Cheerfully presented by Eileen Tabios:
Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow, originally from Chicago, now lives in Gilbert, Arizona. She received her B.A. at Northeastern Illinois University and M.A. at the University of Illinois. Her poetry has appeared in The American Poetry Review, ACM (Another Chicago Magazine), Chelsea, Full Circle Journal, Jewish Women’s Literary Annual, Square Lake and The Emily Dickinson Awards Anthology (Universities West Press). She was a past prizewinner to the National Poetry Competition (Judges: Robert Creeley, Diane Wakoski and Charles Wright) and a finalist in Inkwell Magazine’s 2002 Poetry Competition (Judge: Elizabeth Alexander). First place prizewinner of the 2002 Arizona State Poetry Society’s 32nd Annual Poetry Competition (Judge: Michael Bugeja), she has recent poetry in Arizona Attorney Magazine, Barrow Street, The Chiron Review, Cimarron Review, The Litchfield Review, Willow Review, from whom she was awarded the 2004 Willow Review Prize for Poetry, and Gulf Coast, from whom she was chosen as a finalist in the 2005 Gulf Coast Poetry Contest (Judge: Susan Howe). She has poetry appearing in American Literary Review, Diner, The Tusculum Review and Smartish Pace, from whom she was awarded third prize in the 2006 Beullah Rose Poetry Prize Competition. She has poetry in the nature anthology In The Eye from Thunder Rain Publishers, the proceeds of which will go to “Habitat for Humanity” to aid in the relief efforts for those affected by Katrina.
THE HALLOWED MAGICIAN, 1977
for Joseph Chassler
We certainly couldn’t say
the same thing about rocks.
Then there’s one who’s earnest, who echoes Plato first
and Robbe-Grillet second,
and if God hadn’t made him a man
he would have been, what? heresy, plague,
herbs, poultice, health, property.
A disc humming in fierce velocity,
soundly, its shadow behind, likelihood ahead.
Here as they say, twisted and jaded as memories go,
what appears is what wants to appear: Resonant, irritable hands,
the wafting scent of dubious conceit, nice thin legs.
He thinks covering himself with jipijapa leaves
and jacks-in-the-pulpit will distract me from my schoolish excuse.
So what if I could kill him. Kill him or be him.
Fumes climb from him like theatrical devices. Out of his head
he grows Einstein’s negligence cut,
below which inherited eyebrows collide, twin nightwalkers
in happy mime. But especially his eyes. Narcotic.
Bloody true, they say, give it up, you’re a baby,
do something for yourself, insanely,
wracking my skull into bits, from the eyes
comes the calling: Some carpenter, the hallowed magician,
he sways on the podium under limelight, unleashed
in a fixed cast, neglecting his applauding audience.
What diffidence! What a pretty boy!
And the dynamic rite, cutthroat and bruising, comes at leisure,
twining around and enters, it knows the impossible
and splices me back like a carcass revived from the spoil.
Bloody well then, you made it, have at it. Vanity,
incalculable error. Artfully, none else exist for him,
flicking cranial bone chips off his lapel,
he is something strange and worth it:
a spirit unpossessed by steel or salt
a spirit laughing and cursing in a water bath.
(originally appeared in The American Poetry Review)
IF YOU SEE A NAKED ATTORNEY IN THE LADIES ROOM
Don’t tell George. Did we not have one god-awful time
getting order restored the day the racist cookies were solicited in?
His desires to see and not to see are wholly construction,
a ritual laxity of his covenant, and he sees despite himself,
spiralling bombardier in the drapery folds of his mind
the imported wool court suit in a sienna heap
like a deposed flag on the tile floor. The makeup
wands and color pots strewn across sink and counter.
Her prismatic earrings casting lyrical, bewitching light
upon and beyond the winking mirror. The woman herself
bony, freckled chest, breasts the size of hardened
limes, the mystifyingly long, middle-aged hair. And too,
her studied holding of the precisely chosen pen,
its cloisonné entrapment, taking the measure of herself.
Only the earrings left on, and the high-heeled slingbacks
to lift the buttocks like the hindquarters of a doe,
anatomical hammers, with the hint of the fleecy comical, as
in the vigorous moment the creature forefeels, peers
through the leaves of the poplar trees, down
the black ravine, short snorting of the nostrils, the turn
toward, turning back, furious flee from
the undetectable blued barrel.
The naked attorney with relish says no man will demur her charms.
She cocks one pale, diminutive hip, accentuating pelvic
bone, its shallow hollow. In any social room every fellow
has his want, but her heart’s longing not to be trod upon
binds their poor folly so that they end rapturously, loathing her.
And she wonders why the church wives shoot
her nasty glances. Would you tell her something
stamped black confidential arrived from the bar association,
the meter is expiring, and the loutish python has once again
escaped in her young son’s room at home. Coiled around
around and around one pine bedpost, it lazes
indifferent to the brutal mess downstairs.
The boy cannot retrieve his books for school.
(originally appeared in Willow Review)
POST-AUTOPSY: OR, ALL THOSE CELL PHONES ATTACHED TO YOUR BELT LOOK LIKE GRENADES
And so now, somewhere, someone is singing.
A man’s ragged voice, but full, with incredibly
tender edging to it. The kind of man a
serious woman takes to a wet bed. I might blame it
on a marvelous night of soft rain
in a tucked-away garden. Or how his hands, like hovercraft
ease upon me weightless. Or that a cool mist
films his entire pale body, and I suck at it. The knot of his nipple
hard and undefended under my pink pink tongue.
