Mineral Springs Trail

Our boy raises the fern’s vivid array in a ceremonial way,
Its spine curved by its own small weight, its apex waving almost
Imperceptibly in a humid breeze, pinnules cut like crystals

Climbing from a cavern floor; a blade acute as a glaive wielded
Across a field of war. Late sunlight rumoring through hemlocks
Ignites it like a torch an instant in shifting shadows.

He sets the still wet stem of the frond in the clean hollow
Of a deer femur he salvaged searching among granite
That rose to a grotto carved by springs over a million years

Marcel Proust: Anton Van Dyck

The sweet pride of hearts, the noble grace of things,
Shining in eyes, in velvets, in the trees;
The fine high language of address and dress,
The inborn vanity of women and kings!
Van Dyck, you’re a triumph; you’re the prince of calm
Gestures in these fine creatures soon to die,
In every trusting hand that beautifully
Still knows to open: look, she spreads her palm!

Marcel Proust: Chopin

Chopin, ocean of sobs and tears, of sighs
Above whose waves of sadness play a swarm
Of never-resting, dancing butterflies!
Dream, love, suffer, cry out, cradle, charm,
Always between attacks of pain you pour
An oblivion as dizzying and sweet
As the butterflies’ caprice from flower to flower;
And so you find your grief and joy complicit:
the whirlwind thirsts for tears, and more, and more.
Soulmate of pale moon and sea, the prince
Of despair or noble lord betrayed, and all
The handsomer for your pallor, still you thrill
To the flood of sun into your sickroom, since
It weeps in smiling and in seeing suffers…
Smile of regret along with hopeful tears!

Marcel Proust: For Madeleine Lemaire

What subtle orchard-thief has skulked about
To snip these luminous grapes my lips love so?
A chance breeze blows these candles, makes them billow,
And is just soft enough not to snuff them out.

But no, for a paintbrush you set aside the yarn
And spindle, and bested God: made endless spring;
And it was to the lily and the climbing
Rose you went for your colors, Madeleine.

Your beauty may be frail, not to endure,
Yet like flowers of one day lives nonetheless
Immortally: all the carnations, lilies,
Or lilacs you painted, Madeleine Lemaire.

“The Secret Rhythm of Chance”: The Nabokovian Vision of Tragedy in Pale Fire

Introduction: Reconceiving Pale Fire as Tragedy

Critics have produced so many overelaborate readings of Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire that one suspects its author has finally turned us all into Kinbotean exegetes (or eisegetes), each of us scrambling to unearth some arcane allusion over here, some perceived profundity over there. One imagines that Nabokov, never above playing the role of ingenious trickster, thrilled at the thought of creating such an interpretive circus. According to Robert Alter, too many critics needlessly complicate the novel by, among other things, “devoting learned pages to wondering who—Nabokov, Shade, or Kinbote—is responsible for the epigraph, [and] by exerting their own ingenuity to demonstrate dubious theses, like the one in which both the poem and the poet are argued to be Kinbote’s inventions.” (185-86). It may well be that, as David Rampton contends, the “novel resists appropriation by any single set of critical criteria” (106), and that “there is no particular reason to believe that the novel can be ‘figured out’ in any definitive way” (111). But criticism must go on, and investigating Pale Fire’s rich layers of implication and ambiguity is as worthwhile a critical venture as any.

Barcode Ode

Checksum and glyph. Razor-slit gaps between
start-markers. Quiet zone. Each explains
itself and all it knows in silent lines
packed tight as eyelashes, the teeth of a comb,
a ventilator’s bellow-squeeze become
stamp-sized. A city in fog, the skyline wan

from across the bay. If Blake saw flecks of sand
as worlds, what trapped infinities of ones
and zeroes might populate these X-dimensions
summoned by a cardinal chirp of light?
Never mind the snapped-on patient ID bracelet,
the IV needle’s pinch as it descends.

Corn Poppets

For an Appalachian kitchen witch


The dead come back as braided husk and hair—
cob effigies she wraps in rags and leans
against a bedroom wall so they can hear
her griefs and grievances, their faces clean
without a mouth to make plain how she’s wrong.
But when they start to rot into the floor,
the scraps she’s learned to live with for so long,
the carved-stalk limbs and torsos crushed to flour,
recede, and she’s offended by the loss.
Though she may tell a stone slab she forgives,
or sniff the wadded collar of a blouse,
or glimpse them in the rain, she knows they have
no breath or blood outside the icy stream
of these slips and dreams. Still, she slips, she dreams.

Space Junk

…….As if to remind us orbit rhymes with obit,
they chime colliding in low-Earth thermosphere
(chime, that is, if anyone here could hear),
…….this swarm of Kevlar and gold-foiled silicate bits,

…….regardless of how or why they’ve been hurtled so far
from us, their makers, in whose febrile-fibered image
they mangle thin, almost immune to age.
…….Regardless, too, of whether there’s any there out there

…….in the dark they keep insisting does have limits,
abandoned, orphaned, multiplying, like us,
once they find each other, but by smashing to a fine dust,
…….a cloud of cold, unblinking satellites.

Truffles and Grapes

She saw the man in the cyan-blue suit opening the wrought iron gate and stepping into the front yard.  Her hand lost its grip and she dropped the dust rag onto the window sill as her mind rushed to assess the man’s possible target.  He must be heading for the tenants’ side entrance.  She managed to push the suited silhouette out of her mind though, and went back to work.

A Hair

She got a bad haircut. When she went to fix that, she got talked into a perm. Then she made the fatal error of saying she liked the hairdresser’s hair. But she did. It was medium length with big soft curls that began at the height of her eyes and ended with its curled tips pointing gently to her breasts. She forgot she didn’t have the hairdresser’s young face, her big brown eyes, her closed pores.