Hourglass Years: A Poetry Anthology by Mary Susannah Robbins - HTML preview

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Hourglass Years

Copyright © 2011 Mary Susannah Robbins

The Poems

And so a little has been accomplished

though not so an autobiography

could tell the difference - a rift diminished

there, and there greater uncertainty.

Books are blooming projected hours.

The pen turns cycles no life has told

nor been told - how little we ask of others

these written questions before they are old.

My sorrow and I are that kind of lovers

again though the winter had crystalled over

all but the moment that gleamed so crucial

it almost seemed time was my new lover.

I'm rambling and tired. Life seems a story

set down so lightly no poem could act

to bring up mysteries from the warmth

that will not yield to time or fact.

What is a novel? I've always avoided

words that devour in setting forth,

prepared to eat my own words, prepared

to distinguish life from what it is worth.

They say we are tending to write longer poems.

I tend to sleep less and write shorter lines,

but am willing to try with the best of them,

though I wouldn't take lengths as the signal signs.

Who was that vague blond Indian young one

who wants her poems to be secondary?

She can choose if she's lucky; my values refuse to consciousness any such hierarchy.

Let it all go, the comparing and growing.

Write what you can't dream and sleep out the rest.

My only worries the lack of presence

that makes the thought count - that kind of test.

O yes, I know it's better, and all that -

good and sad, that's what it is, good and sad

after years of bad and happy. Ararat

is a mirage, the water's where we gad

and a thousand seamews veer their bodies down

the air, and in that silent weight we drown.

Here is no sea to play in, and no youth

to bring us home rejoicing, after hours.

The snake we dreamed of has a human tooth,

Achille's heel's no myth. and all our powers

lead to the inlet and the murky pool

where years ago we played at love and fool.

Our blood's a confident saline solution

that says we first arrived out of this sea

experimentally, and resolution

has brought us back to nature admirably.

Yes. and there's something in the mind that says until we loved we wasted all our days.

Man's no amoeba, though, and must have thought

himself into the thickets and the hills

and built himself a contract, prayed, and sought, Promethean, a cure for nature's chills.

Are we abetting death by this dark ocean,

Regressing to an algae-like commotion?

My heart and body reach for wisdom's string

that always pulled me out of a bad place.

But thought's become a sea that will not sing

without my mind's consent and body's grace.

Here by this tepid, weatherbeaten shore

love rocks the waves, and we're a semaphore.

telephone numbers

they are as intimate

as tenderness, and hate,

private, personal. limited

as something one might have said,

conveyed in undertones.

so that all soon may murmur at their phones,

and when they are revealed

they intimate the depths that are concealed.

choice morsels

distributed to some sweet few, or all.

when they are told

the voice is carefully neutral, soft and cold.

as Sarah Bernhardt

reciting the alphabet

excited violent passions,

these digits, in their fashions

convey al1 that is to be known.

and now, what of the telephone

itself? intimate instrument, closer when

one tells secrets than anyone,

so discreet, acceptable, non-interfering,

one trusts it with one's voice and breathless hearing,

"cradled," as they say,

or at one's lips a dozen times a day.

one is alone with it when one confides

what one most longs to hide.

dusting it, one finds it is all

people, squat, rhythmical.

comfortable, enticing,

a human thing,

at home with itself

on table or shelf

and the clasped receiver

will never deceive one.

It snowed yesterday, and the snow

resolved itself into a dew.

Today the sky is bright and low,

a weight of pressing blue.

My soul went out into the wind

and drifted down, and danced on high.

Today's light freezes up my mind

and I must once more cry.

The freedom of the heart and limbs

to take all paths, whatever path,

has vanished. The sun sings and climbs

in ancient love and wrath.

Yesterday I sang: the fall

of snow wept for some, but for me

its benediction over all

set my diffuse 1ife free.

Today I sing because the sun

sings louder than I can uphold

and says, It's all to be the one

of beaten gold.

May, 1975

It's nearly over, and I wouldn't have it

any different, but with ends beginning

something blocks the throat - I wouldn't have it different, but the heart goes up like tinder

particularly if you've joined the union.

It's a job like any other, I’d say,

though some others hold it wastes more anguish -

anyway, the union was in order,

not to let the inspiration perish


So, they brought in leaders,

made us sign a statement we supported

freedom and equality in hiring.

