Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Tonight I am thrilled and grateful to welcome Finland, Germany and Russia to TexasBookLover! 

April is National Poetry Month, #30

Language Lesson 1976  

When Americans say a man
takes liberties, they mean

he’s gone too far. In Philadelphia today I saw
a kid on a leash look mom-ward

and announce his fondest wish: one
bicentennial burger, hold

the relish. Hold is forget,
in American.

On the courts of Philadelphia
the rich prepare

to serve, to fault. The language is a game as well,
in which love can mean nothing,

doubletalk mean lie. I’m saying
doubletalk with me. I’m saying

go so far the customs are untold.
Make nothing without words,

and let me be
the one you never hold.
Heather McHugh, “Language Lesson 1976” from Hinge & Sign: Poems, 1968-1993. Copyright © 1994 by Heather McHugh.  Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.

Monday, April 29, 2013


Tonight I am thrilled to welcome France, Romania and Turkey to Texas!

April is National Poetry Month, #29

(I love Langston Hughes - a classic)


What happens to a dream deferred?

      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?

      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.

      Or does it explode?

Sunday, April 28, 2013


I love it when I get to do this: TexasBookLover is delighted to welcome Poland, Singapore and Sweden to Texas! 

April is National Poetry Month, #28

At the Galleria Shopping Mall  


Just past the bin of pastel baby socks and underwear,
there are some 49-dollar Chinese-made TVs;

one of them singing news about a far-off war,
one comparing the breast size of an actress from Hollywood

to the breast size of an actress from Bollywood.
And here is my niece Lucinda,

who is nine and a true daughter of Texas,
who has developed the flounce of a pedigreed blonde

and declares that her favorite sport is shopping.
Today is the day she embarks upon her journey,

swinging a credit card like a scythe
through the meadows of golden merchandise.

Today is the day she stops looking at faces,
and starts assessing the labels of purses;

So let it begin. Let her be dipped in the dazzling bounty
and raised and wrung out again and again.

And let us watch.
As the gods in olden stories

turned mortals into laurel trees and crows
to teach them some kind of lesson,

so we were turned into Americans
to learn something about loneliness.
Source: Poetry (July/August 2009)

Saturday, April 27, 2013

April is National Poetry Month, #27


Each day I woke as it started to get dark and the pain came. Month
after month of this—who knows when I got well, the way you do,
whether you like it or not. With dawn now, risen from the rampage
of sleep, I am walking in the Lincoln woods. A single bird is
loudly singing. And I walk here as I always have, as though from
tall room to room in a more or less infinite house where the owner's
not home but is watching me somehow, observing my behavior,
from behind the two-way mirror of appearances, I suppose,
and listening, somewhat critically, to what I am thinking. Not too,
however. At certain moments I could swear there is even a sense of
being liked, as sunlight changes swiftly, leaving, leaving and arriving
again. A bird is chirping bitterly, as if these words were meant
for me, as if their intent was within me, and will not speak. Nothing
is left me of you.

Franz Wright

Friday, April 26, 2013

A Poem for Arbor Day

The Strange Tree 

There’s a strange tree which lives near me, 
And this strange tree could not agree, 
That if this tree could ever see, 
A stranger tree it sure would be.

There’s a strange tree which topples me, 
For this strange tree was tall, you see, 
And then this tree would use its knee, 
To break in three, the clouds who flee.

There’s a strange tree which lives near me, 
The northern tree, its branches free, 
The southern tree, no limb to see, 
For this strange tree, was strange, you see? 

There’s a strange tree which I can see, 
And this strange tree (against my plea) 
Was sent to sea, its roots now free, 
And now this tree… A ship is he.


Thursday, April 25, 2013


OK, I said big news was coming today and here it is! In cooperation with Random House, Crown Publishers and Broadway Paperbacks, I have 3 copies of THE TRUTH OF ALL THINGS by Keiran Shields to give away. This will be a random drawing. You have one week, through midnight on Friday, May 3rd, to enter. To enter this giveaway contest, you must: 1) be a follower of TexasBookLover (I offer several ways to do this on the home page of the blog); and 2) you must leave a comment on this contest post or on the review post.

I posted a review for The Truth of All Things on April 19th and gave it a 5 of 5 rating. It is the best book I have read this year so far. Remember, the deadline is midnight, Friday, May 3rd. Please do not hesitate to send me an email with any questions. The contest is open to everyone, not just the US. I will announce the winners on Monday, May 6th. Good luck everybody!


