ditch,

the poetry that matters

Laurie Rosenblatt

Laurie Rosenblatt is an Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA. She teaches poetry at the Harvard Extension School. Her poems have been anthologized in The Alhambra Poetry Calendar and in Poems in the Waiting Room (a publication for the British National Health Service). Individual poems have appeared in Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Salamander, Fulcrum, The Bellevue Literary Review, Per Contra, and Harvard Review among others. 

Missing Girl: Verso
Missing Girl: Collage 1962, Joseph Cornell

1/
Between two blond brothers beside the hotel pool on the Portuguese border
overlooking a river, I am five years old and smiling
for the picture. 

The girl stops there.

Years later I find her
stuck below a constellation
clipped from The New York Post

She had taken off
her glasses;
for that moment, shed
plainness.

2/
Only he
hears me scream.
In his eyes is nothing
to make me afraid. 
No.

No. It started before.
He leans on the wall
in high sun looking down
at water and turning
looks over his shoulder
at her.

at me: and I
look back

fingers gripping
the metal handle
his arms
from behind
the weight
of his body
 erasing
all her lines.  No.

Think (there must be
an equation)

3/

A swim suit, divided (x/x)
covered by a Central Park Zoo T-shirt (Y) +
three strides over dry grass=
the distance (d) between
self and self
therefore tongues
+ forearms ´ torso
pushing against her flat chest =
shirt buttons  and leaving
marks. 

7(60) seconds and
safety’s fine gauge runs
out into widening distances.

What bitter theater.

 

4/

After
 they found her

her mother christened him
The Kissing Bandit
(If it was nothing, then
why did her father take off
after them in bare feet
over trash and broken glass?)

For thirteen years I carry
a pointed nail file tucked
along my thigh trying to trust
myself again. To this artist I say,

 

5/
walking on the flats you think            she never saw it  coming
you believe                             (it = shame)
the gull drops the stone onto an oyster   as a way of breaking open
but later you realize the oyster is lifted         to fall

 

 

Material Wanted
Untitled (Penny Arcade Portrait of Lauren Bacall)
Joseph Cornell, 1945-46

 

here an untouchable version lives leaving
no scat of spilled skin    
no narrowed wishes    

even so what you are is      wanted
for a penny a play     

material he wants     a wheat-wife
not your penny’s worth
of thought        

oh he’ll stay
the point of departure
Watch him

rework angles between
open shadows below expose
doubt    

render objective      Be
his object make him

hold you penny-wise thumb and finger squeezed
between dime-a-dozen headshots—    
a dog     a woman     a bitch     another you
made small     different women       But this is
 
myth—a wooden ball
rolls down the tempered glass ramp   
without grace thumps the metal flap— this is    

complicit regarding
smudged by making    

See you there    
in a blue velvet box 
in this     his story    
the one  that begins
She

 

 

Roses Des Vents
Joseph Cornell, Object (Roses Des Vents) c. 1942-53
for Philippe Soupault

 
1/
What is he trying to say
with this panel pitted
by 18 compasses,
with these 3 empty,
compass-shaped,
holes?

Signs he gave
(to whom first?). Briefly,
the wind blew fair,
though inconstant.  The minutes ran out
in one direction only
 and burst.


2/
So it is a bubble, life.
And having given much,
we knew too late to take
our coffee with cream
de menthe. Where to?
(You ask that obscene question.) I reply,
Anywhere you like.

That is to say, you might
as well ask the hour, the city, the sky
when our moment
turned the corner, became a street in rain
crowded by a bland parade.
We lost each other then—South
and East and North—
we were so afraid.


3/
After a time, he decides
to paste the Coral Sea 
at left, the Australian Bight                  
across the middle and at far right:
inside the lid of the box we see
these maps, printed in German
(which we don’t read).

What does he want 
from us, lost here
among his boxed objects
crossing bridges
in the city where
you now live?


4/
In other words,
the compass panel slid back to reveal
absence—
rectangular voids in different sizes
and square holes. He paints them black,
turquoise, brick, yellow, sand,
olive, clay—in that blue he sees
a summer  sky—these
shades reflect his mind and,
in perishing, shine.


