Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Maxine Chernoff, Three Poems

       Loud Whispers, image from the series by Emilian Chirila

To Own

The blistering shore
whose rocks spawn
birds among the ruins
of olive trees; tethered
there the hosts whose language
makes them strange
and bartered goods,
as life evolves around
a plague-filled
site, whose signs
spell warnings to desist.

The news is filled
with one true plot,
that men make war
and trouble stands
to view the scene, 
the boss who orders
workers to make
jackets bombs or pies.
Whose ghost will take 
the blame for all
the dying in the leaves,
what world kills seeds
and makes the bees
lose their high season
thick with industry?

Cue the stinging rupture
which we take to mean
a death has been
inscribed upon the day
we crush the grapes
and say the prayer,
which still is offered
for a reason split, a rift
between this ledge and that.
Here is the cortège, 
holding meaning in their hands,
the barest omens dense
as bulbs we plant
in fall. Seasons travel
in the world of pure design,
their blooming too a death
though for the moment
decorated as a bride.

“When I fall asleep, your eyes close." Pablo Neruda

Place love first in the botany of days,
trumpet vines reaching, nascent
songs in caverned throats.
The chorus holds a branch
as love its own economies.
Sing as if wings lift words,
as if a feather floats on air,
above earth's dark landing.

Stratagem of descent, turning,
eyes closed, doubled wholeness,
raspy whisper in the ear
of a saint, faint tick
of a small star escaping
its orthodoxy. Never had
such luster shared a name
with limits. Gathered and stripped,
culled from objects strange
as books that ring like bells,
here and here,  actor and witness
to regions' last restraints.


Like wasps
stinging the unkind world
where love is stretched
and painted green
the dumb world gleaming
like bells from a tower
in a painting
of a valley, where
a single puff of steam
translates the scene.
Where to travel
on the empty train? 

To sonify a spinoff,
to spin a pearl
until its oyster closes
on resistance, until
its rock finds a ready
landing in dark water,
submerging to a place
beyond eyes and the soft
underpinning of words.

In spring you want more,
the pale leaf's beckoning,
the heart's easy notice,
sky and belief
paint a notion.
The crisp, unseeming world
readies for the task.
Tell it something
it can believe.

—Maxine Chernoff

Maxine Chernoff is the author of fourteen books of poetry and six of fiction. Her most recent poetry book is Here (Counterpath, 2014). She is winner of a 2013 NEA fellowship in poetry and the PEN Translation Award in 2009. She chairs the Creative Writing Department at SFSU.