Greetings Book Lovers, I wanted to let you know that I have been hanging out on YouTube for way too long today. I've added a playlist to the Texasbooklover channel devoted to book trailers, author interviews, readings, etc. It's a work in progress, more to come, but already contains more than 7 hours of great stuff. In particular, I found an interview with Keith Richards at the New York Public Library. I've linked this video to the photo of Keith in his home library in the far-right column on this page. My idea of nirvana is Keith talking books for an hour! Please click on the link and let me know what you think. Enjoy, peace!

National Poetry Month, #25 - Longfellow

(A nod to Deputy Marshal Archie Lean of The Truth of All Things and A Study In Revenge, who likes to strike a pose and quote Longfellow)

Hymn to the Night  

Aspasie, trillistos.
I heard the trailing garments of the Night
      Sweep through her marble halls!
I saw her sable skirts all fringed with light
      From the celestial walls!

I felt her presence, by its spell of might,
      Stoop o'er me from above;
The calm, majestic presence of the Night,
      As of the one I love.

I heard the sounds of sorrow and delight,
      The manifold, soft chimes,
That fill the haunted chambers of the Night,
      Like some old poet's rhymes.

From the cool cisterns of the midnight air
      My spirit drank repose;
The fountain of perpetual peace flows there, —
      From those deep cisterns flows.

O holy Night! from thee I learn to bear
      What man has borne before!
Thou layest thy finger on the lips of Care,
      And they complain no more.

Peace! Peace! Orestes-like I breathe this prayer!
      Descend with broad-winged flight,
The welcome, the thrice-prayed for, the most fair,
      The best-beloved Night!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Today I am so glad to see Australia, Belgium, Ireland, Italy and Saudi Arabia here. Welcome!

A Study In Revenge

By Kieran Shields
Crown Publishers (Random House), 372 pgs
Submitted by Random House
Rating: 4, Read This Book!

Deputy Marshal Archie Lean of the Portland Police and private detective Perceval Grey are back in the sophomore effort from Kieran Shields, author of The Truth of All Things, which I reviewed on this site last week. A Study in Revenge may be Mr. Shields's sophomore effort, but it is most assuredly not sophomoric: more confident storytelling, relentless plotting, expert timing, wit, rich historical detail and complex characters.

The year is 1893, one year after the witches and Puritans of The Truth of All Things. This time around we are dealing with Vikings, Phoenicians, runes, Rosicrucians, Freemasons, Baphomet, the philosopher's stone, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., practical jokers and a surfeit of handlebar mustaches. The story opens with the robbery and murder of Frank Cosgrave, a petty thief and picker of locks in Portland, Maine. Curiously, the unfortunate Mr. Cosgrave refuses to stay buried and Archie Lean calls in Perceval Grey to investigate the macabre scene.

 Across town, an old and very ill man is dying. Horace Webster calls Grey to his bedside and hires him to find his granddaughter, missing for a year now. At the reading of Mr. Webster's will, we discover that the granddaughter is not the only thing missing. Gone from the estate lawyer's offices is an object called the thunderstone, an artifact passed down in the Webster family for generations, according to the eccentric instructions in the original bequest. There are some seriously weird carvings on this stone, alchemical symbols believed by more than a few unhinged personalities to hold the key to eternal life, the literal kind.

These three investigations continue on parallel lines until they intersect with a bang. Greed, arrogance, superstition, Jotham Marsh, and Grey's love life come together in an explosive plot twist, revealing a maniacal lust for revenge that threatens to take down everyone and everything in its path.

I feel the need to share a few examples of dialogue:
A common misconception. No, that's not Satan. It's Baphomet.
I beg your pardon? Lean said.
Baphomet. Don't be surprised never to have heard of him. He's essentially a fabricated pagan deity.
As opposed to what? Grey asked. A genuine pagan deity?
And this:
...But anyone familiar with Eliphas Levi's work would know of the man's fascination with alchemy.
Understandable, Lean muttered. Who wouldn't want to be able to spin straw into gold?
Lead into gold, not straw, Grey corrected him. You're thinking of Rumpelstiltskin.
One more:
Just a moment. Let me see if I'm understanding you correctly. My fears for your safety are unfounded...because somebody already tried to kill you before these threats were posted?
In a manner of speaking. That is, I'm in no more danger now than I was this time yesterday, before these ridiculous paintings appeared.
You have the oddest way of looking at life, Lean said.
You'd have little use for me otherwise, Grey said.
I do enjoy these books so: sharp dialogue; the belief that ideas matter, that they shape the personal and the political; a sophisticated story; women who are players, integral to the plot, not mere window-dressing or objects to be acted upon. The author trusts his audience. Mr. Shields believes that we are equal to the task and never condescends to us. I can't impress upon you enough how rare that is, and how appreciated. The only false note was struck in the last lines of the epilogue (which I don't think was necessary), rather ham-handedly assuring us that there is a sequel in the offing. But no matter. We know there is a third book on the way. Write faster Mr. Shields!

