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A Little Indiscretion

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PAGE 1

A LITTLE INDISCRETION By LAURA PAUL A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLOR IDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF FINE ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2006

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Copyright 2006 by Laura Paul

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For Adam

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iv ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I would like to thank my thesis director William Logan, who, with his tireless blue pen, has been an example of a poet, teacher, and reader; Sidney Wade for her work as a reader and her gentle yet illuminating introduction to poetry my first semester; Debora Greger for her enthusiasm for poetry as so mething meant to be enjoyed, not merely worked at; Michael Hofmann for his work as a reader and for encouraging me to develop my own sensibilities as a writer; and my fellow poets, whose hardwork, humor and sincerity have made me feel pa rt of a writing community. Not l east of all, I wish to thank my family for loving me and (nearly) ev erything I write; and Adam, without whose support no poetry would ever be written, at least not by me.

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v TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS.................................................................................................iv ABSTRACT......................................................................................................................v ii ANTIPHON AT EASTER DINNER...................................................................................1 JOHNNY APOLLO.............................................................................................................2 BARRATORS, THIEVES, AND HYPOCRITES...............................................................3 SAYS OPHELIA.................................................................................................................4 SWIMMERS OBSERVED BY CUTTLEFISH..................................................................5 VIXEN CADMEAN IN COLORADO...............................................................................6 FROM ALFRED SETON’S JOURNAL ..............................................................................7 PRAYER FOR THE END OF THANKSGIVING DINNER.............................................8 ON READING WALDEN ....................................................................................................9 AN ACCOUNT OF MY PA RENTS’ COURTSHIP.........................................................10 CAPTAIN FRANS BANNING COCQ’S CHICKEN......................................................11 FOR THE SLEEPING.......................................................................................................12 IMPRESSIONIST AT SUNSET.......................................................................................13 ELEGY FOR MRS. ROCHESTER...................................................................................14 ODE TO A PEACH HANGING IN ILLINOIS................................................................15 VIGIL AT THE MURFREESBORO MOTEL..................................................................16 GETTING AT MY PARENTS IN METAPHOR.............................................................17 PHOTOTAXIS..................................................................................................................18

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vi A CAMEL SNEEZES IN IAMBIC PENTAMETER.......................................................19 TEXT FOR BROCHURE..................................................................................................20 FAMILY PHOTO, 1904....................................................................................................21 BUG STUDY.....................................................................................................................2 2 THE SHIFTING CATHOLIC...........................................................................................23 DOUBLEGNGER...........................................................................................................24 DIRGE FOR ATTILA.......................................................................................................25 1983........................................................................................................................... .........26 THE BRISTLECONE........................................................................................................27 ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA, COMPLAINS OF ITS AGE...........................................28 SMITH’S ELEGIAC SONNETS......................................................................................29 THE PALM BEACH STORY...........................................................................................30 THE FRENCHMAN’S POOL IN QUAN LOI.................................................................31 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.............................................................................................32

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vii Abstract of Thesis Pres ented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Fine Arts A LITTLE INDISCRETION By Laura Paul May 2006 Chair: William Logan Major Department: English The thirty-one poems collected in this thes is speak, more than anything else, to the idea that everything deserves exploration. Th e poems are a record of the poet working out the knots in her own philosophy.

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1 ANTIPHON AT EASTER DINNER It is not about love; ev erything is about love. Brown thrashers beat their wings into the dust. They hide in the azaleas when the dog goes out to pee and dust themselves again when she leaves. Cracked Easter dishes trim the table, offsetting a mold of gelatin in the shape of a bunny, nesting ceramic chicken sa lt-and-pepper shakers, one with a pastel necktie, the other a pink apron. It is not about love says Grandma, explaining Father Mooney’s Lent-ending sermon. When she takes her seat in the winged ladder-back, the dessert shimmies like her sarcopenic triceps. God is not that selfish she says, as she reaches for the pepper. The dog licks her toes and is shooed outside where the thrashers nest. The sliced gelatin waits sideways on smaller plates. Mom shows off the hat she wore to service, brown grass and soft pink ribbons. The dog returns through the patio door and spits out a blue egg— something from a Dr. Seuss book— freckled and still warm from wattle nest. It lies on the Berber carpet like a planet. Grandma drops her dessert spoon; quietl y, it chimes and circles in her teacup. Two thrasher s strike the window, fanning azalea dust as they thud their beaks against the glass.

