Two Poems By Steven Monte

The difference between night and day

That vague, distracted look of someone who
reads a letter, aimlessly wandering
away from a mailbox, staring into,
or perhaps through, the paper, pondering
the import of the sentence before last
while continuing onward, as if in fear
of what it could mean, then skimming too fast
over the rest, anxious for a more clear
understanding, or rather for a kind
of different understanding, brings to mind
how tenuous and varied colors are
before morning breaks—how, pale and undefined
and spreading, dawn absorbs star after star
and grows light, leaving emptiness behind.
Laura of Avignon

If this Laura de Sade was Petrarch’s Laura, then we are the beholders 
of one of the greatest ironies of literary history.
                                                                                T.P. Roche

In sonnet lore, she is the girl on the marquee,
“Lauretta of the breezes and the golden hair”;
her name begins in praise (a “Lau-d”) and ends in prayer
(Ta-ci, “Silence!”) and thus a hint of cruelty.

More than hints followed. And to every poet’s plea
a harsh response was given, projected from a stare
or “gaze” as they came to call it, wrenching despair
from the thrill of the chase. A painful legacy.

During her short life, Laura Noves d’Avignon
bore eleven children. All she left was her will
and her descendants—mostly counts, nobility.

Petrarch’s “children” kept his flame burning, having gone
to hell and back (they say) for love. And it burns still,
higher and darker, in the name of the marquis.

Steven Monte is a professor in the English Department at the College of Staten Island (CUNY). He has also taught at the University of Chicago and at Yale University, from which he received his doctorate in Comparative Literature. Most of his scholarly writing is on Renaissance and modern poetry. His is books include The Secret Architecture of Shakespeare’s Sonnets and Victor Hugo: Selected Poetry in French and English. He has published verse translations and his own poetry in a variety of journals. He lives and runs marathons in New York City.

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