OK, I lied - one more, from a conversation between Jotham Marsh and Perceval Grey:
Marsh: ...Would you blame the shopkeeper for murder because he sold a man a fishing rod? Only because later that fisherman, in his misguided fervor, comes to fatal blows with another over a favored fishing spot?
Grey: Of course not. But what of the shopkeeper who fills a young man's head with tales of a magical fish who swims in a mystical pond and will grant wishes to any angler who catches it. 'Oh, and by the way,' whispers the shopkeeper,  'the only bait that works is human flesh.'

Something Different in Poetry Today

My friend Doug Baum (he of Texas Camel Corps), a guest reviewer here on TexasBookLover, reminded me that it is National Parks Week here in the US. Admission is free this week and to celebrate Teddy Roosevelt's vision, I am offering poetry written by children after visiting Glacier National Park in Montana.

Mysterious, free
Gliding, pacing, leaping
Hunting for survival

Author: Mary
Frozen, cold
Moving, melting, changing
Slipping down the slope

Author: Cody A.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Hey Book Lovers, I wanted to say a direct thank you. I haven't paid a whole lot of attention to my stats in the past but have noticed over the last week or so that my international audience is growing and makes up almost a full 50% of pageviews. I couldn't be more thrilled with this development. So I have added a "Translate" button to the top right column of the blog. From the past week, I want to extend a delighted and sincere welcome to Brazil, Canada, China, Croatia and Israel!

Today's Poem is from Sandra Cisneros

Today's poem comes from my copy of Loose Women by Sandra Cisneros

Little Clown, My Heart

Little Clown, my heart,
Spangled again and lopsided,
Handstands and Peking pirouettes,
Backflips snapping open like
A carpenter's hinged ruler,

Little gimp-footed hurray,
Paper parasol of pleasures,
Fleshy undertongue of sorrows,
Sweet potato plant of my addictions,

Acapulco cliff-diver corazón,
Fine as an obsidian dagger,
Alley-oop and here we go
Into the froth, my life,
Into the flames!

Sandra Cisneros

Monday, April 22, 2013

Poem for Earth Day

The Peace of Wild Things  

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Poem-a-Day for National Poetry Month, #21

The level  

A great balance hangs in the sky
and briefly on the black pan
and on the blue pan, the melon
of the moon and the blood orange
of the sun are symmetrical
like two unmatched eyes glowing
at us with one desire.

This is an instant's equality,
a level that at once
starts to dip. In spring
the sun starts up its golden
engine earlier each dawn.
In fall, night soaks
its dye into the edges of day.

But now they hang, two bright
balls teasing us to balance
the halves of our brain, need
and will, gut and intellect,
you and me in an instant's grace—
understanding no woman, even
Gaia, can always make it work.

Marge Piercy

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Congratulations Rosemary Catacalos, 2013 Texas Poet Laureate

David Talamantez on the Last 
Day of Second Grade

David Talamantez, whose mother is at work, leaves his mark
     everywhere in the schoolyard,
tosses pages from a thick sheaf of lined paper high in the air one
     by one, watches them
catch on the teachers' car bumpers, drift into the chalky narrow
     shade of the water fountain.
One last batch, stapled together, he rolls tight into a makeshift
     horn through which he shouts
David! and David, yes! before hurling it away hard and darting
     across Barzos Street against
the light, the little sag of head and shoulders when, safe on the
     other side, he kicks a can

 in the gutter and wanders toward home. David Talamantez
     believes birds are warm blooded,
the way they are quick in the air and give out long strings of
     complicated music, different
all the time, not like cats and dogs. For this he was marked down
     in Science, and for putting
his name in the wrong place, on the right with the date instead
     of on the left with Science
Questions, and for not skipping a line between his heading and
     answers. The X's for wrong
things are big, much bigger than Talamantez's tiny writing.
     Write larger, his teacher says