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2 JOHNNY APOLLO A stack of newspapers lies tied in twine on the sidewalk. The camera focuses on the social-column headlines of gentleman gangsters lounging some floors above in an overcast apartment, tipping their fedoras to the boss, punching, jocularly, the hero on the shoulder of his tapered blazer—a dart of wool cinched, effeminately, by one large button. Someone strikes a match on the molding of a doorframe. The flame is cake-white— the coped wood smokes, then extinguishes itself. No one notices the hot scratch on the varnish, the cicatrized film that fingers the apartment like a conspirator. One fedora, its feather pressed neatly beneath a masculine ribbon, takes a seat opposite the window—the l ookout for newspapers spinning their headlines, or a punch of bad weather. The lacquered coffee-table reflects the bottom of prison bluepr ints curling, stubbornly, back into themselves as if to cross the labyrinth of ventilator shafts with laundry chutes. Bu t no pre-noir prison break succeeds, and the shadow lights that catch the sheets of prison shafts light just enough of the page to reveal the economy of the props— the blank curls of architect paper before they nest in th e underarm of Apollo.

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3 BARRATORS, THIEVES, AND HYPOCRITES These must be the birds kicked out of heaven, the tonsured, long-mouthed clergy of the marsh, swinging their bills like muddy thuribles. Their rosy feathers seem too near the mottled knowledge rising in the stomachs of men. If Virgil had seen your shallow sheet of water, he would have sworn the tip of Florida had sunk, dipping its rivers and spoonbills in the mud. The birds must see this slough of grass as if it were a patch of green sewn to the stoop of a rive r, a contrapasso of mud, a bowl of pond apples and cypress knees. In the elbows of bromeliads, in the red eyes of its birds, this marsh might be joyless—or perhaps I make it so. Pollen hangs above the marsh grass and tucks into the blades of the fan boat, into the feathers of the spoonbills feeding and preening, sipping the Kissimmee. When the fan is still and the boat is still, it throws back the squawks of a rookery hidden somewhere behind a hummock of cypress. If nothing else, this lowland, this bog of orchid celebrants, might be a place to hide.

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4 SAYS OPHELIA Has God been honest with us? What I know is that when we die we split ourselves like anthers. Little fists unclench inside our chests and scatter like pollen. So metimes, when it’s wet, we puff like silique seeds and catch ourselves on currents moving round the shoulders of children with ghostly complexions and spindle bones. We spirit over their doorsills like January, mark their cheeks with beads of sweat and a purgatorial windweed. Elsinore wants ghosts, but we’re the chaff of our own immortality, dander, bells of dry bindweed stolen from marsh fields. Our thoughts are trimmed with thistle barbs. Our gaping mouths sift handfuls of cold dust whose chill makes us feel that we could be flesh again.

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5 SWIMMERS OBSERVED BY CUTTLEFISH More conspicuous than horse-mackerel and always the same color, fanning sand and stamping the water, they look beneath the skirts of coral with their one, sad eye. The ruffled mouth, the benign tongue, the impotent, chattering jowl—what curious mistakes! A fish that doesn’t float! Finless, inkless, screeching things, they have, at times, a way of going to and fro that makes them difficult to ignore. What sad, rudderless creatures, lumbering about the cu rrent, chasing light. Once in a while they settle into the reef; but at last, deflated, they are only sacks of air.

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6 VIXEN CADMEAN IN COLORADO What did Cadmus know of foxes, or Thebans of sacrifice? Their infants were meals, mercy, shards of stone laid on stone, the sad immolations of gods and war. In the backyard, December’s silver, narrow-leaf pines shake bundles of snow and needle to the floor, the debris of branches dumped out of trees. A rock mouse palms, then cheeks, two choke-cherry seeds. The spruce shifts again, the fox— a tepid sleeve of fur, a slip of ash—wakes. But waits, instead, for the windfall, for what might drop onto the silver-flu te quartz, a mantle of frost veiling its eyes, the inky, lidless beads of winter.

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7 FROM ALFRED SETON’S JOURNAL Some fifteen months have rankled away since I first set foot in this miserable country: a wild-faced copse of tangled willows, rounded by spruce and hemlock. Its dreary, no, savage form seems well to suit its naked inhabitants. The hands were daily employed in its clearing. I learned that only the summer before the Tonquin, passing north, stopped in Wiccannish where the captain took to shore to smoke and talk fur. Hostage to his return, a number of Indians were kept on board. They fought with the crew over the falling price of skins. One round-faced man so much enraged the ranks, the lieutenant struck him with a pelt, hard and so savagely. They returned the day after to trade their knives and blankets as polite as any New Yorker! It was the way they smiled that morning while paddling their bateaux to the entrepot of the anchored Tonquin— It’s not in them to be obsequious he warned—that brought the crew’s rifles to a more horizontal posi tion. Before the Tonquin could loose her topsails or man her windlass, the Chinooks stuck a fur to the back of our clerk and let it hang there on one of their knives. They are some good, but mostly bad From then, I kept to my accounts and made portage of the narrows. I promise my informant that if ever I am destined to return to New York—that Happy Place!— I will not mention him and the Willamette together.