His large arms, jaws around my waist. I am
tired of wishing. The embrace is anaconda;
constriction as his want stiffens.
I wonder if a thoughtful reader approached this
brackish thing, would only one question be lashed
and uttered: what is it with hunger? Incomputable effort and time
spent deferring to it, and its guises. A mere vocabulary
of coins to measure it. Meanwhile,
the appointed wait on determinations
of great significance. Letters
slide back and forth between offices. Many mad
waiting. Some in grief. Some anxious on calculated returns.
By tomorrow afternoon, the clear jar of formaldehyde, in it
snippets of organs bobbing, will make its way to a crisp
many-windowed room. Look closer,
I have to go away from this
before I cannot get away. Only to find out
vitally I am nothing special.
a mean burr straddles the top of the microtome.
Hoo wee! No one can read a slide this choppy.
Is there anyone in the entire
building who can make sense
out of this slide.
(originally appeared in Diner)
AUTOPSY: UPON THE TAMIS TABLE
The long, leathery, mottled man-luggage
is surrounded. They wheel him in smeared, ungroomed
in the clothes he died in. A festive affair
according to the crease of his trousers.
So the haunt that tapped him tapped him good.
Now a blue gaggle of attendants handles him
roughly. He is icestorm stiff but they
will remove all of it. Wedding band,
modest watch, belt and ornate buckle.
Each is numbered, assigned a clear ziploc bag,
carried away. His otherwise white shirt,
monogrammed at the shirttail, yanked and
twisted off. It is hard to think him dead
with the living swirling about him so, the living
throwing up x-rays, taking his fingerprints,
photographing him, aerial view
from the top of a ladder, and crude to stare
at his nakedness. Gentler instead to think of the tussle
the attendants have with his wardrobe: how like the bygone days
of a mud-spattered four-year-old, toy trucks clutched in each hand,
called in from play, surly, resistant to the taking
off of his clothes. Tantrum half a minute
Because a severed carotid artery cannot
be speckled-pupped away.
Because some dark fugue repeats
in the background. The chief wanted it;
the attendants cannot rumble about it.
The perforated tamis table the man-luggage
rests on oozes his ruddy
fluids into a trough-like basin beneath.
Sterilization doesn’t dwell here. Hardware store
pruning shears crack the rib cage
wide open, cuticles of meat stuck
still to the blades. Organs and fat the mystic
clothing he’d packed for his autarkic spree,
here now spread out, circling the terrible hole
of his middle. Kidney socks balled in
on themselves from spatial concerns, cushioned
in fat like pastries. Stomach a dress shirt
folded over then under to lessen
wrinkles. Cropped runt of a left lung
obliging the muscle of all muscles. Endless
astonishing intestine, like the champagne
ruffled skirting around a buffet table.
Burgundy liver, sleek tuxedo shoes
in a shiny bag. Esophagus
a bouquet of glossy pearls. Two or three
globular mysteries, pomegranates
packed for snacks. Peachy
pomegranates. Delicious looking. Soft as heaven.
It happens again today, and tomorrow it will:
The amber-stained cutting board. The old scalpel,
fluted knife, expert hands uttering for the dead.
A restaurant ladle scoops up pooled
blood in the rib cage cavity,
adventive punch bowl at the big
family reunion. Slop bucket
below the table lined with a plastic garbage bag.
The parts of a man sliced and thrown in.
Far away, a bass note fastens the room, long bow
easing over strings for a small forever.
Enter the angels of all our minds.
Before the curly fish needle
pulls him together, the bag is twisted once,
twice, heaved out of the bucket and plopped
down into his middle. Garbage bag and all.
Hey man, here’s your stuff back
Don’t think we took anything much, really
(originally appeared in The Tusculum Review)
DO NOT THINK FOR ONE MINUTE
that because she is having a nervous breakdown
and because the two of you are in an empty field
and she is arranging a string of multicolored
pennants in a tremendous circle
and you are getting paid to watch her do this
that you are any less a decent and upstanding person
for the weirdness of this transaction.
She agreed to your services at your rate;
you assumed that would involve the legal usuals.
You came to draft on behalf of strangers.
Once, singlehandedly, she protected
all the employees of her state, afforded
them the luxury of composure
in their employer’s house. Fame found her
when a nurse client refused to bare her buttocks
during an office canoe-trip mooning incident.
How could you possibly know she would
arrange these flags on the grass in a circle
and bandy around within, wingless
but away, away?
Just know that even this is not the subversion.
Odds being what they are, there still
was that fresh patio umbrella, anonymously
cranked wide open in the low visibility dust-and-grit
windstorm, not wise you say, the significant damage
to the fabric, the frame twisting, but wait. The umbrella
lifted straight up, out from its metal stand,like Mary
Poppins swelling over the slanted English rooftops
only to collapse, plummet savagely back to earth.
But not earth precisely. Rather the velvety
pleasant-smelling head of the toddler
being jogged in the stroller by his mother
increasingly frantic to escape the eyeless storm,
impaling itself in the child’s
crown with the nonchalance of a lottery winner
one year past payday. There’s your bad news kiddo.
Is enough as good as a feast?
Ask that of the physician, who in the operation
to remove, must elect
between language and ambulation.
(originally appeared in Cimarron Review)