Only trouble is, what's freedom got

to do with suffering? We are all equal

to suffering. That's when the fire started,

fire burning all equal sufferers.

Sure I'd hoped for freedom, but I thought it

something of a state of mind, respected,

government-controlled - not like this yearning

suffering's let loose.

But that's the union.

1'll be back next year. My contract's good

three more winters. Only, where's the end

now we're all suffering together? Bed

with the women, beer among the men.

She was very prolific.

Night after morning

beside the Pacific

a crash without warning

would leave the beach bare.

The fraught edge withdrawing

caught her unaware,

where some snail was pawing

and clams sank, sand-bubbled,

the vanishing ocean

the glitter. fleck-troubled,

the silent commotion

left day half-ended,

night's birth half-stilled

while her wet pen defended

what radiance killed.

Lumps of music like gold stones

roll down chasms wet with fired

all the tackle of life's hire

burns like amber in the bones,

sears away a dream. Bereft

of flesh's impudence and sleep

here at pinnaces of deep

nightblue fire, sing what's left.

Codas blind with finish rare

as blood in heaven rinse our eyes

of all but light, and leopard-wise

our glances narrow: joy, despair.

Joyous and desperate, we narrow

a1l that's left into one flame

that burns until all is the same,

its echo in our shouting marrow.

The man on the radio says it's just one of those days.

I believe him. The sky is like a dark sack. The trees are still under the weight of the air. The horizon's combustible, dull orange under the clouds. I believe what he says.

It's one of those days when you can't die, or love, when words come instead of tears. There's no difference between night and day and the morning stretches back to the night before. If you say it's just one of those days, I believe you. I hear the swords clash in my heart with a muted sound. I listen

for some fine-edged distinction between right and wrong but the air is heavy in my heart. The birds' song -

is it weeping, or just some innocent natural glisten?

It's one of those days when dullness terrifies, and the sound of cars is some impossible dream.

I can remember how it all would seem

if it weren't just one of those days. Emphasize just. The radio says it will pass. Heavy-eyed,

what is one to go on on a morning when the power is turned off? Will afternoon bring a clearer hour?

I long for something to judge, or say, or decide.

“It's just one of those days,” and we all know what he means.

Wrestling with God for our souls seems a glad illusion like strength or weakness or blood, or rainy confusion in the field, and your scatters; flowers, and all those scenes.

My grandfather sits like a twist of lemon

in a cool full glass. His skin

is waxy, and the ear proferred to me

for a kiss is a dry drop, a flake.

His shirt is crisp, clean and white his cheeks.

He sits in a cool removed liquid

irradiate. The white sun burps

as in some foreign country his linen passed through tëns of years ago. He has become his cool drink.

In the courtyard Piaf throws it out,

all that memory of war dead. I leap

across the night lo catch the yelled agony

that is like a drink, half moon. half sun,

foreign hearts. emphatic loud despairs.

My grandmother would never think of singing

in their final arboretum, but I imagine

she is singing of accordions, we are singing

of bells and valleys' horizontal light.

The trees are tossed in the wet air of memory,

leaning against the clear white sky.

All at once, as by a weather-god's decree,

bodies and souls ajoin like the pale and dark

heaven that breathes on sense that has grown shy.

When the blue tears out, and we are overcome

with its richness, our whole life is in praising the sky, and our absorption into some

exterior, our rush out of ourselves

into a white glove holding a paintbrush, raising our hands with fantastic and courtly bitterness that we can be, and yet not be, the sun,

the same conflict, only refined, of happiness

that shuts out memory, laying image on image

superimposed, that life may blaze and be one.

But today the body is clear, the air is damp

and our words know themselves, that used to scan for outer evidence or inner stamp

of credibility or relation. Now we breathe

something the roots, the rain, the shoots of past years plan.

One morning last dream,

last of many variegated prints

of liquid black and fire tints

the patterns on the window screen

shone waking green.

What is this fecundity

my morning window silhouettes?

Light says, brace not to forget

afore astringent galaxies

for softer trees,

"Keep back the grasses,

keep back birds' song

remember all that nightly right and wrong

for terror and truth so sharp as

a hawk's wing pass."

Song, there sang birds once too.

