Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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SHJ Issue 1
Spring 2010

[Two Poems]

Kathleen Graber

Letter from Cornwall

—To Stephen Dunn
How I have been helped
By Jean and Madron’s Albert
Strick (He is a real man.)
And good words like brambles,
Bower, spiked, fox, anvil, teeling.
—W.S. Graham

Here, the rain hammers even as the sun shines; in this way
it’s not so different from the coast we know. Perhaps space,
despite the stone-built hedges, does not cut cleanly & everywhere
the sky shimmies sometimes just this same opalescent gray.
And if all the great logical-linguistic dichotomies turn out to be,
like the clamorous echoes of the gull off the moors at Zenor,
one voice, caught between the cliffs, switching back upon itself—

well, you’d hardly be surprised. And if some days the words
are less interested in the world than they are in their own making,
isn’t it a selfishness we can forgive? The things get tired
of the ideas; the ideas, the things. I’m a little tired just now
of this body, but what can anyone do about that? Today
I understand for the first time that it is the Trengilly farmhouse
I see every morning resting on my shoulder. Washing my face,
I look into the mirror & out the window behind me
to this one visible human stitch in the scene—the back of a building
I’ve seen many times from other angles but have been so slow
to recognize from my own. Any big claim in all of that
is not about phenomenology or optics, but merely about
realizing, finally, how best to get back later to where I am.

Once you told me, Every poem needs a Buick. And it’s true,
even the poems without roads, even the poems in which Buicks
have not yet been invented. Because isn’t a Buick
just another way to utter the various desires: another bed
& wheelbarrow. The bower & brambles & the fox. The weight
& roll of the ordinary-fantastic, the empty-full. At least

this is what I am thinking as I walk the scrawny tree lines
gathering kindling between pastures of cows. I break,
as I go along, the broken limbs, some mossy & some as hard
& bare as bone, into even smaller bits & drop them,
without judgment, into the bag. What poem isn’t a poem
about poems, even though we work against it? The cottage
has a stove & a night storage heater, & sometimes—huddled
between them—I think Whitman & Dickinson & smile.

The farmer, a figure come alive in Malcolm Mooney’s Land,
knee-deep in turnip rows & brown-black muck, sings
in the glooming the refrain of what I know now to be
his favorite song: Peggy Lee, Is That All There Is?
Beyond the last field, at Scott’s Quay—a derelict jumble
of granite pilings—mussels glisten in a last shot of light.
One moment, marcasite hairpins, there for the taking
in the seaweed’s tangle. The next, so many dark object lessons
in self-possession, beings simply being what they are.

My friend is the local arborist whose job it is to operate
a gas chain saw with great delicacy in the high branches
of dangerous trees. This isn’t a metaphor, he likes to tease.
It’s only as good or bad as any other wage. A barn owl
roosts in the abandoned bi-plane hanger, in a sailor’s chest
someone nailed to the rafters decades ago with hope
that just this miracle might occur. This is the perfect place,
the perfect hour—everyone tells me—to glimpse its ghosting
off to hunt. I put down my sack to wait. Because we all want
to see it, don’t we? Half for itself & half to be able to say
we have. Far from anywhere, there is no reason to be afraid,
but any stranger would be. The night ripens; a sliver of moon
appears. Happy birthday. How I have been helped by you
who track the shy & wild truths. The minutes here—
this, too, will not surprise you— do not pass more slowly.
Precise, the watch’s jeweled escapement is, after all, nothing
like our own. It has no truck with the right-wrong heart.


No Lightsome Thing

No lightsome thing it is
to have been born a man
Now autumn closes!

Mid-November, though some inner clock had me turn
a moment ago to February’s calendar page.
Not the temperature, but perhaps the dreariness of the day,
more & more wind & rain. Still, just beyond the window,
an elegant bush continues to dangle hot pink petals
despite the red mounting in its leaves & still farther on,
something climbing the mossy rocks gives up purple flowers.
Whatever’s advancing beside it brings forth blue.
This is the year my friend has devoted to documentary theater,
a play about Christians. When one character tells another
it’s hard to live in the end time, the audience laughs.
I don’t know enough to name the plants I’m seeing.
I can’t tell you if they’ve bloomed here just the same
for a hundred or a thousand Novembers past.
The farm cat’s stomach is distended. And that’s likely
a bad sign, not pregnancy but something malignant,
lymph seeping into someplace it shouldn’t be.
Perhaps some urgent action would make a difference,
but he hardly knows me, & there’s no one else around.
I can’t imagine how I’d trap him in order to take him off
to be seen. When I open a book, I read that spiders
live through seven generations of the flies that sustain them.
One has woven a delicate web—you have to look very closely
to spot it at all—on the other side of the kitchen glass.
The onion-paper wings of a dozen ephemerae, long dead,
quiver there like tiny marionettes on strings. A daddy longlegs
hangs upside down in the damp corner behind the dresser.
Each morning I think I should trap it & release it somewhere
outside. But its stillness looks to me so much like bliss.
It goes on not doing what it’s doing. This is how things are.


“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury