Anne Whitehouse – Four Poems
Let The River Run Its Course
Artist Simon Gunning speaks
At first the Mississippi
seemed stubborn and closed,
not much at all—wide, flat, and pale.
But I hadn’t looked closely enough.
The real river was industrial,
hostile, and dangerous.
In the sun rippling the sullen water,
in the smells of coal tar,
wet rope, and diesel,
in detritus and decay,
I sensed its energy, its life force.
Maybe that was why I stayed.
I didn’t mean to at first.
I had stopped in New Orleans
on my way from Australia
to art school in England.
I had a scholarship,
but I never got there.
Gradually, Louisiana wound
its tendrils into me
and wouldn’t let me go.
I painted the river in all its weathers,
as it flowed from north to south.
Beyond the skeletal ruins of a dock
loomed a monolithic freighter,
half lost in haze. Below the placid surface
at the river’s mouth, roiling
currents surged into the Gulf Stream
at the start of their global journey.
Farewell, My Homeland
After the war, Poland’s borders shifted west.
Russia gained; the Germans were kicked out.
The few Jews who returned
were resettled in the west,
away from their homes in the east.
We were a hodge-podge community
with no shared history or connection.
When one of us met another,
the first question was,
How did you survive?
Everyone had a story,
and every story was a miracle.
Under the Communists,
it was hard to find a job,
pay was low, and there
was nothing to buy.
But my parents clung all the same,
and I was born in Poland in ’58.
In the sixties, the economy tanked.
As usual, Jews were blamed.
We were said to be a “fifth column,”
destroying society from within.
We were free to leave, and we did.
Still, my father was bitter about it.
I never knew why my parents stayed,
only why we left.
From One Thing To Another
I The Old Jetty
The old jetty was removed
because it was rickety.
That was its charm, the way
it was curved and warped and bent
so it seemed to stretch to infinity.
I loved following its meandering
in pink-and-blue dawns
when the sun rose slowly,
and the sky was a tapestry of clouds
under trumpet bursts of light.
Somewhere on my property
I buried time—
by which I mean I lost my watch.
It slipped off my wrist
into the snowdrifts.
I was all over,
scrambling up the hill,
picking my way
between barberry and privet,
as a swirling snowfall
camouflaged my landmarks.
In the quiet aftermath,
I watched purple and blue clouds
roll over the landscape,
and the sun appear between
the barred shadows of bare trees,
casting a honey glow over the snow.
III Olive Trees
Ancient olives, carefully cultivated
in terraces and groves, gnarled gray trunks
split by age and twisted by heat,
their fruit yielding oil, not juice,
delicate leaves pale green and silvery.
No two are alike in a grove of thousand.
Their indwelling spirits
outlive human generations.
IV A Clasp Across the Generations
How I love to hear
in one poet that I love
the echo of another long ago,
the perpetual flow of music
through the souls of great artists,
their deep insights into the past.
Once a Cooper’s Hawk settled
outside the first-floor window
at the back of our Manhattan apartment,
perched on the wrought-iron bars
of an empty air conditioner cage.
In the cold, high realms of the air
it had traveled a great distance
and from afar with piercing vision
had spied our cage and courtyard,
one protected space within another.
It felt safe enough to rest surrounded
by high walls, like being
at the bottom of a well of air.
The hawk was so tired it didn’t care
that we were inches away,
separated only by a pane of glass.
Its head swiveled all around,
facing backwards on its neck,
and with its beak it ruffled
its neck feathers and tucked its head
under its wing and was fast asleep
while fierce-looking talons
gripped the bars of the cage.
It was a Friday evening, and the peace
of Shabbat was falling like a veil,
shadowing the world as the hawk slept.
Not wanting to disturb its rest,
I left the room dark as I set the table
next to the window and lit the candles,
softly singing the blessing,
shielding my eyes in prayer.
My husband and daughter and I
blessed the wine and the bread
and quietly ate our dinner by candlelight.
Twice the hawk woke and stared at us.
Its black pupils rimmed in gold
pierced me with inexpressible wildness,
as fierce and strange as God’s angel.
Like a sheet of mica clouding its gaze,
the hawk’s inner eyelid slid from front to back,
and again its head rotated, and it bent
its beak under its wing and slept and woke
and slept again. I woke in the night
and it was still there, a dark form
immobile against the darkness.
In the morning it was gone.
Author’s Statement on Beauty
“Imaginary gardens with real toads in them”— I can think of no better description than this phrase of Marianne Moore. A cultivated plot, planned and assembled for beauty and harmony from elements provided by nature with something else–the “toad”–ugly, unwanted, yet irreducibly its own, that has entered and made its home there. Within beauty is a kernel, an element, of ugliness. When I am writing, I sometimes feel I am a conduit, and the hand holding the pencil or pen or typing on the computer is trying to give words to the ineffable. Beyond what we see and hear and feel and what we know is something greater than human formulas can account for. This, for me, is the true subject of poetry, as close to us as a blade of grass, yet essentially unknowable. I set out to make poetry from my everyday life that finds its place among the stars and in the mud at our feet, but I take poetry where I can find it, and sometimes the lives of others enter and take up residence in my heart.
Anne Whitehouse is the author of six poetry collections. Meteor Shower (2016) is her second collection from Dos Madres Press, following The Refrain in 2012. She is the author of a novel, Fall Love, as well as short stories, essays, features, and reviews. Recent honors include 2016 Songs of Eretz poetry prize; 2016 winner of the Common Good Books’ poems of gratitude contest; 2016 RhymeOn! poetry award (first prize); and 2015 Nazim Hikmet Poetry Prize. Last July Garrison Keillor read Anne’s poem, “One Summer Day on the Number One Train,” on The Writer’s Almanac. She was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, and lives in New York City.