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8 PRAYER FOR THE END OF THANKSGIVING DINNER Lord, it’s 5:30; the slat-backs are empty, save a napkin or two. The gravy boat— that larded lamp, th at empty ciborium— looks lost. It points at the ghost of someone seated here, chewing. Wax is tempered on the tablecloth. On the chop tray, that little killing floor, colonies of fat clot on the porcelain. Lord, let evening take its dusty turn at this table, though it hasn’t been cleared. Let the opulent paten bear a few cold dinner rolls. Let the cruet breathe its last inch of wi ne. Let the weather be warmer than we’d like. I won’t even talk about the turkey, that obedient bird!

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9 ON READING WALDEN We had thrown some blue-stained sapwood on the fire, the pine that only last summer shaded our kitchen window in needled striations. I imagined the beetles moving inside the logs, their stridulous protests, their jaws gnawing before they reached the cooked air, their young hissing like sap in th e pitch-tubes. I was reading a copy of Walden its binding dropping pages of “Solitude” to my lap. From the dry leaf of a farmer’s kitchen table, wrote Thoreau, emerged a boring-beetle. Who knows what beautiful and winged life is cooking in the hearth? he asked. The beetle opened his sideways jaws; the fire spit red on his wings. Since then, I’ve learned not to worry so much about other things surviving. Often, they’re well enough with out me. The weeds drill upwards through our rive r-rock driveway, the elk still piss on the back lot, and when the crickets rub their wings together, not even the trees move.

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10 AN ACCOUNT OF MY PARENTS’ COURTSHIP In the only good photogr aph of my parents, they sit on a sassafras -plaid couch, opposite my aunt and uncle in queerly matching blouses. My mother reaches for a butterscotch from the glass candy-dish on the coffee table. Soon she’ll reapply her lipstick named Pink in the Afternoon. The grill of my father’s Austin-Healey sneaks, barely visible, into the windowpane beside the couch. My grandparents have already acquired the habits of the elderly: blinking moisture into their eyes, arguing over trays of ba con, wearing slippers even when they have company. In this moment, my father is courting my mother in my grandparents’ house, his hand on her lap, closer to her thigh than her knee. My grandmother watches my grandfather furtively: his open-kneed, kinetic perching on the last inch of seat. In the backyard, pork steaks cook over briquettes that slowly resign their shape to grey circles of heat. This will give them a chance to talk. In the sepia that overtak es these rare photographs thirty-five years ago seem twenty, twenty-five seem ten, all their scenes imagined as they struggle to find the right hue.

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11 CAPTAIN FRANS BANNING COCQ’S CHICKEN The Chicken Speaks I know it was an accident—the man in velvet pantaloons funneling powder past the cool lips of his musket, the carelessness to let it dangle there the moment Rembrandt began to scratch his brush in oil—but never can I forgive that angle: how its stump covered, diagonally, the narrow swatch of canvas where my neck and face should be, hiding the most reflectiv e plume of feathers a chicken might have, figuring my wings short as they are, to even shorter wedges of feather. Though I might be angry, anger, I find, is unbecoming: it thins the skin about the cheeks; it redd ens the tip of a cold man’s nose; and shadows of an autumn hour mistake themselves as midnight, darker yet than that unstable blue of Andalusian down. Anger, then, it’s not. The Captain’s hand, cupped, almost sympathetic, closes round the narrow waist of his walking stick. Its head, a talisman or thurible of wood, hangs like an amulet and imitates my heavy, chicken sway. We’re pendulums, two metronomes, modest accessories of victory, smudges of contrast meant only as metaphors—well, more or less.

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12 FOR THE SLEEPING This hour, caught between two breaths, dissolves, a wafer of light laid on the tongue. To lake water, the sun resigns itself when the moon takes the opposite horizon. You’ve read enough to know this hour when pianos go quiet; violets collect near a copse of cypress; and horses set their eyes on Canaan. Consider the trees, the way they root through the cemetery yard. Be still. Birds feed here.

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13 IMPRESSIONIST AT SUNSET Against ochre strokes of sunlit grass, the gibbous-winged figures fly home to roost. Like a curfew bell, the bellow of an alligator dismisses the birds; frogs droop unswallowed in necks curved like confused parabolas. O Lake, here is a City of Birds tucked behind Monet—a polis built on water lettuce and chinaberry trees behind ramparts of sawgrass and white-robed sentinels, feathers of jungle fowl floating on the lake top, a sky colored from the underside, lengthening like the hiss of an alligator— and all he paints is waterlilies! Everything must be ignored to get at something: one egret, still wading, sees only an iridescent scale behind a dorsal fin, panning the last sunlight for gold, and that’s enough.

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14 ELEGY FOR MRS. ROCHESTER Bertha Mason is mad…she came of a mad family;--idiots and maniacs through three generations! —Mr. Rochester, Jane Eyre Dear Reader, we’ll give you the particulars, she was the Mrs. Rochester, the first, all hair and hollyhock, dead as the lilacs and mad as winter; the sweet Creole cursed to England; the trailing, sp eechless flapping of fabric that chased the candles through the corridors; the howling, tangled woman from the attic. Some nights, she’d lie on the floor boards and listen for Jane, the turning down of linens a floor below; sometimes she’d press her thigh against the fender, later, remake the marks the brass had made with ashes from the fire. Passing the nights as she did, we wonder why she waited, at last, how sane she felt her sins.

