Marsha Pomerantz’s verse offers a participant-observer’s portrait of the state of the heart at the turn of the 21st century. It is concentrated on what is said, and what transpires, between, yet it never fails to keep the end of play in play. The spiral stairstep couplets of “Winding Sheet,” for example, invoke DNA’s double helix as they trace a descent to the ultimate question, ‘Who’s inside?’ In “To My Translator,” verse dances a “lip ballet” to tell us: “One can transfer parts of our self throughout / these lines. Please be the who to transverse.” What bravery the notion of translating her poems entails! And what risks we take reading them, so often do they dwell on what it takes to persist in a state of transference. “To My Translator” purports to be reasonable, but its parting words are at cross-purposes: “transfer” and “transverse,” to be sure, but transgression is palpable, too. Deferring ordinary syntax, making room to insist on a plural “self” and its entrails, taking self apart, taking language apart, Pomerantz takes our part.
Tri-Town Paving Does a Country Road to the Strains of Bach’s B-Minor Mass
Straighter edges than any-
where in air or ear. Steam
rising in a cold May. Kyrie
in here turned up all the way.
Windows closed. Asphalt
carrier tilts black grit into
the spreader. Chorus pours
Gloria into the speakers. Hy-
pac follows with two rollers,
big and small, backward and
forward. Stops. Canons too
can reverse. The driver, in
parka, steps down and lifts a
Sunday section from the ditch,
stands on pitch, reading. Hap-
pen and stance have their har-
mony moment: maybe there is
In the ensuing
silence birds resume. Fridge
too turns on its motor.
Roy G. Biv Appears to Me between Two Clouds
I’m telling you the conditions so that you can
make this happen too. I was mulling whether
happen and stance, which sing to each other, can
also do a duet. The lake, with no opinion, sloshed
against rocks. It helps if the day before you’ve
had rain-sun-rain-sun, and hail that falls white
then fades to translucent blue. It helps if you’ve
cleaned the kitchen before walking down to the
lake. I sat on a bench dedicated to the memory
of someone, the only cut wood at this edge of
the forest. It was May, it still is, several hours
later, crisp like fall, but time is where I used to
live. Now I live in color. New leaves are waving
everywhere. Shoots of lake reed march up the
sloping shore. It helps to have recently read about
Darwin. You wonder if the reeds will develop
feet. Clouds, in many layers, were scudding.
Not quickly. About like this. I glanced up over
the lake. I said Oh my God, not to anyone because
no one was around. I didn’t mean anything by it.
Roy G. Biv was not connected to earth, had no
apparent intention of coming down from there.
Was just a swath, could have been bacon
frying in the sky, with that strip of yellow
fat. Which is why I mention the kitchen. Red
was at the top, violet at the bottom. A thin cloud
wafted over Roy but Roy did not dissipate
until green minutes after blue. I forgot to
ask him about happen singing with stance. He
might have said pure sound is refracted into
tones and semitones which clamor
orchestrally at angles of coincidence.
Then again, he might not.
To My Translator
Maybe the lunge to the sideward, your
lip ballet, equals the hardest case, squatty
with concision, straightway askance. The reasons
for this are numerable. All the appurtenances, I am
accessible to say, mark their leave somewhere.
This is the only one of mandates I come to you
bearing: hand me into this new space, think with me
the multiplication of tables, the last of shoes.
How particulate the writhing trees, where
my heart is windy: are you hearing its air?
One can transfer parts of our self throughout
these lines. Please to be the who to transverse.
Up the stale steps
in the breathy attic,
I confront a drawer.
Did ever a bare ass
rest on this maple chair?
With what part does one
touch life? Hands ply it
from inside fingers;
memory’s a chaste glove.
Sudden on the tongue
by turns come schmaltz
and herring. Then scraping
of a knife on rye, then
poppy seeds peristaltic
in medias res. —How are you
feeling? I ask. —Touch wood,
she says, heart burn. Small
square drawer sliding open has
a bobbin in it. She
is content to mind
that bottom thread,
loop and meet the needle
through a tiny hole
in metal, touch wood—
with circumferential logic,
thank God, touch wood.
Who sets the tension?
Sewing notions hurry
curtains, ruffle passions,
defy scansion, touch
life, touch wood.
The seam has since been slit. I lay
the attic all to rest: stitchers and
chewers and pickers of bits
of herring from their teeth.
Seeders of bread, renderers
of chicken skin, surface into
essence. Linkers of days
in a line like sausage,
sitters together on the
edges of beds, sitters on
the edges of beds in the
altogether. Frayed ends
of threads kick up their
little heels, then get plucked
from the seam now clean,
touch wood. Touch.