Mark J. Mitchell – Five Poems

A Song For Her Lamp

Beauty is too often an obscure lamp…
                                 —Paul Eluard

When you sing beauty to beauty you waste
unskilled notes. Praise drops sharp as rain on rock.
So her cool eyes mistake your open face
for some stone-fixed door with a hidden lock
no key signature can open. Your bass
clef keeps your song distant—the quiet knock
on her last door or note from a stuck clock
she didn’t set, closing her perfect face
when you sing. Her beauty’s her beauty. Waste
your skill on falling praise. Carve notes on rock.

The Tour Guide Prepares

A cool morning. Gray
as a battleship.
Water’s tinted by old clay
washed off forgotten mountains
no gold’s slipped
down with it. Fortunes
are past, foreign as today’s
tourists. Take them out to play.

Three Charms

They snatched off our amulets.
Charms are not, they said, Grace.
               The Walls Do Not Fall

Charm For A Misplaced Melody

Circles into circles drown,
spin and drift, no longer round.
Silent music. Silent sound.

Charm For A Prophetic Flower

Three smooth stones reflect the moon.
Trace the image in a spoon.
Plant in March. Pluck in June.

Charm For Forgotten Lore

Paper proffered now to flames
opens when cold ash remains.
Yawning grave for undreamt names.

Bay Grammar

One reaching, one running, white commas split
the bay like infinitives. The red bridge
grading its gate, correcting tides. Low haze
checks hills, but their shapes, round and green, stay sharp
as pens in the afternoon light. This bright place
is enough. While sails pass on their blue page,
you’ll pass down this hill pluperfectly glad.

This Is Not A Quest

Three smooth stones beside a fountain
dying of thirst. And they’re for—Who?
Was something left behind? Their blue
hints at a sky you’ll see again
after turning over in sleep.
Your hand twitches. You want to reach
for them. Your pocket feels hollow.
But you know if you touch them now
a spell will break—not here—somewhere
under another sky. Someone
will return—stiff and dry—then stare
at water until this drought’s done.


Author’s Statement on Beauty

Je est un autre.
I is another.
            —Arthur Rimbaud

In recent years, my poetic practice has been to avoid the first person singular. If the vertical pronoun appears a bit too often here, please forgive me.

I have been trying to turn outward from the self and look at the world around me. I even have a chapbook due soon, Music for the Other Voices, that consists of poems about music all in the second and third person.

None of these poems are in the first person.

It does make it hard to write a love poem. I don’t trust poets who don’t write love poems.

So “I” must become “you”, and draw the reader into the poem.

It is also my practice, often, to work in forms. I feel this is organic. I find a line and tell myself, ‘that wants to be a sonnet’ or ‘a sestina starts here’.

I also feel humble before the tradition of poetry in English, and I don’t think that my ear is better than Shakespeare’s, so I will employ time honored methods

Then, too, I enjoy the ludic element of form. Perhaps the biggest difference between games and life is that games have rules. That’s part of the fun. I delight in finding new forms, or new variations on old forms. One of the poems presented here is cast in the form of a Cantonese folk song, and the charms are all Welsh englyns.

I delight in free verse as well, and I know a free verse line when it comes my way.

Shape, form and contact interlock to make beauty. I turn my vision outwards to see it.


Mark J. Mitchell’s latest novel, The Magic War just appeared from Loose Leaves Publishing. He studied writing at UC Santa Cruz under Raymond Carver and George Hitchcock. His work has appeared in the several anthologies and hundreds of periodicals. Three of his chapbooks— Three Visitors, Lent, 1999, and Artifacts and Relics—and the novel, Knight Prisoner are available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. He lives with his wife the activist and documentarian, Joan Juster and makes a living pointing out pretty things in San Francisco.