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15 ODE TO A PEACH HANGING IN ILLINOIS Sweet drupe, opal of roses, porcelain ornament of Persia, you hang like a point of light, hiding your cyanide almond in the bosky fidgeting leaves of the peach tree. Bashful lantern, Botticelli plucks you at the foot of spring, when, jealous of your likeness, the ocean throws its conchs to the shoreline. Your pedicle confines you— ringless planet, diminutive moon— over Illinois; you hang above the barges that skiff the apples south, flicker like a slow satellite fixing itself on the horizon. With the summer ending in Calhoun County, with the leaves curling in the mouths of aphids, with the galvanic zephyrs crossing the river, with the peach-heavy vans and van-heavy ferries pushing west to the shore of Missouri, you, bulb of savor, spongy, blushing seed, drop to the grass.

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16 VIGIL AT THE MURFREESBORO MOTEL There was only the idling of a Kenworth— A purple T350—to make the morning palpable. Headlights still cut th e highway around poplars; The lobby sent its A-framed roofline through The fog of yellow streetlight. Inside, The walls were sponged with blue fleurs-de-lis ; My mother used to fold my blankets Like a flat accordion, or a coiled spring. (During the summer my quilts were reduced To a foot-wide string of stitched hearts.) By the doorway I found a box of kittens, Their belly buttons like gr ape stems, which I could Have brought inside and wrapped In bed sheets. Air brakes sighed In the parking lot. I couldn’t feel The streetlight take up space or watch The flowers arrange themselves Into quiet bouquets; the kittens didn’t mewl For my attention. Of the things we collected At the service that day before, I forgot To take the card— Sorry for Your Loss it said.

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17 GETTING AT MY PARENTS IN METAPHOR My parents are nothing like nature. The sand-boils in Florida springs Make you believe the earth moves Everything from an underneath Hotter than the sulfurous Lawn sprinklers jigging Morning and dusk. Whipping the sand like milkshakes, These boils massage clumps of tadpoles And thump them from the center of their springs, Docking their spongy flageolet tails. I have those same bulbous Eyes that point everywhere But forward.

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18 PHOTOTAXIS In the morning the cooled abdomens and folded wings of moths lie on the front stoop by the newspaper, as if the step and doormat make an altar. Mom sweeps them into the lawn, but occasionally a wing or two and a body with hollowed eyes, like two burnt souffls, ta ngle in the bristles. Like an island, a raft of rough planks floats in the cove behind the house. The water has warped its boards and pushed up nail heads that catch our bathing suits and dimple our thighs. Standi ng on that unsteady platform, we aim pebbles at geese ne sting on the mud shore, their white throat-patches lik e deer tails. Their necks curve as they clean their wings or look backward at the catfish tracing the lakeshore with whiskers, walking through the mud on bent fins. I know this summer will come in color. Last night a willow was felled in a fitful rain storm: roots and leaves now shrinki ng in the air. Its trunk lies along the water, not pointing toward or away from it, but caught somewhere in between when the lightning struck.

PAGE 26

19 A CAMEL SNEEZES IN IAMBIC PENTAMETER The yoke and broom lie on the threshing floor when Joseph comes to Atad. Husks of wheat shoveled into the air for winnowing bother the camel Joseph rides. The rider slouches, his camel sneezes; all the cattle laughing—those fat lips, pucke red, hanging, that tongue narrow enough for speech, the stoic, flat expression, they seem almost funereal. Some miles away, the oak of Abraham lowers a branch or two. The wheat, too light to fall, hovers above the threshing stones. God separates, but God delays his reasons (the cattle again). Their eyes, oil brown, watch Joseph. He leans against the camel. At his feet, an acorn rolls a circle in the sand.

PAGE 27

20 TEXT FOR BROCHURE An hour east, or two, perhaps, along the curved Caribbean where your hotel has laid out a towel for you, you’ll nap. The canopy of white-faced monkeys will applaud each wave. Oranges, green though ripe, ripe though green, will float in tidal pools (this co ast is gard en-like, where meals are found, not caught). An inch of map will take you south, past cataracts of water and larged-eared leaves that shade the highway, past the one town that sits in clouds perpetually, looking over a valley and slopes so green they hide the steepness of their angles. On dunes of coffee plants, snakes curl like roots and hold the dirt in place. And once a day, the hills will shake so subtly that the berries, like the prisms and pendalogue s of a chandelier, jingle in their skins. The foreignness could be a touch familiar: if you had come a few years sooner: the coffee, the winters mild enough to be mistaken would have made you swear (to friends) you wished you’d never left, or never come, so you’d never miss it, when all, all of it, had gone.

