Victor Hugo: The Satyr

Prologue

At Mount Olympus’ foot, in solitude,
a satyr lived amid the great wildwood,
deep in the trees, hunting and dreaming, night
and day, pursuing vague white forms in flight,
pricking his twelve or fifteen senses to
what pleasures he could pounce on as they flew.
Who was this faun? No one was certain. Flora
knew nothing, nor did Vesper, nor Aurora
who knows all, a clockwork voyeur and sneak.
You’d have to get the wild rose bush to speak, ……………..10
or question every flutter and bird’s nest—
none had a handle on that cheeky beast.
Now, scholars have numbered every faun there is;
we know them all, like famous vintages,
as we survey the dales of Satyr Bluff:
Stulcus of Pallantyre has fame enough;
Gaeus chortles on Maenalon all night;
Boscus, goat-boy of Crete, and Chrysolite,
a rustic denizen of Janus Butte,
from dawn to darkness tootling on his flute; ……………….20
Anthrops of Pindus, on every scholar’s shelf—
but not our faun. Some labeled him a wolf;
others, a god; but none had evidence.
He was all he could be, at all events:
some scabrous god’s unmanageable child.

Still Life Studies: A Review of Chelsea Rathburn’s Still Life with Mother and Knife

Still Life with Mother and Knife
by Chelsea Rathburn
(LSU Press, 2019, 84 pp. $18.95)

I pre-ordered Chelsea Rathburn’s Still Life with Mother and Knife after reading two of the poems that would be in it and falling in love with the way Rathburn uses words. She lays them naked in front of us like an artist’s model, and we sketch or sculpt to catch them in our minds the best we can. When we see them again, they’ve moved ever so slightly, or we have, and we find some new angle to explore and try to understand.

tet : ט

That god and good
…..as English words
rub elbows,
…..shoulders and
(though less likely)
…..far more private
parts is something
…..oddly absent
and at once

…..a given in
the almost always
…..resonant Scripture’s
Hebrew since
…..the deity there—
curiously plural
…..in its inflection,
meaning more
…..or less universal?—

saw what he’d done
…..and said it was just
that: good
…..(tov), as when
the mazal is
…..(or, one’s fortune),
for example,
…..this persimmon
in its bowl—

…..curve within
curve and amber
…..flesh like a
melon’s in
…..an ochre skin
slightly bruised
…..near mandarin
oranges set
…..beside the window,

Harm

Oh, we were such good girls, the four of us, caught
in Polaroid amber in our cut-off jeans.
Deep Iowa summer—thrumming, humid, hot—
and we posed for somebody’s dad in the yellow-green
light of late afternoon, in a rough-cleared spot
surrounding a derelict hut. We were fourteen,
the hut was hidden on somebody’s uncle’s farm,
and we had two whole days to flirt with harm.

We were all cherished, and our world was small—
books, good grades, residual make-believe—
and this was our grand adventure, before fall
flung us at high school, where we would achieve
less than we planned. We needed a close call,
a way for that tight-wound goodness to unweave
itself. Not really living was our fear.
The dads left, and we leapt for the bootleg beer

from Summer

III

In the district of Hóu-tcheou-fou, the magistrate’s assistant Chen was taking a nap in his study. Suddenly, a celestial functionary appeared, and beckoned him to follow. He led Chen down a path hidden by rustling thickets of bamboo to a clearing where, on a pedestal, an enormous mirror waited.

“Regard what you once were in your previous life,” the apparition commanded him. Looking into the mirror, Chen saw a man with a pointed cap on his head and red slippers on his feet, dressed in the manner of a scholar from the Ming dynasty.

Prism Cell

Sun on the drenched rhododendron
After a blackened hour
Of rain, and see how each
Droplet’s prism cell
Is a bright, tiny breach
In a dark walled tower;

See lone multitudes of souls
Waving toward you—at you—
The signal rag of their painfully
Stripped-down message of misery
And neglect: hear a plea,
Even now, for a blazing rescue.

Friday Harbor

With a friend of a friend,
at America’s edge,
I scale a cliff whose gleaming slopes
in the preposterous moonlight.
This woman and her courtly silver dog
rove amiably through needles of grass.
The dog sniffs ahead, then bows, urging us
upward as if spreading out a cloak
of moss and gleaming rock for our steps.
Dark and impossibly thin, she quivers
with the wind that blazes through the bones
of everything that lives here.
She’s built her own house, quietly pioneering
on this hill that springs nobly into nothing.
Each dot of light we see below, she says,
stands for another new home
as the San Juans are gradually claimed.

Evisceration of a Roebuck, with a Married Couple

Flemish Portrait, 1625

Blood, starched linen, matted fur.
What makes a marriage?
The prosperous pair in black silk
stand over the guts laid bare;
he leans over his work,
knife at the ready
along his thumb,
to cut a further slice
from the folds of red-edged skin
while looking miserably elsewhere.
The deer is propped against a brilliant
lobster, downy antlers alert, echoing
the legs of the dead fawn
who twists, with uncanny grace,
to caress the husband’s hand
with its tiny hoof. She ignores
the platter of grapes she holds,
even the sprightly vine
curling and waiting to greet
the tongue hanging off the maw
of a pig’s inverted head.
White scatters like dabs of butter:
artificial clouds out the window,
the belly of a hanging calf,
the husband’s businesslike cloth,
set over his shoulder while he guts,
the wife’s achingly polished brow,
her hair pulled back as tight as
the pig’s tongue is loose,
like the tongue she refuses to use.