[10.5 ToC]



Jenny Benjamin-Smith

I. Husband & Wife

"Il colonnato," he said
            Eva's face over and over again
            like falling pennies or onions tearing apart.
The colonnade,
            suicidally beautiful, as aerated roots are lazing up and down.
He is burdened by this fury of offices and ceremonies, sulky organisms.

She flinches. "Hazardous," he says, to be the bedridden husband,
            and she is closer to Rome than to him, really,
            interludes of countryside, lipstick, cabbage-roses
make him incendiary
            hiz-za hiz-za wife and lover
burned down like isolated trees in an uproar off the tin roof in one shining-shot.

He witnessed it all:
            the man's mouth, tongue (that palmy son-of-a-bitch)
            on her eyelid, legs over and over again
his private convalescence of dying.
            Where's the baby?
Pray among the rocks, green stone, and beet fields,

the dragged furls of satin ribbons
            sheets from piano lessons
            in a crate           
Where's the baby, pray?
            Between beet fields and green stone in a graveyard
Her own baby: ghost plume among falling pennies, onions

tearing apart.


II. Boy & Mother

The boy knows the history of
            coon-can in
            Florida summer,
hanging on the farm fence smashing coins on the tracks
            playing his little box, smokin' rocks
string music hollow at the wrist.

He tired of his mother's
            hush-baby talk and glass of whiskey,
            her carved strangers in the bed.
He wants to break the net and swim
            the black earth back to fresh glasses
and the asses of the girls

the pleats in her dress, her small elbow bones
            drive him huzza-huzza,
            make him slap the live oak of his hollow
fire each night the drip of light blue tears
            from his scanty fanning, his groan
and palm-wine baptism.

All because of her unpinned hair,
            her under the hedge sensations,
            pale and domestic, but he's afraid
to quench his quiet purple of the river bottom.
            Instead he makes
his mama's supper: boiled potatoes and

dark bread.



III. Stranger & Woman

A saffron-robed stranger shared a cab with her,
            and they got down to it:
            temporized six hawks between them
a buckling warmth almost visible,
            the air drunk to the limits of the earth.
The man's face had an oddness to it,

but when open-mouthed, she was a landscape,
            a nacreous gleam
            in a ticking moment
discord, pipe and crude drum
            sounds broke the downhill
of their limbs; he raked them with his long field

of olive trees; his eyes saw various arrangements
            of curves and angles,
            silky breast, the drinkest deep
yoked to his middle, up him to a fantasy of praxis.
            Two bottles of wine and an aspirin

are all he had since last night.

Time to maze out of this haze
            to her lusty
            lace and collarbones
in a blast of cab-ride
            mingled with suffering Jeremiahs,
a moat of red wine, these hawks,

huge windows.


IV. Mother & Husband

Her mood ground corn, raked the sockets
            of the hull till raw.
            She shed the fish scales like birds
breaking wings over yellow seas.
            This pocket of white belly hollow.
This vanished nursery.

These small cages the days become.
            Her stomach iron and deafened lead.
            The lambs have broken, the fury gone,
a mountain pressed down to stone.
            She wishes for bitter pith;
instead, he lives, jabbering shadow in

dirty fingernails.


V. Woman & Son

"Mama got you," he, just shy of two, used to say when scared
            from the stirring wind of his curtains.
            The smoke-tinged breeze, her cigarette
and bruised thigh in the room with broken sunlight,
            dust, and a murky ringing from the TV.
Sand and oil spots she sees

now, clumsy and shapeless figures,
            but how she gave birth to a fine boy
            years ago living near the river in Georgia,
the mystery of the muddy river bottom, poplar trees,
            and willows.
"The boy gonna be a hood like his daddy."

She needs a longitude of hours, boiling hot
            Ethiopian kings, or children leaving
            a dance. Rum punch and pineapple drinks
her medicines. There's the boy now, all nose drip and splendor,
            clanking pans. He puts the potatoes in a shining
blue bowl. They sit and the wind

stirs them.


VI. Man & Wife

"Unreal Ahab," he says to himself, out due east of the city,
            out for some revenge on something,
            probably his wife, for existing, for living in sickness.
He leaves the woman not his wife and must wash himself
            with a cloth, must exorcize the buzz of mid-morning
in Whitechapel. He pulls his robes to himself, an overcoat

of cold grace, easily opened and closed again to his wilderness.
            He arrives home to his immaculate stillness
            and divested charms, only a tomb of cleansed lemon
where he'll wash his wife, feed her medicines,
            roll her to the bed.
He'll write a letter to his father:

he'll understand his son's charcoal underbelly,
            brown and gray sketches to each day,
            and the instance of vibrancy in one cab-ride
gone now with only his goddamned buzz left.
            He hears his wife call his name;
each time he cannot help but catch

his breath.


VII. Traveler & Man

Mid-morning in Whitechapel. She's fresh back from the continent,
            that glossy spray holiday; her backpack like the marble steps of Italy.
            She stripped down in her dorm room and showered in the rusted room
in flip flops bought at Camden. "Top ten showers," she thought, "of all time,"   
            takes her time with lotion and decided on a v-neck blouse with gold lace,
an extravagance, music in the old hinges her worn legs became on the cobblestones

of Prague, German hostels, the dark bread mornings and thick coffee, jam like petals
            in the mouth, the women washing lower panes of windows in Vienna;
            she's closer to Rome than to anywhere else: the dark pews of white churches,
cold hammer traffic, the sky wild with ruins and smog. Her only task: to scrutinize
            the afternoon through eyelashes wet with water from fountains, to juggle
words and phrases: un museo, dove il bagno? Un papagallo verde. Savory,

sputtering eggs inside her mouth; her mind ping-ponged grammar and verb tenses,
            hordes of unpinned sensations, a dank woodland nel un soprabito,            
            the overcoat, Tolstoy? No, Gogol? Panting bonfires in catacombs
of stolen monasteries. Now she rides the east-end rickety tube with nostalgia
            for her second home, America a fat balloon of amusements drifting
farther away. At Whitechapel the crowds wail mundane movements

from stoplight to crosswalk, and as she turns away from the station, a robed man stands
            near a waiting car. His eyes, black wells for hiding places, thickening
            embers with climates arid and expansive. His squint at the nearly noon sun
and this slight bird tread glance at her makes her sink, a sprouting downward into cement,
            a clutching wind takes her. Somehow, she takes this as a signal
and shares a cab with him, though she has little money.
The pounds in the palm of his hand. The possible slide
            of his crimson robe.
            His cocoa skin.
His loose curls of dark hair, a cloakroom for her hands.
            His patient face.
She sees while wandering the lilied pools

at Kew.







I created my own exercise in writing this poem. I have many books in my personal library, so I spent a chunk of time pulling books off the shelf and randomly opening to a page and writing down the first one or two words that I saw. I compiled a list of 822 words. When I sat down to write this poem (in a few sittings) I would glance at the list and instantly respond using the words I saw. Once I had a rough copy, I revised from there until I had "Clutched by a Nearly Noon Sun."