Amy Clampitt |
past parentage or gender
beyond sung vocables
the so infinitesimal
beyond the woven
unicorn the maiden
God at her hip
bluebell and primrose
growing wild a strawberry
chagrin night terrors
past the earthlit
(we shall be changed)
a silence opens
the larval feeder
naked hairy ravenous
inventing from within
itself its own
behind the mask
the milkfat shivering
greed to reinvest
names have been
gives birth to
who saw in it
love of God
Amy Clampitt |
In memory of Father Flye, 1884-1985
The strange and wonderful are too much with us.
The protea of the antipodes—a great,
globed, blazing honeybee of a bloom—
for sale in the supermarket! We are in
our decadence, we are not entitled.
What have we done to deserve
all the produce of the tropics—
this fiery trove, the largesse of it
heaped up like cannonballs, these pineapples, bossed
and crested, standing like troops at attention,
these tiers, these balconies of green, festoons
grown sumptuous with stoop labor?
The exotic is everywhere, it comes to us
before there is a yen or a need for it.
grocers, uptown and down, are from South Korea.
Orchids, opulence by the pailful, just slightly
fatigued by the plane trip from Hawaii, are
disposed on the sidewalks; alstroemerias, freesias
fattened a bit in translation from overseas; gladioli
likewise estranged from their piercing ancestral crimson;
as well as, less altered from the original blue cornflower
of the roadsides and railway embankments of Europe, these
But it isn't the railway embankments
their featherweight wheels of cobalt remind me of, it's
a row of them among prim colonnades of cosmos,
snapdragon, nasturtium, bloodsilk red poppies,
in my grandmother's garden: a prairie childhood,
the grassland shorn, overlaid with a grid,
unsealed, furrowed, harrowed and sown with immigrant grasses,
their massive corduroy, their wavering feltings embroidered
here and there by the scarlet shoulder patch of cannas
on a courthouse lawn, by a love knot, a cross stitch
of living matter, sown and tended by women,
nurturers everywhere of the strange and wonderful,
beneath whose hands what had been alien begins,
as it alters, to grow as though it were indigenous.
But at this remove what I think of as
strange and wonderful, strolling the side streets of Manhattan
on an April afternoon, seeing hybrid pear trees in blossom,
a tossing, vertiginous colonnade of foam, up above—
is the white petalfall, the warm snowdrift
of the indigenous wild plum of my childhood.
Nothing stays put.
The world is a wheel.
All that we know, that we're
made of, is motion.
Amy Clampitt |
While you walk the water's edge,
turning over concepts
I can't envision, the honking buoy
serves notice that at any time
the wind may change,
the reef-bell clatters
its treble monotone, deaf as Cassandra
to any note but warning.
cumbered by no business more urgent
than keeping open old accounts
that never balanced,
goes on shuffling its millenniums
of quartz, granite, and basalt.
toward the permutations of novelty—
driftwood and shipwreck, last night's
beer cans, spilt oil, the coughed-up
residue of plastic—with random
impartiality, playing catch or tag
ot touch-last like a terrier,
turning the same thing over and over,
over and over.
For the ocean, nothing
is beneath consideration.
of so many mussels and periwinkles
have been abandoned here, it's hopeless
to know which to salvage.
I keep a lookout for beach glass—
amber of Budweiser, chrysoprase
of Almadén and Gallo, lapis
by way of (no getting around it,
I'm afraid) Phillips'
Milk of Magnesia, with now and then a rare
translucent turquoise or blurred amethyst
of no known origin.
goes on forever: they came from sand,
they go back to gravel,
along with treasuries
of Murano, the buttressed
astonishments of Chartres,
which even now are readying
for being turned over and over as gravely
and gradually as an intellect
engaged in the hazardous
redefinition of structures
no one has yet looked at.
Amy Clampitt |
While the sun stops, or
seems to, to define a term
for the indeterminable,
the human aspect, here
in the West Village, spindles
to a mutilated dazzle—
niched shards of solitude
embedded in these brownstone
walkups such that the Hudson
at the foot of Twelfth Street
might be a thing that's
done with mirrors: definition
hip-hop, Chinese takeout,
co-ops—while the globe's
elixir caters, year by year,
to the resurgence of this
climbing tentpole, frilled and stippled
yet again with bloom
to greet the solstice:
What year was it it over-
took the fire escape? The
roof's its next objective.
Will posterity (if there
is any)pause to regret
such layerings of shade,
their cadenced crests' trans-
valuation of decay, the dust
and perfume of an all
too terminable process?
