Polishing Off the Sherry
...my eyes, like the Sherry in the Glass, that the Guest leaves...
— from the letters of Emily Dickinson
Refracted lamplight casts a flame,
a gloss on what she wrote,
an amber flash that toasts her name
and lubricates my throat.
The glass I leave’s an empty one;
I polish off each drop.
It’s only when the bottle’s done
that I know when to stop.
Were I a Homestead guest on those
nights of superb surprise,
I’d kill the means by which she chose
to acquaint us with her eyes.
[ Originally published in Mezzo Camin ]
Now is the night one blue dew, my father has drained, he has coiled the hose.
— James Agee, A Death in the Family
My father, if my memory serves me well,
never contended with a hose at dusk,
but chilled Beefeaters as his ritual,
then swirled the pitcher with a marble whisk.
My mother sat across from him, and crossed
her dancer’s legs, while Perry Como sang
about a falling star. Lamplight caressed
their faces as if nothing could go wrong.
Whether a father drains and coils the hose,
or sips a dry martini with his wife
while crooners from the hi-fi bend a note,
the ease of custom moors him to his days,
holds fast against the ebb and flow of life.
He’ll switch to bourbon when his luck runs out.
[ Originally published in Cadenza ]
Brightening As They Fail
— for Anthony Hecht
Autumn’s pale foliage comes curtsying down,
As elms release a quiet, amber rain.
The punctual sky collects its summer loan
Of blue, and yellow’s all that’s left of green.
I’m in the habit of a lowered gaze,
Absorbed in nature’s horizontal screen,
Askim with fall’s ecliptic matinees
Of pas de deux deciduous ballets.
Without exception, each leaf joins its shade
And stops the dance with breathless certainty;
It’s what’s supposed to happen, after all —
The sombrous kissing game, the mute cascade,
The sun’s diminished luminosity,
The shadow creeping up the garden wall.
[ Originally published in Cadenza ]
At the Summer Poetry Festival
— after Dick Davis’s “At the Reception”
Ah there she is, all siren-like and fair,
The one who needs a boost with her career.
She has a manuscript she’s bandying;
I’ve heard it’s so-so, but I’ll praise the thing.
My Pulitzer and sultry, southern lilt
Routinely do the trick; she’ll all but wilt
Into my arms. I see she wears a ring.
So much the easier to have a fling.
She’s caught my stare. I’ll raise my glass and wink.
What luck, she has my book and wants a drink,
And I am right between her and the bar.
Sign it for you? With pleasure, yes, my dear.
No pen? No matter. Later on we’ll go
And look for one inside my bungalow.
Soldier on the Plane
He could have been a messenger from Mars,
part boy, part man, and part machine of battle,
conspicuous in desert camouflage,
boarding Southwest from Oakland to Seattle.
His earth I.D. read, “U.S. Army Harte.”
“Defending Freedom” spanned the copperplate
around his wrist. From boot to crown, clean-cut,
straight-laced, a fledgling ace at brawls of state,
that troop was good to go. The paperback
he opened up was purest, raw pulp fiction.
The cover spelled out loud and clear its stark,
impelling title: Violence of Action.
He stared into it deeply, as a child
into a jar of tadpoles or a cage
containing well-loved creatures of the wild,
and calmly understood and turned each page —
Or so it seemed to me as I observed
his young, decided, stationary face.
A mind’s a narrow vault when it’s resolved,
and one idea freezes it in place.
I liked to think the pen clipped to his shirt
might serve as Harte’s survival gear for wit,
a sidearm to fire questions or assert
some doubt. I wished him luck deploying it.
“When the swallows come back to Capistrano”
[Popular song — Leon Rene, 1939]
It’s easy to forget what brought them here,
since those ideal conditions pre-exist us;
but still it’s fun pretending every year.
In fact, the feathered migrants go unmissed as
long as the fiestas and parades go on,
as boisterous and bankable as Christmas.
Lagoons with mud for nest-building are gone,
paved over for itinerants in cars,
and almost any bird that soars at dawn
will pass for those once-faithful comeback stars.
The mission bells are loud and punctual.
The mariachi trumpets and guitars
assault the loudspeakers as usual,
and Aztec dancers with their drummers follow.
The first-graders perform in whimsical
felt beaks and wings, “Good Morning, Mr. Swallow.”
Then comes the old hit song beloved by all,
whose chorus of return, however hollow,
must, at all cost, be sung each spring and fall.
Nostalgia holds humanity in thrall.
A man-made mud-nest clings to the north wall.
[ See Tim Murphy’s interview with Leslie Monsour in this issue. ]
Leslie Monsour is a native of Los Angeles, California, but grew up in Mexico City, Chicago, and Panama. Most recently, her work has been published in Measure, The Dark Horse, Iambs & Trochees, Mezzo Cammin, and Raintown Review, as well as the anthologies, Rhyming Poems, Poetry Daily Essentials, and California Poetry from the Gold Rush to the Present. She was the recipient, in 2007, of a literary fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Her latest book is The Alarming Beauty of the Sky (Red Hen Press, 2005). She currently resides in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles.