Karen Swenson (B.A., Barnard College, M.A., New York U) recently received a grant from the Lannan Foundation. She won the National Poetry Series for her book The Landlady in Bangkok (Copper Canyon Press, 1994).
In September city dawn
gray as Ninth Avenue hotel sheets,
She unflaps her cardboard-carton-house
perched on a vacant townhouse stoop,
feels layers of her laundry cart
parked on the sidewalk under
tucked plastic, like a shower cap.
With the precision of
a woman who knows her gold bracelet
is packed in the throat
of her black turtle neck, she pulls
out her cosmetic case
of silver vinyl. Over last
night's coat of diesel grime,
deposited by buses, she
applies today's foundation,
so deft at feathering the color
at her jawline. Passing men
may pity. Women know the face
fractured in her shard of mirror.
They tried to dynamite the sacredWithout a tongue between us, we walk,
as if faith could be razed to rubble
like these gray walls whose roofless tops have
become corrals for trees. Bricks mortared by weed,
green feathering from wind blown seeds.
two grandmas. Buildings newly painted
a bit too brightly—a child's smile
above a skinned knee—grow despite fines
and persecutions, into new shrines.
She lays a scarf before a Buddha,
pours butter in a lamp. A monk lifts
a stupa's silver frostwork, caved
by rifle blows, which blesses to console
us in its injury as it did whole.