5/
Take this one, a long rectangle
the length of his fingers’ span,
that traps 4 glass spheres
(eye to eye, 2 green & 2 blue) on top
of a topographer’s map.

Next-door curved black lines ride
on white, the map’s idealized
double (a diagram of  promises
your mute body made) lies
over a wall the color of fever.
You shamble behind me
like a guilty thing.
     

6/
Not guilty enough, I say. Not guilty                       
in the flesh (yet),
you are scrupulous as an upright
steel spring that radiates                                 

sketches of itself. (There. See it?
In that square near the middle
where he put it.)

And there, 4 over from lined marbles;
marbled lines scrawl,
crawl across a floor under 4
limestone chips—he makes us recite
our numbers, for
we are 2 + 2.  And each pinned
to a bit of dried grass… is that a page?
Hand me your glasses. (
What do
those letters say?



7/
LETTRE, yes, and something else
hidden in a crease.
The moon is
a slice
of blanched almond,
incomplete.
But here is
a peninsular map,
a specific constellation,
something transgressive: grief,
foil, and thread

that he complicates
with pegs,
adding wooden balls
colored dots—to prove to us
each cell has its own sense
of dread.  These lonely practices


8/
we think may have a smell
that must be locked away
like imbricated  hell-

ish thoughts, or the nose
of the arrow in sway
on a compass rose,                                   
magnet-driven.  Mad. You say
some words sotto voce.

What? What was that?
Distracted, I botched
your meaning. Before I drop
my socks, I must insist
you repeat that immodest
paradox.


9/
Alas. Feeling stung, you spoke
of bees rather than say again
what you’d proposed.
 
Perhaps, nearsighted, you mis-read?
Saw relentir, thought repentir instead?

Do we?  Go slow? Repent?
I mean, his box begins one minute after
the would-be crime!  We do. We 

lack the will to do it,
lack the ruthless follow-through, caught
in that familiar hygienic,

habit. When next we meet
I look down from Tuesday
and find those missing roses

pricking my palms;
their needles press due West.


10/
He has made his point.
The passing years
will have made us not
each others’. It is a tranquil,
and monotonous
design: a needle, a hem,
a spot of grease.
When the art ends,
you do not visit
my compartments.                                     
What is it, then,


11/
we will be denied?
Constancy, the familiar 
gaze that blinds
to the gradual decline
into bad smell,
to the dulled mind?

You will note
with necessity’s sharp eye
every difference
in me. And I

will see your remote
stare, the slackened beauty
of your mouth, the neck
too thin, the knees gone
fat. We will talk
about the weather.
 
But he
made matter keep,
each square still suggests
some word,
a glance, a silent
tempest—this hour’s
gesture, held.

 

 

 

Untitled (Butterfly Habitat)
Joseph Cornell c. 1940


1/
You know the one
where necessity
in a flash catches eternity?
 
That’s beauty right?
Arresting
the eye          the sycamore’s peeling bark
 
an angled brilliance
bends the mind mid-step
tangles seconds

in a net      and it’s gone
then pinned     strikes
in these frost-furred panes,

peeks from behind paint-spattered glass,    
a frayed series in a habitat,
paired and painted wings that just might fly.


2/
Is that fat-bodied one at middle-left a moth?

The spatter spares
a circle
at the center in each square.

Silver Spotted Skipper, I sigh

Hesperiidae.
Go ahead. Count them.

The Lepidoptera?
O.K.       Six
.

Now carry them as thoughts
like lunch-boxed pears
each reckless bite tastes of nothing
but change:

grow thin on it. 


3/
But were they alive?

These are holes no gloved hand scraped
holes so exact no breath annihilates ice
in quite this shape.

Were they alive?  

You expect to be told
how he failed to hold the instant for the eye? Now
Gossamer-wing, Brush-foot, Metalmark, and Sulphur
watch our

strictured beauty growing cold.


4/
But the view is so
partial. It’s hard to say
if a display contains  
 
death or paper.  So, leave
the outer frame dark
as you found it                          
and paint the glazing bars white
                                         
then even if  the box
holds shadow and we stand
in museum light     we will still be left out
in the blue snow-muffled night. 

  

Bookmark and Share