in red ink across the tops of many pages. Messy! she says on
     others where he has erased
and started over, erased and started over. Spelling, Language
     Expression, Sentences Using
the Following Words. Neck. I have a neck name. No! 20’s, 30's.
Think again! He's good
in Art, though, makes 70 on Reading Station Artist's Corner,
     where he's traced and colored

an illustration from Henny Penny. A goose with red-and-white
     striped shirt, a hen in a turquoise
dress. Points off for the birds, cloud and butterfly he's drawn in
     freehand. Not in the original

 picture! Twenty-five points off for writing nothing in the blank
     after This is my favorite scene
in the book because . . . There's a page called Rules. Listen!
     Always working! Stay in your seat!
Raise your hand before you speak! No fighting! Be quiet! Rules
     copied from the board, no grade,
only a huge red checkmark. Later there is a test on Rules. Listen!
     Alay ercng! Sast in ao snet!

 Rars aone bfo your spek! No finagn! Be cayt! He gets 70 on
     Rules, 10 on Spelling. An old man
stoops to pick up a crumpled drawing of a large family crowded
     around a table, an apartment

with bars on the windows in Alazan Courts, a huge sun in one
     corner saying, Tomush noys!
After correcting the spelling, the grade is 90. Nice details! And
     there's another mark, on this paper

and all the others, the one in the doorway of La Rosa Beauty
     Shop, the one that blew under
the pool table at La Tenampa, the ones older kids have wadded
     up like big spitballs, the ones run
over by cars. On every single page David Talamantez has crossed  
     out the teacher's red numbers
and written in giant letters, blue ink, Yes! David, yes!

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Truth of All Things

By Kieran Shields
Broadway Paperbacks (Random House), 404 pgs
Submitted by Random House
Rating: Sublime

Wow, what a brew! Puritans, witches, detectives, murder, black magic. It's been a good while since I read something I couldn't put down. I stayed up way past my bedtime to finish this one. The Truth of All Things is Kieran Shields's first novel and, thank the gods, not his last. A review for the follow-up, A Study In Revenge, will be posted in a few days. Both novels are literary historical thrillers starring Portland police deputy marshal Archie Lean and private detective Perceval Grey, formerly of the Boston Pinkerton Detective Agency.

It is 1892 in Portland, Maine, the bicentennial of the Salem witchcraft trials. Maggie Keene, a young prostitute, has been found murdered in an outbuilding of an industrial concern, a pitchfork pinning her neck to the ground, among other gruesome details. Deputy Lean is on the scene with the city coroner and the mayor. The coroner has called on a stranger, a detective from Boston to examine the scene. Perceval Grey is half Abenaki Indian and unorthodox, to put it mildly, a student of Dr. Hans Gross's new theories of criminology and the research of Kraft-Ebing. No one's very confident about this arrangement, but are confounded by the details of the scene, and so decide to see where it goes.

We follow Lean and Grey and a small supporting cast, including a pimp and his hired muscle as well as the Historical Society and a colonel in the Temperance Union, all over New England for the next couple months as more people die in highly original ways. Lean and Grey begin to close in on the perp, who literally believes that the Reverend Burroughs and Satan himself are his homies. We are even treated to the nineteenth century equivalent of chase and action scenes. I can see the film playing in my head, can't seem to dislodge Robert Downey, Jr.

Kieran Shields knows his New England history and geography, lore and legend. He has conjured an intricate tale from a wide variety of elements, from Puritans and witches to temperance activists and rum-runners, class conflicts and immigrant bigotry to tradition and the relentless onslaught of progress. The juxtaposition of the superstitious Puritans and modern criminal investigation and psychology is extreme. In the figure of Detective Grey, Mr. Shields introduces the birth of modern criminology, the theories and techniques that have led us, a hundred years later, to an endless supply of CSIs. Deputy Lean is a surprisingly open-minded officer, willing to follow Grey's lead and learn to accept the scientific method and become an equal partner in the investigation. The author is clearly inspired by the Sherlock-Watson dynamic. Grey and Lean share a relationship that moves from wariness and skepticism to mutual appreciation and respect for each other's complimentary talents. Also, Archie Lean is prone to striking a pose and reciting Longfellow, which has endeared him to my heart.