All was not flaming iron poised

to brand the daylight without noise.

without weariness comes no youth.

Morning's colors weave the light with truth.

Sing, then, for the bird's flight

not without effort, though it seems to drift,

for the sun finding a beam to sift

in other rooms, for time's light

catching a moving breeze, a greener night.

Water over the dam - how it boils and rages:

pain of division - the river no longer a river

gay, sparkling, leaping up in dragonflies, the ages of life told in landmarks, the source, continuous giver individuates over stones. around turns; joyful stages awakening to the moon and the sun, the shocking, mellifluous quiver of life playing, descending to the cold darkness sages intuit. To find there, like some impartial-eyed diver, pearls, moonstones, treasures useless as wages.

No reward, no incentive runs the mysterious liver.

And then, to have it all broken, the sheen

cursed and moiled, dragging up mud, not a jewel, obliterating all that, lovely and lissome, has been.

To adapt, the water charges, "This was always" - a fool afraid to feel. So the rack takes it all, all it has seen and garbles the fresh, multitudinous, rippled, cool surface and depth, saying, You have forgotten the mien of joy says, Under my skin- joy is wisdom. Dual river, remember: save yourself, do not break, for clean over the crisis you will see your face in your own clear and placid pool.

The sun falls into the sea

and the child into his bed.

I must hurry to be alone

under the shadowed tree.

My life that was holding me

halting and slow, is done -

the last dark hours have sped:

I have said goodbye, said she.

Said he, She has gone away.

dried her dim tears and left.

Tonight when I raise the light

and sit before the fire

I shall search and inquire

whether the change is right

that leaves me cold and bereft,

reluctant to face the day.

Said they, We are driven apart

by time, soul's necessity,

by lobbing on what is real

and choosing of quiet dreams,

and we ache - yet something redeems

the wound and lets it heal

under the shadowy tree:

in the fire of the heart.

I have a heart open to all.

Where it came from I don't know

made perhaps of a spring bird's call

and the quiet sound of the tinkling snow.

Friends and lovers are scattered far,

lost in a dream or tense with rage.

I would call forth all that are

part of my heart upon the page.

The wildest, and the ones who come

to mind most now, are those that share

dwelling-place with their feelings alone,

and never know a man's care.

And those whose duty seems to lie

in creating an artifact of their lives-

their drama makes my heart shy

but in the end they, too, forgive.

Then there are the radiant, various

souls who turn from love to hate

whose interests beyond self-knowledge lose

all pettiness in their profane passion for fate.

All these are in my mind, and yet

one escapes speech, whose daily mood

is innocent with the control which begets

truth, and the deepest choice of word.

Those lives has given me many dreams

and the love of the dreams of my soul,

and have made me see beyond what a friend seems to what a heart is when a heart is whole.

Who wants this other rhythm?

Carelessly I throw it away

to the winds - it plays with them,

wet and sunny, any day.

The music in the background,

the music in my heart

are comforting to have around -

come take this other part,

anyone, which is not love

or tears, and yet remains

the evidence that life's above

what satisfies and pains.

Hauteur eclipsed in the gleam of an eye,

dark and white, warm and proud,

speaks to my heart that desires don't lie:

you are my fear, you are my sight,

and I must return to speak out loud.

The turn of a collar, the turn of a hair

are equal in this strange fertile land

where desire lies fallow and seeded by care

that falls from the cups that the tulip tree wears and I say that this time I will understand.

The spotted leopards of the moon

move in our talk running raging with fear,

and the fear and the seedtime are over too soon and the sun pours down, and the sad trees bloom: love continues, and parting is near.

Happiness glimpsed in the flash of an eye

is over before you nor I can blame

more than a hurt. and the heart knows why:

that mornings and hearts are never the same,

that love speaks out in rhymes and games -

all but the heart breaks; now we know why.

There is no everyday for me

I rise and set by poetry

and if the rhymes are old and bowed

the clearest sky's a thundercloud.

There is no everylove for me

each new face, each he or she

testing like acid on a plate

of time, rubs out or burns a fate.

There is no everypoem for me

each moment's a new anarchy

where thing and thought cannot forget

one must fall from my parapet.

There is an everywhere for me

my page is sand and wood and sea

and love and day - how should 1 dare

but call this table, Everywhere?