Amy Clampitt |
A vagueness comes over everything,
as though proving color and contour
alike dispensable: the lighthouse
extinct, the islands' spruce-tips
drunk up like milk in the
universal emulsion; houses
reverting into the lost
and forgotten; granite
subsumed, a rumor
in a mumble of ocean.
definition, however, has not been
totally banished: hanging
tassel by tassel, panicled
foxtail and needlegrass,
dropseed, furred hawkweed,
and last season's rose-hips
are vested in silenced
chimes of the finest,
opens up rooms, a showcase
for the hueless moonflower
corolla, as Georgia
O'Keefe might have seen it,
of foghorns; the nodding
campanula of bell buoys;
the ticking, linear
filigree of bird voices.
Amy Clampitt |
Lost aboard the roll of Kodac-
olor that was to have super-
seded all need to remember
Somerset were: a large flock
pelted sheep up on the moor;
a stile, a church spire,
and an excess, at Porlock,
of tenderly barbarous antique
thatch in tandem with flower-
beds, relentlessly pictur-
esque, along every sidewalk;
a millwheel; and a millbrook
running down brown as beer.
Exempt from the disaster.
however, as either too quick
or too subtle to put on rec-
ord, were these: the flutter
of, beside the brown water,
with a butterfly-like flick
of fan-wings, a bright black-
and-yellow wagtail; at Dulver-
ton on the moor, the flavor
of the hot toasted teacake
drowning in melted butter
we had along with a bus-tour-
load of old people; the driver
's way of smothering every r
in the wool of a West Countr-
y diphthong, and as a Somer-
set man, the warmth he had for
the high, wild, heather-
dank wold he drove us over.
Amy Clampitt |
a stone at dawn
cold water in the basin
these walls' rough plaster
after the hammering
of so much insistence
on the need for naming
after the travesties
that passed as faces,
grace: the unction
of sheer nonexistence
upwelling in this
of the unnamed
Amy Clampitt |
The West Village by then was changing; before long
the rundown brownstones at its farthest edge
would have slipped into trendier hands.
impervious to trends, behind a potted hedge of
rubber trees, with three cats, a canary—refuse
from whose cage kept sifting down and then
germinating, a yearning seedling choir, around
the saucers on the windowsill—and an inexorable
cohort of roaches she was too nearsighted to deal
with, though she knew they were there, and would
speak of them, ruefully, as of an affliction that
might once, long ago, have been prevented.
Unclassifiable castoffs, misfits, marginal cases:
when you're one yourself, or close to it, there's
a reassurance in proving you haven't quite gone
under by taking up with somebody odder than you are.
Or trying to.
"They're my friends," she'd say of
her cats—Mollie, Mitzi and Caroline, their names were,
and she was forever taking one or another in a cab
to the vet—as though she had no others.
who'd become a nun, the one who was Jewish, the couple
she'd met on a foliage tour, one fall, were all people
she no longer saw.
She worked for a law firm, said all
the judges were alcoholic, had never voted.
But would sometimes have me to dinner—breaded veal,
white wine, strawberry Bavarian—and sometimes, from
what she didn't know she was saying, I'd snatch a shred
or two of her threadbare history.
sent home in a troika when her feet went numb.
summer, carriage rides.
A swarm of gypsy children
driven off with whips.
An octogenarian father, bishop
of a dying schismatic sect.
A very young mother
who didn't want her.
A half-brother she met just once.
Cousins in Wisconsin, one of whom phoned her from a candy
store, out of the blue, while she was living in Chicago.
What had brought her there, or when, remained unclear.
As did much else.
We'd met in church.
I noticed first
a big, soaring soprano with a wobble in it, then
the thickly wreathed and braided crimp in the mouse-
Old? Young? She was of no age.
Through rimless lenses she looked out of a child's,
or a doll's, globular blue.
Wore Keds the year round,
tended otherwise to overdress.
Owned a mandolin.
I got her to take it down from the mantel and plink out,
through a warm fuddle of sauterne, a lot of giddy Italian
airs from a songbook whose pages had started to crumble.
The canary fluffed and quivered, and the cats, amazed,
came out from under the couch and stared.
What could the offspring of the schismatic age and a
reluctant child bride expect from life? Not much.
Less and less.
A dream she'd had kept coming back,
She'd taken a job in Washington with
some right-wing lobby, and lived in one of those
bow-windowed mansions that turn into roominghouses,
and her room there had a full-length mirror: oval,
with a molding, is the way I picture it.
