Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, FOUR WINDOWS, by KAREN SWENSON

Poetry Explorer

Classic and Contemporary Poetry

FOUR WINDOWS, by                 Poet's Biography
First Line: Near grandma's tree-sconced house in brooklyn
Last Line: My fact - touches me so quick, quick as life.
Subject(s): Life; New York City; Manhattan; New York, New York; The Big Apple


Near Grandma's tree-sconced house in Brooklyn,
on a rise that once viewed harbor and masts,
a clapboard house with a widow's walk
sets out a deep lap of porch front and back.
Louvers slant their broken keyboards on the shutters.

Here I grow round eating sweet scraps
of dough from the children's cookies.
My youngest keeps track of life under
the banister the eldest shouts over.
Times under his arm, my husband comes
to have the furrow between his eyes kissed -
so many children, so many chinks
in an old house for money to seep through.
In bed he reads garden books
as though we're a row of cabbages
and he the husbandman, while I read
accounts of solitary voyages.
I wake past midnight to hear silence
in these walls, knowing our dreams rub
them like luminous fish bumping Slocum's keel.


The last apartment house before the highway
on 72nd banks its studio
windows, glazed by sun, to cloud mirrors.
In this room, that light furnishes,
I live with my blond Afghan and my paintings,
large primary-color slashes which,
noncommittal but dramatic, suggest
power in well-carpeted corporate lobbies.
With my black hair cut straight as Prince Valiant's,
my mouth red as a bitten pomegranate,
I meet young men at gallery openings.
Before last night's wakes I apply
makeup and wait. They're like Steuben crystal,
transparent and reflective,
but shattering they sliver your hands with pain.
The Afghan's silky head in my lap, I
drink black coffee, watch the light spawn color.
Someday I'll paint a polished cherry table
with a Delft bowl brimming daffodils
to gild the surface, and none of them
will ever want to buy it.


Leaded and latticed windows gaze over Gramercy Park
where sumptuously clothed magnolias stand among
their still naked sisters in a watercolor
April dusk shrill with the lechery of sparrows.

Does the gray show again? Perhaps I should
frost it next time. Ought I light the candles now?
I might drop the match. I broke the lapis necklace
he gave me on our thirtieth anniversary.
My hands shake so until the second Scotch.
Should I put his cuff links in now or turn the flame
up under Anna's Stroganoff? No wait. I'll wait.

How I fear stillness. We won't talk at dinner or
on the way to the concert, only coming
home - as though the memory of music gave us words.
There, my diamond's stopped shivering light. I'm still
and now I don't fear stillness.


A crooked nursery-rhyme
house lies in the elbow
of a Village street,
dormers cocked like penciled eyebrows
over small panes peering
at the world which their old glass
ripples to a seascape.

My cat waits, black-and-white,
a fact among the fireballs
of window-box geraniums,
mews down while I juggle
grocery bags and two locks
into the stairs' communal smells
of cookies, fish, and onions.
Tomorrow's the death day of
the inch of life that isn't
harpooned whale or rifled
deer or bayoneted
man, just an inch undecided
as to gills or lungs.
Here where the gables' wings
slope down about me
I ask its absolution.
No priest, no other woman,
no lover can shrive, only life
may pardon me this death
which bitters love. Enraged,
as I when my brother would
dandle my doll just beyond
my fingertips, my lover wants
this inch. I want my life
before I have a life,
and thus I may lose love.
Arched against my legs my cat -
my fact - touches me so quick, quick as life.

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