Because You Are Here

Now that the need has passed. now that the need has changed, how grateful the need is to be

evoked. You are the need and the fulfillment, the seed and the rain. You are the eye and that I see,

the hunger and the sustenance, but more. You are the cover of my heart when it is awake, that allows it to dream aware. Without you, I am laid over

myself, filled into myself, mortared shut. Without you I have neither terror nor safety, doubt nor certainty, sun nor shadow. I am neither awake nor asleep. I

neither remember nor forget. Now one

is the answer to all final statements that now turn to questions -


Here the mountains are the clouds

pointing from ephemera

toward where the silver light explodes:

days defy all memory.

A perfect past will shoot out here,

a child, respecting pointed leaves

as things of God that shine out there,

but not too careful where God lives.

What will its mother think at dawn

when rising to the mountains' white,

the dreams of clouds recalled and done,

she turns to where the cradle's lit?

Wind moves the cedars. All is safe

from fancy's ghost and fury's wrench.

Down in the garden, half to half,

the teapots grow a flowered inch.

The sky is bare. The leaves shout up

their cry to blue. The sun is low.

A child's preoccupied first step

rejoices in what others do.

What heartstrings rustled in the swell

when God touched man to his green world?

What great passion flower fell

when all surrendered as it would?

I think you don't remember.

Do you remember the rose window?

Do you remember the roses?

I remember your mother.

Do you remember when you said to me,

How I am bent.

You are bent into my sight.

You are bent into a rose window.

I remember a love and a summer.

You were not there.

Your mother bends over the roses.

She raises her eyes and remembers.

I remember a moon when you told me you loved and missed me.

I remember a moon when you told me of love.

Your mother sent me rosecovered nightgowns.

There was no moon the night I loved.

I remember a child and a mother.

I remember remembering loving.

Do you remember the white beds where we talked of love?

Did you know that that is where there was no moon?

Do you think my love remembers loving me?

Remember for me. I love what you do not remember.

I love you and remember.

Window Decoration

a round slate of green

written on with morning

depends from the sun.

a vegetable zodiac.

or lamprey or electric ocean.

beneath the light. there is some miner

here or locomotive. light

brightening and approaching hard like

the softest vision of hell

one can imagined one's eyes are

not removed, one's tongue does not go

dead before the sight of that speech

fully-grown and flatly wizened as

a dark mushroom pressed in glass so

green the bottom nub is like amber

sealing wax, so round

that under its pressure

words have all objects.

The soft pebbles of words

succeed one another

tumbling like dew from the

dark. Morning silences

revolve small in the clouds.

The grey bark stills its tall

circular progress while

the branches grow straight out.

A high limb stretched across

the yard lets squirrels run

soft linear streaky like

furry locomotives.

We cannot ensconce the night.

The fire is put out now

that the motion danced in

lifts. The dispell of bark-

smoke like a gray bud dreg

the red flame like smoothing

still water falls out now

in cloud-like opals which

seen like words, now. all speech

passe drops through the bloom

morning clearing the path.

The sky from the labyrinth changes,

light gives way to black, and below

the cycles the monster arranges

repeats everything that I know.

But watching the clouds hide the sunset

I think, never darkness before

impelled me. I sleep, I forget

sleep, or run, or abhor,

but to dark I awaken once more.

In moments of sight I awaken

and think I have lived in a dream

which must constantly be overtaken

If I am to sing as I seem.

The mornings bring only remembrance

but sometimes, ascending the stair,

I greet and pass by my resemblance,

look up to the sky and the air

and see a new ancientness there.

The cycle continues to wander,

the spiral the monster foretells.

His laugh now is clearer and fonder.

I hear it through prisons and dells.

It is my voice, forever repeating

the dream and the morning's recalls

the maze of the world and my greeting

to memory, wakening, all

as they plunge down a darkening fall.


In shining beds of tulip leaves

lies my love

in grey beds of dawn's upheaval

dreams will move

the sun like water, sad and cold

My love is like a ferny spoke

under rain

growing like water at the tip.

A drop of pain

falls in sorrow, so full, too old.

Souls are forced from the clouded sky.

How can we

sustain a root in this empty

lake alley?

Here on the ground grey leaves unfold.

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