PAGE 28

21 FAMILY PHOTO, 1904 The sons, all but one, will survive their parents. Already, in their stiff collars, they look like men. It’s difficult to place them anywhere except in this parlor, counting bouquets on the rug, on the wallpaper, looking out the window behind the slow camera onto a street (cobblestone? mud?) busy with horse traffic. Somewhere in that parlor there might be something of value: a sideboard, a ticket to the Pike at Forest Park, a well-preserved pamphlet from the Palace of Mines and Metallurgy— or something to tease their flat expressions with the World’s Fair hullabaloo that took St. Louis that year: ice cream cones, X-rays, electricity, the Ferris wheel whose skeleton, now hidden like an ark next to I-44, hibernates beneath Forest Park, though no one can find it.

PAGE 29

22 BUG STUDY The swales are dry. There is one cricket left scratching a circle of fift hs for God-knows-who in this weather-poor winter, and all of Florida is mourning the too quic k interview of cold with the peninsula. It is night, of course. Think of the lights that come from the highway: the jeweled refraction, how it ends, and, when it does, how wide the beams will break. Our cricket, too. Its trill runs agains t our row of houses, and somewhere in the line of echoes, it ends.

PAGE 30

23 THE SHIFTING CATHOLIC Despite the chapel and transepts, the basilica remains a hallway for sinners, flickering little prayers against varnished wood and polished marble. From the ceiling a rough wood-cross suspends a stole of silk, like Dega s’ tulled ballerina: out of place among cherubim and painted crossbeams. As a child, I feared th e sound of my voice here, how it surrendered to the priest’s voice ruffling the marble robes in the alcoves. He told me I was the Dead Sea, hoarding God’s love until it rotted inside me. I remember that year differently, how I tossed peach pits behind my house, wrist flicking like the priest’s when he blessed us with wands of holy water. Though no orchard grew, the fox grape was curvier and the saw palms bent their fronds like heads in prayer. It was the way I saw God fidget when He’s nervous.

PAGE 31

24 DOUBLEGNGER The small shadows cupping his eyes just before his exit match the storm clouds outside my apartment, the hard-to-forgive frowns of weather, the half-hearted chiaroscuro that falls, every once in a while, on the carpet footing my vertical blinds. Sometimes, from the persistence of looking at these prints of light, outside seems an illusion of unfaithfulness, like the rustle of newspapers, or the horse whose four legs lift into the air when its picture turns at speed.

PAGE 32

25 DIRGE FOR ATTILA Oldest son of Mundzuk, you were probably born in Hungary. Of this we keep no record. But a thousand years from now—no, longer—they will tell stories about you: the cities you burne d; your nonpareil table-manners, that wood bowl toasting Priscus, Rome, your new Goth princess. They’ll put you next to the Danube, maybe the Theiss (your buriers we’ll bury). There will be the usual, barbarian epithets. Your saddles, your flock of arrows, the meat beneath your thigh, your smattering of wives, even the ring of Honoria, will all be in your opera. Attila, we found your bride in the corner, weeping in her tunic, afraid to touch a king.

PAGE 33

26 1983 The fruit had fallen early that year, skirting the field in wrinkled bulbs of russet. For a week, when the flocks crossed from the north, they carried to our house cider and craws of mulled air before it ripened to vinegar. Their claws dropped the hoary morning on our roof like dew or shreds of aphids that chewed the cheeks of leaves. The boards of the cider press had taken the color of branch fr ost or of the Midwest on a January afternoon. Each fall I stop on those days: I add rows to the orchard and fruit to their branches; Dad carries me on his shoulders so I can touch the bellies of the flock flying overhead; the trees are generous and the birds stretch forward their necks at my offer of fruit. There were apples sometime in January. I’m sure; the rest I remember remembering.

PAGE 34

27 THE BRISTLECONE The bristlecone’s flowers tightened into little fists of cold resin, its branches readied to drop a needle. Somebody—the mayor, I think— built a restaurant up here for tourists who wanted to see Denver. In 1979, it ca ught fire and the mountain glowed like a watchtower signaling war. Since then, sheep have recove red the restaurant crags, and picas reclaimed their tunnels under its cool foundations. The purple fireweed shook its petals from its skirt. Rock rabbits fl attened into the sinking peak, and sheep—those dodgy, solid beasts—blurred into wisps of cloud. My summer mountain exchanged its solidity for the lap and suspen sion of lake water in January. The mountain disappeared beneath me. I could see only fish and a useless green canoe, drifting. The sky was formal and hard. My arms cut the lake water and my cheeks turned red, though I knew the blood was gone. Fish line wound around my legs, and I quit trying to move. Then, just as suddenly, the waves tightened into air. I stood on the mountain once more. That moment bothered me: the lake where there should have b een slopes of wildflower. Then I remembered that afternoon in Nevada my last year of college, the fisherman pulling me onto his boat, the scent of cold pine-trees and cotton blankets as he rubbe d the needles from my feet.

