a reason.
—to the memory of Gunnar, a dog
The dog and I, canny as fortune-bones, rambled the woods.
A night branch found us. I carried the gift home and
lashed it to a golden wall. Turning to the window,
I heard the branch talk; I studied how to hoard the yellow
wind; the redwood, sequoia. The willow I planted
listened, too; it escaped the peaked roof; the alder’s crown
prospected the failed bedroom. Roots hungered for
the cellar. The silkgrass embankment waved me away.
The city’s sidewalks were blue, mountains scored and
sliced as easily as bread. Structures more ambitious
than trees ate faces but were left wanting. Again
I pinioned my branch to a wall, this one as red, hungry.
The talking floor rose to greet its descendant. Crowded
into trivial rooms, pressed into heat, my face glitter-stiff,
I faltered. The dog halted his bark, pointed to the door.
The freed windows flushed light, air.
III FOREST, REDUX
I name the wizened stick Gunnarstwig; this final
mountain receives the cracked diviner. Here, stars
chart deer, bobcats, bear. Coydogs sing descant at
the hunter moon. Ghosts loop the black night, morning’s
white rime. The pond tightens—a singular, purple hour
for flocked crows, migrant geese. I have outlasted my
good companion, I have outlived direction. Yesterday,
O yesterday, my shoes wore leaves all day long.
On the Pulaski Bridge
She loves the way water can be curbed, this wizened
woman leaning on the pedestrian barrier. She loves
the rank canal, or is it her body’s weight on concrete,
the tilt of her neck? I’m so smart, I figure her out,
how she’d attach her bag to her bony shoulders,
cementing it; ratchet her frame up the rail; break out.
Bridge on an incline, long arced slant. Freighted bikes,
gears tick-clicking, passing her midnight eye. Under
the bridge’s belly the Midtown Tunnel: $5.50 neon.
Commuters pause, pay up. Good place to watch
the rising rich, I’m thinking. Good place to . . . .
O full moon. The wasted woman wears weeds against
snow, wet, her heart empty as a plundered purse.
Grit swirls, spirals into the numb canal. O wheels
whizzing. The hag sees the red cyclist, holds
her heart aloft. Luna luna, moon, damned dead year.
Gutted, she wishes she were reamed paper, or rice,
or black water’s whirling black snake
Bertha Rogers’s poems appear in journals and anthologies, on Poetry
Daily (poems.com) and Verse Daily (versedaily.com), and in her collections,
Heart Turned Back (Salmon Poetry Publishing, Ireland, 2010),The Fourth Beast
(chapbook, Snark Press, IL, 2004); A House of Corners (Three Conditions Press,
Maryland Poetry Review Chapbook Contest Winner, 2000); and Sleeper, You Wake
(Mellen, NY 1991). Her translation of “Beowulf” was published in 2000 (Birch
Brook Press, NY), and her translation of the riddle-poems from the Anglo-Saxon
Exeter Book, Uncommon Creatures, Singing Things, is forthcoming from Birch
Brook Press. She has received fellowships to the MacDowell Colony, the Millay
Colony, Hawthornden International Writers Retreat, and others. Her poem suite
“Three for Summer’s End” was selected by composer Jamie Keesecker and set to
music for the MacDowell/Monadnock Music for the Mountain series and performed