"Seven Octets"

A weekly poem, read by the author.
Oct. 5 2010 7:04 AM

"Seven Octets"

Click the arrow on the audio player to hear Paul Breslin read this poem. You can also download the recording or subscribe to Slate's Poetry Podcast on iTunes.
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Like a Shining Mirror

Mother cumulonimbus
Trying never to rain

Father anvil cumulus
Throwing rope-tornadoes and lightning

Gone now from the mirror
Blinding blue where they were

My vow
To uncloud myself.

First House

We owned the roof over our heads;
my parents slept in the same bed.

Mother taught me to recognize
pansies, snap-dragons, tiger-lilies;

how to spread mulch, and how to place
bulbs; how sometimes the trowel's blade

cut through the rings of earthworms, sliced
a dormant beetle's carapace.

Her Smile

The only time I saw her smile
She knelt in sunlight, gardening,
Red trowel turning up the soil;
The only time I saw her smile
With no misgivings, lost a while
In the pleasure self-forgetting brings;
The only time I saw her smile
Without fear's shadow burdening.

The Lanterns

I wanted the long, low-ceilinged basement rec-room dark
Except for the pair of brass ship's lanterns, green and red,
That unmoored the room from the house and lit its path from roadstead
To open water where, caught by the trades, it would embark

Southward, as new-minted stars climbed from the sea,
And shoals of fish leaped, shedding concentric rings of phosphorous—
To anchor, after prolonged, delicious loneliness,
Where no one who was not a child could follow me.

Primal House

But there had been a house before the house,
The one I left at three and can't recall;
Yet mother said the house J. and I chose
Three decades later was identical.

And must my life in this repeated space
Harbor that 3-year-old's bewildered pain,
His inarticulate sense of grief and loss,
Like smoldering fire in an abandoned mine?

Dad Home From Work

He had started bringing us presents: "Surprise Balls"
Of tissue-thin paper you'd dissect
For the plastic prizes nested inside—
Which, of course, we came to expect:

"Got something for me?" we would greet him
While he stood at the door in his hat,
Till one night he snapped "Aren't you glad to see me?"
And brought no presents after that.

Tennis

He took me to the Quadrangle Club courts.
Sometimes he'd teach me how to bend my knees
And drive a topspin forehand, or drop short,
Soft shots with backspin that just cleared the net.

When he played others, he would try too hard.
His backhands slapped the net and made it hiss;
His crosscourt forehands drove too deep and missed.
He'd curse, and, with his racket, strike his head.

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Paul Breslin is the author of You Are Here, and with Rachel Ney, a forthcoming translation of Aimé Césaire’s play, La Tragédie du roi Christophe. He teaches at Northwestern University.  

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