PAGE 35

28 ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA, COMPLAINS OF ITS AGE I am sick of Minorcan chowder, sick of Juan Ponce, his sulfurous fountain, sick of the sea wall, the tour trolleys, the colic sewer belching rainwater. In the cataracts of summer rain, I buoy the vaults of the Huguenot cemetery where just now, under the gray festoons of a live oak, a busty mallard pecks a few hatless acorns. I am sick of being a city, sick of this false remembering of things between tides. The Huguenots are dead; the conquistadors have gone. Even the water tower looks sickly in its leaning.

PAGE 36

29 SMITH’S ELEGIAC SONNETS In Switzerland, Charlotte remembers, there are orchards and vineyards, alabaster beards on the men who swing scythes across the grass, women winding wool around their fingers, and mothers swaddling cheese in cotton gauze. She liked the way the hem revealed the skin around her ankle, the way her ankle reflected too whitely the sun, how snow hardened on the croissant-shaped shore and collected footprints. At Woolbeding House, a day from King’s Bench, she waits for the man who is her husband and sweeps cinder from her la p. The floor steals heat from orange logs; ash settles on her cheeks like cheap rouge. The receipts from T. flutter when she billows the fire.

PAGE 37

30 THE PALM BEACH STORY Seven hundred dollars looks small in a rich man’s fist. The bills curl inside themselves like a tadpole’s legs, unfolding only for a poor man whose wife has left him for a pas de deux in Palm Beach, a quick divorce, a convenient millionaire whose philanthropy is empty or selfish or blind, but ready, at least, to unroll for her long legs and crimped hair. During Sunday’s offertory, I imagined Jesus directing Claudette Colbert as the widow who put her mite in the collection plate. She had given up her arabesque bracelet and exchanged petticoats for more penitent linen. There, I was stuck. Does He direct her to feel her own charity or affect the face of humility, like Mary, or the lambs? He means us to be charitable, but He has never taught us how charity should feel— whether it is meant to feel like mercy, or like a wafer of bread softening on the tongue, or nothing, nothing at all.

PAGE 38

31 THE FRENCHMAN’S POOL IN QUAN LOI Now 1st Air Cavalrymen have their own versi on of the Apollo 12 "splashdown.” An Olympic-sized pool built by the French Te rre Rouge Rubber Corporation has been reopened for use by members of the 3rd Brigade. --The Cavalier Feb. 18, 1970 What would you do for a little indiscretion? The girls, you, Quan Loi, everything might look The same some thirty years from now except The ox-bowed banks crooking toward Saigon. The girls, you, Quan Loi, everything might look The same, but less so. The earth will hide again The ox-bowed banks, crooking toward Saigon, Where once, you say, you saw a young girl washing Her stockings in clay. The earth will hide again The rubber trees, the pool, the Frenchman’s farm Where once, you say, you saw a young girl washing, Watching for men in the reeds around her bathtub. The rubber trees, the pool, the Frenchman’s farm Will all be gone by then, even the girl Watching for men in the reeds around her bathtub. Her stockings hang from trees. The clay-red earth Will all be gone by then, even the girl’s tan cheeks that blush for you. No one will look At her stockings hanging from trees. The clay-red earth, Quan Loi, its private girls, will wash in the Saigon. Their cheeks will blush for you. No one will look The same some thirty years from now except Quan Loi, its private girls who wash in the Saigon. What you would do for a little indiscretion!

PAGE 39

32 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Laura Paul was born on a Tuesday in Kansas City, Kansas. She has a silly affair with Midwestern sensibilities but likes to pl ace herself near coasts, or other significant landforms. In 2002, she received her B.A. in English and Spanish from Truman State University. The time in between the major events of her lif e has been one long succession of minor indiscretions.


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Title: A Little Indiscretion
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Copyright Date: 2008

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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0013895/00001

Material Information

Title: A Little Indiscretion
Physical Description: Mixed Material
Copyright Date: 2008

Record Information

Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
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A LITTLE INDISCRETION


By

LAURA PAUL

















A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF FINE ARTS

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA


2006

































Copyright 2006

by

Laura Paul



































For Adam















ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I would like to thank my thesis director, William Logan, who, with his tireless blue

pen, has been an example of a poet, teacher, and reader; Sidney Wade for her work as a

reader and her gentle yet illuminating introduction to poetry my first semester; Debora

Greger for her enthusiasm for poetry as something meant to be enjoyed, not merely

worked at; Michael Hofmann for his work as a reader and for encouraging me to develop

my own sensibilities as a writer; and my fellow poets, whose hardwork, humor and

sincerity have made me feel part of a writing community. Not least of all, I wish to thank

my family for loving me and (nearly) everything I write; and Adam, without whose

support no poetry would ever be written, at least not by me.
















