Mudlark Poster No. 57 (2005)

Anne Colwell

Unlearning the Stars | Meditations: Divine and Mortal | Hope | Margarita

Anne Colwell’s work has appeared in Midwest Quarterly Review, The Alsop Review, Southern Poetry Review, Dominion Review, Atlanta Review, California Quarterly, Octavo and Eclectic Literary Forum. Eve Shelnutt's anthology, THE WRITER'S ROOM, has a chapter on her poems in it entitled “Discovering the Voices of Biblical Women.” Her manuscript, BELIEVING THEIR SHADOWS, was a finalist for the Brittingham Prize at the University of Wisconsin, the Anhinga Prize, the New Issues Poetry Prize, and the Quarterly Review of Literature (QRL) Poetry Series. Her book INSCRUTABLE HOUSES: METAPHORS OF THE BODY IN THE POEMS OF ELIZABETH BISHOP was published by the University of Alabama Press.

Unlearning the Stars

My father taught me Orion’s belt,
the first of night’s forms I could pick out,
three stars, equidistant, aligned.

An order.  First you find order,
then blur your eyes; the warrior steps out,
Sirius and Procyon yelping

as he strikes at Taurus,
yearns toward the Pliedes,
the remembered face, beautiful Merope.

Cassiopoeia, sad Queen.  Right
ascension: one hour, Declination:
sixty degrees.  Best seen in November,

A lopsided W.  Chained, for her pride,
as we all are maybe, to what she most loved,
Shedir shines at her breast.

The captain I love taught me she cried
for men lost at sea, protected
their reckless crossings.

Every name has a story
of love and loss, of vanity.
Altair, Deneb, Vega, Polaris.

Before first light, I set out to escape
myself, my small sadness, but move beneath
a storied sky.  Gemini, Lynx, Castor,

Pollox.  From this overlook
above the Cape, where Ursa major
lumbers from the waves,  I try to look

Beyond constellations, and through,
to jumble lines, to blink them clean.  But there they are,
Aquila, Pegasus, Cygnus, Draco.

I want to unlearn the stars,
to run beneath a wordless sky, as I am,
my small light, meteoric,

a sizzle and hiss overhead
caught in the corner of an eye, gone
before a voice can manage, “There.”

Meditations: Divine and Mortal

“You once desired me to leave something for you in writing
that you might look upon, when you should see me no more;
I could think of nothing more fit for you nor of more ease
to myself than these short meditations following.”

      — Anne Bradstreet to her son Simon in the dedicatory letter
      to Meditations: Divine And Moral,
March 20, 1664

I think of Simon Bradstreet combing
Meditations for an explanation
that certainly isn’t there
of an arched eyebrow, or the story
(told once, now hopelessly confused)
of some uncle’s difficult horse,
the aunt who embroidered
the wedding dress.

Divine and Moral: she tried to give 
all she knew, but it can’t be enough.
Children never ask the right questions,
and, no matter what,
what’s left behind suffers in translation.

Looking out the window, away 
from her spinning, in the last place
she would live, if she thought 
of her other houses burning,
thought to put something of her 
own journey down for him,
it was more than most.
Though, of course, wholly inadequate.

When I was twelve or thirteen
I found an old tape recorder,
two reels spooling into each other:
my grandfather’s voice teaching me
to say my alphabet at age three.
Hearing it, my father stopped 
in the hallway, stood in the door,
tilted his head.

I know that look now.
He was running the voice
through the fine comb
of intervening years.
Then he turned and went on—
what he wanted to hear
wasn’t there.

Simon Bradstreet must have shut that book
once a year on some winter day,
wishing she’d lived just one more week,
until he’d thought to tell her
the right things to say.


       — from Edward Hopper’s painting, 11 AM, at the Hirshorn Gallery

Inside the frame
	is the room.
Inside the room
	is the woman.
Inside the woman
	is what you will insist
	is hope		
		though you cannot see through
		the dark curtain of her hair
		to what you believe are soft eyes.

The room is small,
The woman naked,
The chair she sits in blue
	as she hunches herself
	forward toward the light
		of midmorning
			that will not fall on her
			that insists it will not fall on her
				but stops instead at the window frame

Refusing even to touch
The painting above her head
	or the dresser
	or the toes of the sensible pumps
She wears, still wears, maybe
	or wears already
	you can’t know.

And the dresser holds the clothes
	she has either just removed
	or is about to put on.
But still you will say
	focused out the window
		to a street you imagine
			someone might be walking down
				any minute, someone who might

Touch the soft breasts
	and lift that fall of dark hair
	to find the soft eyes you know
		you know are there.

Only angels can touch 
	such loneliness
	or the man beside me —
		strong profile, compassionate hands —
But he shifts his gaze
	to another frame,
	angles his head away,
	even if she insisted
		would not stay.


In a Mexican bar,
	in a strip mall
		by the highway — 
	Pennsylvania, early fall.
Do you see where we are?
Do you see the way the headlights
	read the other cars like Braille,
	like eyes searching a face?

I’m seventeen.

Behind the strip mall
	is a thin, shabby stand of pines,
	behind that, track housing.

I’ve ordered my first margarita
	with my fake i.d. and I watch
		the glass sweat and lick
			thick salt from my fingers.
I have not yet tasted carne adobado;
	that is coming.

The night settles into the hills
	seeps down the river
		into the city.

I haven’t slept with the beautiful boy
	who sits across from me
		dark hair and gold eyes.
I haven’t smoked a cigarette
or been to Spain
or discovered that the soul
	can grow sick of itself
		and lonely for God.
I haven’t been truly ashamed
	or lost anyone I loved.
I haven’t yet lost anyone I love.
All that is coming.

The drink is sweet and salt, the frozen heat
	of tequila; it tastes like weeping.
But I don’t know this yet.

In the Mexican bar,
nothing is written.
	Anything could happen, 
		anything — 
			As long as it is
What did happen
What is happening now
What will happen —
the taste of the drink I haven’t had,
	the young girl I don’t yet know.

Copyright © Mudlark 2005
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