Here's some sample dialogue for you:
"I have scars older than him." The doctor turned and reached for the doorknob. "I just think this case might warrant someone with a bit more expertise." 
 "It's just a dead whore, Virgil."
"And MacBeth is just a play about a Scotsman..."
and this (the coroner's niece has been sneaking around his study):
"After you left for Scituate, I was informed by the staff that Helen had borrowed the book I'd promised her. Only I didn't recall any such promise. Upon a close inspection of my shelves, the only volume missing was Kirkbride's work, Arrangements of Hospitals for the Insane. You can imagine how puzzled I was, being unaware that my niece was currently engaged in the construction of an outdated insane asylum."
 "There's no need for sarcasm, Uncle."
one more:
"Do you really not believe in spirits?" Lean asked. "The possibility of communicating with some eternal soul in the afterlife?"
Grey looked at him with one eyebrow pointing up to heaven. "The overwhelming majority of people in the world are unimaginative dullards who, in their three score and ten allotted years, manage to divine no purpose for their being other than to chase money, seize what moments of physical pleasure they can, and to create new, largely unimproved versions of themselves, whom they raise with the same mindless disregard they have applied to their own lives. Tell me, please, what use would such beings have for an afterlife? Whatever would they do with an eternity?"
Some description:
He was a paunchy fellow in a well-worn tweed coat. Thick glasses sat atop his upturned nose. A mustache with arrow-sharp tips stretched out across his pale, flabby face. Helen always had difficulty shaking the image of a highly literate mole that had burrowed up into a closet of ill-fitting clothes, then wandered blindly into the library.
The Truth of All Things is flawlessly plotted and paced to hold the attention of modern readers. It is peopled by richly-drawn characters, even the women are people. This novel is set in an elegantly rendered robber-baron era New England. I feel as if you could drop me off in downtown Portland and I could find my way around, just from reading this book. The city is an individual, comparable to Jonathan Kellerman's Los Angeles or James Lee Burke's New Iberia.

If you liked The Alienist by Caleb Carr, you will love The Truth of All Things. It is smart and witty and never underestimates its reader. Go get this book and read it tonight. I cannot recommend  it to you highly enough. And I am the luckiest reader on the planet, for I have the sequel right here beside me. Next!

Poem-a-Day, April is National Poetry Month

This is really lovely

The Trade 
Crouching down in the loud morning air
of the docks of Genoa, with the gulls wheeling
overhead, the fishermen calling, I considered
for a moment, then traded a copy of T.S. Eliot
for a pocket knife and two perfect lemons.
The old man who engineered the deal held
the battered black Selected Poems, pushed
the book out at arm's length perusing the notes
to "The Wasteland" as though he understood them.
Perhaps he did. He sifted through the box
of lemons, sniffing the tough skins of several,
before finally settling on just that pair.
He worked the large blade back and forth
nodding all the while, and stopped abruptly
as though to say, Perfect! I had not
come all that way, from America by way
of the Indies to rid myself of the burden
of a book that haunted me or even to say,
I've had it with middle age, poetry, my life.
I came only from Barcelona on the good ship
Kangaroo, sitting up on deck all night
with a company of conscript Spaniards
who passed around the black wine of Alicante
while they sang gypsy ballads and Sinatra.
We'd been six hours late getting started.
In the long May light the first beacons
along the Costa Brava came on, then France
slipped by, jewelled in the darkness, as I
dozed and drank by turns in the warm sea air
which calmed everything. A book my brother gave
twenty years before, out of love, stolen
from Doubleday's and brought to the hospital
as an offering, brother to brother, and carried
all those years until the words, memorized,
meant nothing. A grape knife, wooden handled,
fattened at one end like a dark fist, the blade
lethal and slightly rusted. Two lemons, one
for my pocket, one for my rucksack, perfuming
my clothes, my fingers, my money, my hair,
so that all the way to Rapallo on the train
I would stand among my second-class peers, tall,
angelic, an ordinary man become a gift.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

April is National Poetry Month, Day 18

Sonnet for Minimalists  

From a new peony,
my last anthem,
a squirrel in glee
broke the budded stem.
I thought, Where is joy
without fresh bloom,
that old hearts' ploy
to mask the tomb?

Then a volunteer
stalk sprung from sour
bird-drop this year
burst in frantic flower.

The world's perverse,
but it could be worse.

