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Spring 1999, Volume 16.3

Poetry

 

Daniel R. Schwarzphoto of Daniel Schwarz.


Daniel R. Schwarz is a Professor of English at Cornell University, where he has received Cornell's Russell Award for distinguished teaching. His books include
Reconfiguring Modernism: Explorations in the Relationship Between Modern Art and Modern Literature (1997), Narrative and Representation in Wallace Stevens (1993), The Case for a Humanistic Poetics (1991), The Transformation of the English Novel, 1890-1930 (1989; revised 1995), Reading Joyce's "Ulysses" (1987), and many others. He has directed nine NEH seminars and has lectured widely in the United States and abroad.

 

Cezanne in Philadelphia, 1996

Today I collected my inheritance
from Cezanne's estate. I behold draughtsman's
hand mysteriously drawing with
fat luscious swathes of sensuous
shapes and colors, transforming
sketches into illuminations,
traveling into imaginative
space, insisting that we see.
I meet my guide in the first room.
Skeptical imposing Uncle
Dominic—left eye raised, becomes
my Virgil, as he might have been Cezanne's.
Vernacular motif—raptly
intent card players—punctuated
regularly by deft psychological
probings of stolid, geometric Madame
Cezanne. Personality, even character,
disappears in search for perfect
arrangement of floating forms in The Bathers:
woman and trees become interchangeable
shapes as if they were anonymous
roofs in a small Provence village.
Sudden shift: a redbrown earth color
intrudes, is taken up, played with,
reinscribed elsewhere; asparagus-shaped trees:
verticals reaching passionately skyward.
Millstone in the Park of the Chateau:
debris of an abandoned mill,
discarded building stone, loose rocks,
millstone. My mind wanders: dark claustrophobic
tumult of stones in the Jewish
cemetery in Prague—every exit
blocked, each gaze reflected back. His final
journey to abstraction: geometric
forms, blurred, contoured;
blotches, swabs, dabs of color, surprising
shadows, efficiency of line,
distortions ordering perceptions.
Yes, I saw Cezanne for the first
time today. When I drove home, the
foggy evening drew shapes and
colors into new patterns,
and I saw afresh.

 

James Thorpe's Daughter

"You are the greatest athlete in the world" —King Gustav of Sweden, 1912 Olympics

I.

"May I show you his medals?"
deeply lined, slightly stooped she approached
our table, opened her bag, took out
faded ribbons and medals signifying
triumph of the fleet and strong:
"I knew and didn't know my father."
"Few of us do," I thought, "yet we
carry their medals in worn wallets,
tattered handbags of our memory."

II.

A tired waitress pointed her out,
when I expressed interest in her
legendary father in a faded
Pocono inn near Mauch Chunk, renamed
Jim Thorpe, to flaunt its memories.
At his quaint mausoleum, where
celebration in stone struggles
with time's drab weathering, I had
overheard gossip dismissing her
as a sad old woman clinging to
muted echoes of stories spun.

III.

On a day in the mountains when
I found beauty in movement—
muskrats poky probing, rustling leaves
of the statuesque red maples—I
realized her gift: resilient
withstanding storms of disappointment,
knitting felt knowledge from legend.

 

Charleston Lake, Ontario
August 1996

I.

I caught at dawn
hummingbirds,
drawn by a dimestore plastic red feeder.
The whirlingwhirr of wings,
a sound much larger than themselves,
fills the morning air.
A dark, needly beak
inhales a sugary morsel,
facsimile of flower nectar.
The wary red headed one,
more regal than the rest,
approaches, takes a startled peek,
rejects my presence,
beats her wings,
turns, departs.

II.

Fragile birds,
needing constant nourishment,
always a few hours from death,
stopping to feed, soon leaving:
Images of ourselves,
seeking, inhaling pleasure,
enjoying this and that,
whirring our whirr,
dropping off
poems, photographs,
memorabilia.

 

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