Winter 2012, #18


Cynthia Atkins

Dear Reader

" ... the youthful bloom of new books, which lasts until the dust jacket begins to yellow, until a veil of smog settles on the top edge, until the binding becomes dog-eared, in the rapid autumn of libraries."

- Italo Calvino

Do you recall when the pencil made us
fathom the unsay able? Foot-loose tools
of language--consonants and vowels
took their own sweet residual time.
Recall the hands,
how they played a part, almost
ancestral, fingers taut and hugging
the surface as if to a cliff. The tip
of pen, it too, touched a nerve--
Hand-stitched, an idea fixated
to a word, not like ornament,
but more like a risk--
a tight-rope walker's held breath.
It hushed and consoled us into
our aloneness--Led us through
the crawl-space of the family blood-line,
inchoate cave, hand-bag of self.
O Reader! O Writer!
The paper was loose-leaf, a dense forest
of suggestions. A medicinal arsenal,
as though someone turned out
the light, left a stain of tea.
Yes, a little scrappy,
oh ok, a rinky-dink circus if you must--
but it was the "I" skating, doing
cordial as a doctor making rounds.
A spirit out of nowhere, a stroke
of good health--a little weary and love-lorn,
(holy sheet hides an ornery ghost!)
No need for introductions,
intrinsic mind in hand--bridging the gap.


(after Philip Guston, Untitled, ink and acrylic, 1980)

The store clerk was gone in ten seconds
after the 30 rounds--blood spattered on
the welcome mat, soda coolers, cash register.
From the manhole in the studio, Brian Williams' voice
seeds my living room (Brian, who I know so well
but have never met). The blood so thick
in that storefront it makes me think
about brushstrokes piled in a heap
draped sly as Klansmen--Then I see
detainees at Abu Grahib, fowled
in brown paper bags. The silver screws
and gawky nails that turn to fists,
if you stare long enough
at the painting--Guston's cartoon
versions, haunting all our worst fears.
Every night, The News stock-piles
in my living room. The pink rubble
and gray maw of Japan floating off
falling rocks, buildings dislimned.
White clouds that aren't clouds at all.
Dust flaring off the TV from muddied
combat boots, that have brazed and combed
hillsides in the folly, fog and boredom of war.
In the Sabbath light, the hills of ink
become the torah scrolls that my son
will read from, holding the sweat
of thousands before him--All their tolls
that remind us of what
is worth keeping, what we take
at a moment's notice--The hand
of a loved one, the prayers in the hills.

You Should Question:

When lipstick marks show up
on hankies that aren't your own.
When motel signs say, "Pets Welcome."
Question when dental hygienists
go poking around in the century
of your mouth, gold-diggers all,
for your crowned jewels of chlorophyll
and anguish. Question the fear
that makes you question-
Where do we go from here?
Question elocutionists with speech impediments.
Reflect later, when the doctor says,
"This won't hurt a bit." Beg to pardon,
when the sofa insists this isn't your home.
When the glossy packaging promises
to pop out cellulite like bubble wrap
(until the fat seeps back like fog under a door.)
Scratch your head
at that fast talking hipster from the telethon
for the Golfer's Relief Fund? And tread lightly,
when the night wakes you to your
'inner child' and says, "the case for 'privacy'
is closed." It's ok to show true alarm
when Ayn Rand winks at you in a bikini
from the grocery store check-out-
Promising ten ways to wax and attract
an alpha-architect. You'd better first vet
that existential treatise that proclaimed
God said: "Go ahead, go ahead,
and strike me dead!"
When your paradigm works
backwards. When your sloshed friends sing
to you in party hats! When you don't like
what you see in the interior mirror.
When your happy pill begs
for a refill-Ok, then worry out loud when your heart
goes cloudy and pencil still.