TABLE OF CONTENTS



A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ................................................................................................. iv

ABSTRACT ............... .......................................... vii

AN TIPH ON A T EA STER D INNER ............................................................... ............1

JO H N N Y A P O L L O ............................................ ....................................... .............. 2

BARRATORS, THIEVES, AND HYPOCRITES....................... ..... ...............3

S A Y S O P H E L IA ........................................................................................................ 4

SWIMMERS OBSERVED BY CUTTLEFISH............................................... 5

VIXEN CADMEAN IN COLORADO ........................................... .......................... 6

FROM ALFRED SETON'S JOURNAL.................. ....... ................... 7

PRAYER FOR THE END OF THANKSGIVING DINNER ....................................

O N R E A D IN G W AL D E N ........................................................................... .................... 9

AN ACCOUNT OF MY PARENTS' COURTSHIP ............................................... 10

CAPTAIN FRANS BANNING COCQ' S CHICKEN ....................................................11

F O R T H E SL E E P IN G .............................................................................. .................... 12

IM PRESSION IST A T SU N SET ............................................... .............................. 13

ELEGY FOR MRS. ROCHESTER.......................................................................14

ODE TO A PEACH HANGING IN ILLINOIS ...................................... ............... 15

VIGIL AT THE MURFREESBORO MOTEL................................................. ...............16

GETTING AT MY PARENTS IN METAPHOR .................................... ............... 17

PH O TO TA X IS ............................................. 18



v










A CAMEL SNEEZES IN IAMBIC PENTAMETER .......................................................19

T E X T F O R B R O C H U R E ......................................................................... ....................20

F A M IL Y P H O T O 1904 ........................................................................... ....................2 1

B U G S T U D Y ................................................................................................................ 2 2

TH E SH IFT IN G C A TH O L IC ........................................... ...........................................23

DOUBLEGAN GER .......................................................................... 24

D IR G E F O R A T T IL A ......... ..... ............ ................. ........................... ........................25


TH E B R ISTE1983......... C O N E .......................... ....................................................................27
THE BRISTLECONE...........................27

ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA, COMPLAINS OF ITS AGE ...........................................28

SM ITH 'S ELE G IA C SO N N E T S ............................................................. ....................29

TH E PA LM BEA CH STORY ......... ................. ................... ................... ...............30

THE FRENCHMAN'S POOL IN QUAN LOI .............................. 31

BIOGRAPH ICAL SKETCH ...................................................... 32
















Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Fine Arts

A LITTLE INDISCRETION

By

Laura Paul

May 2006

Chair: William Logan
Major Department: English

The thirty-one poems collected in this thesis speak, more than anything else, to the

idea that everything deserves exploration. The poems are a record of the poet working

out the knots in her own philosophy.















ANTIPHON AT EASTER DINNER


It is not about love; everything is about love.
Brown thrashers beat their wings into the dust.
They hide in the azaleas when the dog goes out to pee
and dust themselves again when she leaves.

Cracked Easter dishes trim the table, offsetting
a mold of gelatin in the shape of a bunny,
nesting ceramic chicken salt-and-pepper shakers,
one with a pastel necktie, the other a pink apron.

It is not about love, says Grandma, explaining
Father Mooney's Lent-ending sermon.
When she takes her seat in the winged ladder-back,
the dessert shimmies like her sarcopenic triceps.

God is not that selfish, she says, as she reaches
for the pepper. The dog licks her toes and is shooed
outside where the thrashers nest. The sliced gelatin
waits sideways on smaller plates.

Mom shows off the hat she wore to service, brown
grass and soft pink ribbons. The dog returns
through the patio door and spits out a blue egg-
something from a Dr. Seuss book-

freckled and still warm from wattle nest.
It lies on the Berber carpet like a planet. Grandma drops
her dessert spoon; quietly, it chimes and circles
in her teacup. Two thrashers strike the window, fanning
azalea dust as they thud their beaks against the glass.















JOHNNY APOLLO


A stack of newspapers lies tied in twine
on the sidewalk. The camera focuses
on the social-column headlines of gentleman gangsters
lounging some floors above

in an overcast apartment, tipping their fedoras to the boss,
punching, jocularly, the hero on the shoulder
of his tapered blazer-a dart of wool cinched,
effeminately, by one large button.

Someone strikes a match
on the molding of a doorframe. The flame is cake-white-
the coped wood smokes, then extinguishes itself.
No one notices the hot scratch on the varnish,

the cicatrized film that fingers the apartment
like a conspirator. One fedora, its feather pressed neatly
beneath a masculine ribbon, takes a seat
opposite the window-the lookout for newspapers

spinning their headlines, or a punch of bad weather.
The lacquered coffee-table reflects
the bottom of prison blueprints curling, stubbornly,
back into themselves

as if to cross the labyrinth of ventilator shafts
with laundry chutes. But no pre-noir prison break
succeeds, and the shadow lights that catch
the sheets of prison shafts

light just enough of the page
to reveal the economy of the props-
the blank curls of architect paper
before they nest in the underarm of Apollo.