Mona Van Duyn

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Poem-a-Day #17, April is National Poetry Month

There is so much breaking news today that I am tempted to turn off CNN. Instead, as today's poem I offer something comforting and familiar: Robert Frost

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Today's Poem-of-the-Day is From Sharon Olds

She won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry yesterday For "Stag's Leap

The Last Hour  

Suddenly, the last hour
before he took me to the airport, he stood up,
bumping the table, and took a step
toward me, and like a figure in an early
science fiction movie he leaned
forward and down, and opened an arm,
knocking my breast, and he tried to take some
hold of me, I stood and we stumbled,
and then we stood, around our core, his
hoarse cry of awe, at the center,
at the end, of our life. Quickly, then,
the worst was over, I could comfort him,
holding his heart in place from the back
and smoothing it from the front, his own
life continuing, and what had
bound him, around his heart—and bound him
to me—now lying on and around us,
sea-water, rust, light, shards,
the little eternal curls of eros
beaten out straight.

Sharon Olds

Monday, April 15, 2013

Poem-a-Day #15, April is National Poetry Month

from "Real Estate"  

In the apartment where we used to live, the front door opened to a long hall. At the end of that hall was a window, a fire escape, and beyond that the view opened up like a painted fan. In the middle distance was the green copper roof and steeple of a huge church. Beyond it lay the low flat rooftops of Harlem, the elevated train, and a narrow bright wire of river. I never learned the name of that church, although every day I admired it. I thought it looked like a church in Prague. When once I said that to my old friend, who has been to Prague—she, unlike me, has been everywhere, while I, who live three blocks from where I was born, am the most provincial person in the world—she told me I was ridiculous, it looked nothing like churches in Prague, it looked as little like a church in Prague as it was possible to look. Nevertheless, I continued to think that in my mind, like a child who has been told that the words she is singing to a song are wrong, but continues to sing them.

Not everyone had kind words for this view. After we moved out, the woman who bought that apartment came to see me. It was a winter evening, and she had on a violet wool coat that I immediately coveted. At that time the cost of heating was astronomical, and we kept the house to which we had moved so cold that the tiny stars of snowflakes on her coat stayed frozen. She told me that a month after moving into the apartment she had discovered that her husband was having an affair with a younger woman. Now less than a year later, they were divorced. When I first met this woman, whom I will call Joan, I felt I already knew her, because she so reminded me of the mother of a boy I had once loved. She had her long, wide, flat bones and straight brown hair that fell in a comma over her forehead. Both of them were from the South, and decisive. After I had left school, and my friend and I had parted, his mother came once to visit me in the small grimy city where I was bored and unhappy. She was on her way back to India, where for half the year she sat at low wooden tables in houses that flooded during the rainy season and taught women to read. The other half of the year she lived in an apartment in New York near Carl Schurz Park. At that time her life greatly appealed to me, and I imagined that someday I too would do good work, crouching in mud, and bestowing beneficence. I had no idea that I was entirely unsuited to selflessness. As a way out of my boredom and unhappiness and the slight fear I felt every time I walked out the door in this city (once on the way home from a store a car had followed me), I was learning to cook. I had picked up a paperback in a used-book store. It was Elizabeth David's French Provincial Cooking. Standing in the bookstore, I'd read, in the section on sweets, the words, "Everyone knows the recipe for chocolate mousse." I did not, but I wanted to. I wanted to be a person who knew things, and I believed then that there was a programmatic way to do this. I was in this city, accompanied by a boyfriend with whom my exchanges had become increasingly rancorous, because I had been given a fellowship to spend a year writing poems, but month after month, I couldn't think of a single poem. Out the back windows of the apartment I could see the blank windows of closed-down red brick factories, and the huge hands of the electric company clock. The hands of the clock were lit day and night, and folded and unfolded like a giant's pocketknife. I had counted the recipes in the book; if I made one recipe a day, the year would be over. By then, I was sure, I would know what to do next.


It's spring out, and the acrid
hiss of rain on Madison
heaves in the wake of the buses.

Such a long time we've been sitting here.
The dusty fronds are old green loden coats,
heavy around us, the crushed

clouds of tissue roses are
light-resistant, and a little torn.
Watery, thin, the daylight

is whittled down by the revolving door,
becoming another day
entirely: a scrimshaw of "Later on,

when things get better," that is always in front
and also behind us, junky and bleached,
like the word now, that small atom, that pearl.