In her dream
something woke her, she got up to look, and there
in the glass she'd had was covered over—she gave it
a wondering emphasis—with gray veils.
The West Village was changing.
I was changing.
time I asked her to dinner, she didn't show.
or was it days?—later, she phoned to explain: she hadn't
been able to find my block; a patrolman had steered her home.
I spent my evenings canvassing for Gene McCarthy.
I'd see her shades drawn, no light behind the rubber trees.
She wasn't out, she didn't own a TV.
She was in there,
getting gently blotto.
What came next, I wasn't brave
enough to know.
Only one day, passing, I saw
new shades, quick-chic matchstick bamboo, going up where
the waterstained old ones had been, and where the seedlings—
O gray veils, gray veils—had risen and gone down.
Amy Clampitt |
Like the foghorn that's all lung,
the wind chime that's all percussion,
like the wind itself, that's merely air
in a terrible fret, without so much
as a finger to articulate
what ails it, the aeolian
syrinx, that reed
in the throat of a bird,
when it comes to the shaping of
what we call consonants, is
too imprecise for consensus
about what it even seems to
be saying: is it o-ka-lee
or con-ka-ree, is it really jug jug,
is it cuckoo for that matter?—
much less whether a bird's call
means anything in
particular, or at all.
Syntax comes last, there can be
no doubt of it: came last,
can be thought of (is
thought of by some) as a
higher form of expression:
is, in extremity, first to
be jettisoned: as the diva
onstage, all soaring
takes off, pure vowel
breaking free of the dry,
the merely fricative
husk of the particular, rises
past saying anything, any
more than the wind in
the trees, waves breaking,
or Homer's gibbering
those last-chance vestiges
above the threshold, the all-
but dispossessed of breath.
Amy Clampitt |
Crossing, on this longest day,
the low-tide-uncovered isthmus, scrambling up
the scree-slope of what at high tide
will be again an island,
to where, a decade since well-being staked
the slender, unpremeditated claim that brings us
back, year after year, lugging the
makings of another picnic—
the cucumber sandwiches, the sea-air-sanctified
fig newtons—there's no knowing what the slamming
seas, the gales of yet another winter
may have done.
the gust-beleaguered single spruce tree,
the ant-thronged, root-snelled moss, grass
and clover tuffet underneath it,
edges frazzled raw
but, like our own prolonged attachment, holding.
Whatever moral lesson might commend itself,
there's no use drawing one,
there's nothing here
to seize on as exemplifying any so-called virtue
(holding on despite adversity, perhaps) or
any no-more-than-human tendency—
stubborn adherence, say,
to a wholly wrongheaded tenet.
hold on in any case means taking less and less
for granted, some few things seem nearly
certain, as that the longest day
will come again, will seem to hold its breath,
the months-long exhalation of diminishment
Last night you woke me
for a look at Jupiter,
that vast cinder wheeled unblinking
in a bath of galaxies.
Watching, we traveled
toward an apprehension all but impossible
to be held onto—
that no point is fixed, that there's no foothold
but roams untethered save by such snells,
such sailor's knots, such stays
and guy wires as are
mainly of our own devising.
From such an
empyrean, aloof seraphic mentors urge us
to look down on all attachment,
on any bonding, as
in the end untenable.
Base as it is, from
year to year the earth's sore surface
mends and rebinds itself, however
and as best it can, with
thread of cinquefoil, tendril of the magenta
beach pea, trammel of bramble; with easings,
mulchings, fragrances, the gray-green
bayberry's cool poultice—
and what can't finally be mended, the salt air
proceeds to buff and rarefy: the lopped carnage
of the seaward spruce clump weathers
lustrous, to wood-silver.
Little is certain, other than the tide that
circumscribes us that still sets its term
to every picnic—today we stayed too long
again, and got our feet wet—
and all attachment may prove at best, perhaps,
a broken, a much-mended thing.
the longest day take cover under
a monk's-cowl overcast,
with thunder, rain and wind, then waiting,
we drop everything to listen as a
hermit thrush distills its fragmentary,
hesitant, in the end
From what source (beyond us, or
the wells within?) such links perceived arrive—
diminished sequences so uninsistingly
not even human—there's
hardly a vocabulary left to wonder, uncertain
as we are of so much in this existence, this
botched, cumbersome, much-mended,
not unsatisfactory thing.