Guest Poet Cynthia B. Coleman


Up from Flag Pond
To the Carolina crest
An asphalt serpent twists
Along draws and ridges draped
In the thickest nap of green,
Circling higher and higher, a tongue’s
Reach to open skies, fearless
To look back at the emptiness
Of time against stone.

We are travelers, merciless
In the ribless innards that crankles
Us left, lurches us right, the ascent
Of blue car through green ophidian—
We search for the few pegs of relief,
Remnants of flimsy rails, flaking
White, that as we rise grow
Arms which mock us with their litter
That skitters the road with their bits
Of rent silk crepe, black against black
Patches of grief, wreathes that once hung
On the markers of those who ignored
The serpent’s hiss, those whose memories
Are pegged to earth by lovers unwilling
To forget, let go, drive on—
Obi crosses that do not warn, but call
The shades of long past to walk again
This path of Appalachian voodoo.

February, 2000

Cynthia Coleman's Questions:

1. Do the name places make a difference or not, sense or not; do you have any reference to place?

2. I, the poet, intend for place to be important to the poem, whether or not it is for the reader. What occurs in the poem is regional, yet is this occurrence universal in understanding and place unnecessary to meaning?

3. Do the word choices of ophidian and Obi cloud your understanding, or do they urge you to pick up the dictionary?

4. Do you hear the slight internal rhyme scheme?

Twilight Reel

Cotton spread sprawled on dew­settled grass,
A wick transilient against our skin—
The damp sinks in, chills us to earth.
In the subtle dichotomy of flesh, the night
Air—soft, scented—slides across bare limbs,
Warms us as we gaze upon the tenebrous sky,
Three nights before sacred translation
Of flesh into the essence of that
Which hovers beyond the brim of vision.
Called to evensong by stellar winds, we hear
The bear’s roar, dog’s howl, leonine aspiration
Diminished by the churr of bees
In Cancer’s shell—we turn to listen, silenced
As the moon’s full face rises, obscures
All which lay hidden by night’s fall, illuminating
That we are the island universe, surrounded
By coupled stars that cling to each other
As we embrace, unable to resist the gravity
Of mutual enticement—tumbling, huddled
Together against damp quilts or the black
Sponge of space—an eternal dance, the deity’s
Grace of carnal joy turned, turned, returned
To divine ecstasy, seamless fusion into

February, 2000

Cynthia Coleman's Questions:

1. I more than often write about physics and astronomy, which this poem refers to. Are the references too obscure?

2. The poem has stars and people coupled, as well as science and faith. Are these couplings apparent? and  what do you make of them?

3. I have been criticized about my diction, that it is too elevated and macaronic; do you find examples here? Do they, elevated and macaronic, bother you?

4. Is the ending clear? Who is the "One?" How do they become one?

Turn of Tongue

Even half­lit, I could not see
Whom these strangers were, sitting in the living
Room, though told they were my family
Aunts, uncles, cousins, my grandmother.
All foreign to me, living up north, a row
House squeezed in between its twins, heavy
With queer odors, home ground sausage
And piroghi; a home thick with clacking
Tongues, gibberish to my southern ears. People
Who looked past this little child pretending
That I could not see their curious difference
From me, acting as though I must be dismembered
From the family tree, an uninvited guest tagging
Along with long­lost brother, my father. So I sat
Watching them re­enact family drama
From long ago, sibling rivalry, pecking order, who best
Pronounced the mother tongue—Lithuanian.
Huddled beside my mother’s chair, a very silent
Chair, uttering not a single word, churning
With displacement—my mother, she tells me
Play outside, and shoves me through
A battle zone defenseless—I pretend
Invisibility, imagine octopus arms covering eyes,
Ears, mouth, scurrying me across
The diagonal line to freedom, though a buzz
In my ear follows me outside—the tiny
Woman they say bore my father last  a crinkly smile,
Eyes that shone through the darkness of jabber, and a hand
Leads me into the shine of out­of­doors, a plop
Of green in a thick tarpaper canyon,
Green of grass surrounded by the deeper green
Of trees, dappled underneath like the sides of rainbow
Trout my father catches each spring. His mother’s hand,
Plump, warm, slightly crusty, leads me to the bed
Of flowers spangled with the hum of flying things
Butterflies, beetles, bumble and honey bees.
Her tongue clicks a sound, but I stare at her
Outstretched fore finger and watch as a fat
Bee hovers down between knuckles. And my grandmother
Clucks at it as she strokes the tiniest wisp of bee fur,
Then pulls my hand up, my forefinger to the bee
And I brush the velvet of its wee yellow back; it’s poky,
Springy, bristles like my old toothbrush softened.
With a flick, my grandmother frees this bee and calls
Another, and another, and then sets one down
On my finger, its teeny feet barely felt except
As it walks up and down the spine of my pointer, leaving
Behind the smallest trail of gold, which Grandmother
Brushes when the bee takes off.  Then she takes me
By the hand, leads me to the screened­in back porch
Where we lay down on the sliding daybed rocking the world
Into late afternoon, hand­in­hand, these two little people
With no language in between but the dance of bees.

February, 2000

Cynthia Coleman's Questions:

1. The opening phrase of "Even half­lit," bothers me; it sounds as though the narrator is drunk--or do you only see that now? Is it understood that the room is dark? Does this unilluminated room bring meaning to the poem?

2. I have had complaints about the phrase, "the tiny / Woman they say bore my father last" Do you have any? and why?

3. This poem is quite different for me--very concrete about an abstract subject--while the two above seem to me to use abstract language about very concrete occurrences. Does this conceit work?

4. Is this poem too sentimental?

Thank you for your comments on these.

The Albany Poetry Workshop