Disorders — Scores of spring peepers swarming over and around my white tennis shoes and there’s no way out: I will murder innocents when I take a step. — On a white phlox bloom yellow swallowtails shudder at some ecstasy, then in the distance, keening in the same thin breeze: tornado sirens. — All the locust trees spill it today, leafletting walks with the old news that the worst happens and we keep moving. Gutters gather up the dead.
Looking for 1937 Esteemed Lord Peter, and my dear Miss Marple, et mon très cher ami Monsieur Poirot, especially as lately reincarnated in the radiant images of the BBC, thank you for (such as it is) your help in the hapless search for my parents’ early lives. Not that you get it right. Wrong side of the ocean, wrong social class, utterly wrong milieu: long, sleek Lagondas under covered porticos loosing their fluttering swarms of white tie, wafts of evening dress in bias-cut silk satin; tea shops and church bells in St. Mary Mead; Daimler convertibles ah-OOO-gah-ing down country lanes on the left side of the road unfailingly arriving at the solution— Not my solution, no. What you supply me is color. The color miserably absent from my few sepia-tint and black-and-white leavings, crumbs of their lives between the wars, portraits in high-contrast rectitude— formal sittings, weddings and First Communions, tight-lipped, not breathing a word that human beings might have been happy. But didn’t they live in color? Colors of rosary processions and pomidori, card games in shirtsleeves under pergolas. Those other riches, yours, were their wild dreams, the Technicolor visions their minds trawled behind the noir of mobster movies, dodging hatred aimed like a spray of machine-gun fire at their immigrant names. Dear Poirot, Jane, Lord Peter, help me out here, since all I have is the silence of two souls who in 1937 are a cold case, an unsolved mystery, because they have not found each other yet. And lacking that, the whole plot of the world loses its way, and the tidy final scene dissolves to a newsreel grainy with old battles.
Neighbors: A Paradelle Rose-golden lights of kitchen windows, bedroom windows, across the alley. Rose-golden lights of kitchen windows, bedroom windows, across the alley whisper to autumn morning darkness, Never alone. Never alone. Whisper to autumn morning darkness, Never alone. Never alone. (Never, bedrooms’ rose-golden morning whispers to autumn windows. Never, kitchen windows’ lights across the alley. Darkness. Alone. Alone.) Green back-yard modesties of maple, fallen. A naked clarity. Green back-yard modesties of maple fallen, a naked clarity sighs at our coffee sameness, oh, our shared dishwater lives, sighs at our coffee sameness, oh, our shared dishwater lives. (Oh sameness. Lives of modesties, our green clarity fallen. Dishwater coffee. Our shared sigh at naked back-yard maples.) A guarded glance at most—the cold, the houses closed. The deep cobalt. A guarded glance at most. The cold, the houses closed. The deep cobalt skies waiting for everyone to pluck the frayed thread-end of dreams, skies waiting for everyone to pluck the frayed thread-end of dreams. (To pluck our glance away—guarded at most, a frayed thread-end. The sky a cold cobalt, closed for dreams. The houses deep. Everyone waiting.) Houses, cobalt and deep green across the alley and back yard whisper alone, alone, and sigh their guarded windows’ modesties: Dishwater skies’ frayed thread-ends. Autumn sameness. Lights in kitchens— Oh fallen, every one. At most, a shared glance at the morning maples. Our closed, our waiting lives pluck at a never-never clarity. Cold coffee, naked darkness. (And rose-golden bedroom dreams.)
Maryann Corbett is the author of five books of poetry, most recently In Code from Able Muse Press. Her work has won the Richard Wilbur Book Award and the Willis Barnstone Translation Prize and has been published in venues like Southwest Review, Barrow Street, Rattle, River Styx, Atlanta Review, The Evansville Review, Measure, Literary Imagination, The Dark Horse, Subtropics, Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, American Life in Poetry, The Poetry Foundation, and The Writer’s Almanac, and in an assortment of anthologies including The Best American Poetry 2018.