Lyn Lifshin – Five Poems

Monet’s Les Nympheas

the long curved
room, the walls

starting to
shimmer, breathe

A Chinese girl
sitting on the stone
bench next to me,

dazed, smiling

The lilies moving
into both of us

Middlebury Poem

Milky summer nights,
the men stay waiting, First National Corner
where the traffic light used to be, wait

as they have all June evenings of their lives.
Lilac moss and lily of the valley
sprout in the cooling air as

Miss Damon, never later for thirty years,
hurries to unlock the library, still
hoping for a sudden man to spring tall from the

locked dark of mysterious card catalogues to
come brightening her long dusty shelves.
And halfway to dark

boys with vacation bicycles
whistle flat stones over the bridge,
longing for secret places where
rocks are blossoming girls with damp thighs.

Then nine o’clock falls thick on lonely books
and all the unclaimed fingers and
as men move home through bluemetal light,
the Congregational Church bells

ringing as always four minutes late,
the first hayload of summer rumbles through
town and all the people shut their eyes
dreaming a wish

Like Some Ancient Chinese

My mother wanted to take what
she cherished with her. No jade,
not the emerald she mostly saw
as flawed, no statues or photo
graphs of her mother: she wanted
me to go with her. If she could
not phone to see how I got home
from a trip or the mall, she could

not rest. “You’re so thin,” she
said over and over, “we could be
buried in the same space.” Though
she liked living alone as long as
she could phone me, eternity with
out AT&T seemed a scary way to
any long sleep. If I could be close,
as I was in the room already half

underground, like a pajama party,
or a college dorm she grinned
over pills and IV, it might not be
so bad she didn’t get back to the
ocean and never got to Europe
or the west coast to lie back with
her mouth full of dirt and never tell
the stories and secrets she meant to

if she could still touch me

September 26, 1996

this morning the pond
looks like marble. Rose
and charcoal dissolving
to dove, to guava, rouge.
Only mallards pushing
holes in the glass, so
unlike the pond, deep in
trees, almost camouflaged,
startling as coming upon
your reflection in a mirror,
just there under trees and
the wooden bar and the
driftwood benches blackly
jade with pines dripping
into it, shadows close to
my hair. What I didn’t have
blinded me so I hardly saw
the small birds, blue,
pulling out of moss and
needles as if reaching into
the dark for their color

Late November

one minute, the sun was out, it was fall.
Geraniums under a quilt last night, a
blotch of red opening.
On the front step what looked like lint
has small pink claws and feet.
Next the sky was the color of lead.

Geraniums under a quilt last night
like a child you’ve tucked in
or a body wrapped in the earth under leaves.
In the swirl of sudden snow, what
was left of the headless fur blows west

Like a child you’ve tucked in
whatever was living, a just born
squirrel I suppose, hardly a living thing
except for feet.
In fifteen minutes, the light came
back, cars stopped sliding

Whatever was living. Or just born
must have felt the wild snow was a warning.
I thought of the lover wrapped in dark
cloth and left in the leaves while, not knowing,
I took a ballet class. The geraniums

are still under a blue quilt this Tuesday.
One minute the sun was out, it was fall


Author’s Statement on Beauty

Beauty is something that startles, makes you catch your breath– Like Emily Dickinson’s saying if it feels like the top of my head is taken off, I know it is poetry. The same with beauty.


Lyn Lifshin is the author of Persephone (Red Hen Press, 2008).  Her work is widely available, in print and online. She divides her time between New York and Virginia.