BARRATORS, THIEVES, AND HYPOCRITES


These must be the birds kicked out of heaven,
the tonsured, long-mouthed
clergy of the marsh, swinging their bills
like muddy thuribles.
Their rosy feathers seem too near the mottled knowledge
rising in the stomachs of men.
If Virgil had seen your shallow sheet of water, he would have sworn
the tip of Florida
had sunk, dipping its rivers and spoonbills in the mud.

The birds must see this slough of grass
as if it were a patch of green
sewn to the stoop of a river, a contrapasso of mud,
a bowl of pond apples
and cypress knees. In the elbows of bromeliads,
in the red eyes of its birds,
this marsh might be joyless-or perhaps I make it so. Pollen hangs
above the marsh grass
and tucks into the blades of the fan boat,

into the feathers of the spoonbills feeding and preening,
sipping the Kissimmee.
When the fan is still and the boat is still,
it throws back
the squawks of a rookery hidden somewhere
behind a hummock
of cypress. If nothing else, this lowland,
this bog of orchid
celebrants, might be a place to hide.















SAYS OPHELIA


Has God been honest with us? What I know
is that when we die we split ourselves like anthers.
Little fists unclench inside our chests

and scatter like pollen. Sometimes, when it's wet,
we puff like silique seeds and catch ourselves
on currents moving round the shoulders

of children with ghostly complexions and spindle bones.
We spirit over their doorsills like January,
mark their cheeks with beads of sweat

and a purgatorial windweed. Elsinore wants ghosts,
but we're the chaff of our own immortality,
dander, bells of dry bindweed stolen from marsh fields.

Our thoughts are trimmed with thistle barbs.
Our gaping mouths sift handfuls of cold dust
whose chill makes us feel that we could be flesh again.















SWIMMERS OBSERVED BY CUTTLEFISH


More conspicuous than horse-mackerel
and always the same color, fanning sand

and stamping the water, they look beneath the skirts
of coral with their one, sad eye.

The ruffled mouth, the benign tongue,
the impotent, chattering jowl-what curious mistakes!

A fish that doesn't float!
Finless, inkless, screeching things,

they have, at times, a way of going to and fro
that makes them difficult to ignore.

What sad, rudderless creatures,
lumbering about the current, chasing light.

Once in a while they settle into the reef;
but at last, deflated, they are only sacks of air.
















VIXEN CADMEAN IN COLORADO


What did Cadmus
know of foxes, or Thebans
of sacrifice? Their infants were meals, mercy,
shards of stone
laid on stone, the sad immolations

of gods and war.
In the backyard, December's
silver, narrow-leaf pines shake bundles of snow
and needle
to the floor, the debris of branches

dumped out of trees.
A rock mouse palms, then cheeks, two
choke-cherry seeds. The spruce shifts again, the fox-
a tepid
sleeve of fur, a slip of ash-wakes.

But waits, instead,
for the windfall, for what might
drop onto the silver-flute quartz, a mantle of frost
veiling its eyes,
the inky, lidless beads of winter.















FROM ALFRED SETON'S JOURNAL


Some fifteen months have rankled away
since I first set foot in this miserable country:
a wild-faced copse of tangled willows, rounded
by spruce and hemlock. Its dreary, no, savage form
seems well to suit its naked inhabitants.
The hands were daily employed in its clearing.

I learned that only the summer before
the Tonquin, passing north, stopped in Wiccannish
where the captain took to shore to smoke and talk fur.
Hostage to his return, a number of Indians
were kept on board. They fought with the crew
over the falling price of skins. One round-faced man
so much enraged the ranks, the lieutenant struck him
with a pelt, hard and so savagely.

They returned the day after to trade their knives
and blankets as polite as any New Yorker!
It was the way they smiled that morning
while paddling their bateaux to the entrepot
of the anchored Tonquin-It's not in them to be
obsequious, he warned-that brought the crew's rifles
to a more horizontal position. Before the Tonquin
could loose her topsails or man her windlass,
the Chinooks stuck a fur to the back of our clerk
and let it hang there on one of their knives.

They are some good, but mostly bad. From then, I kept
to my accounts and made portage of the narrows.
I promise my informant that if ever I am destined
to return to New York-that Happy Place!-
I will not mention him and the Willamette together.















PRAYER FOR THE END OF THANKSGIVING DINNER


Lord, it's 5:30; the slat-backs are empty,
save a napkin or two. The gravy boat-
that larded lamp, that empty ciborium-

looks lost. It points at the ghost of someone
seated here, chewing. Wax is tempered
on the tablecloth. On the chop tray,

that little killing floor, colonies
of fat clot on the porcelain.
Lord, let evening take its dusty turn

at this table, though it hasn't been cleared.
Let the opulent paten bear a few
cold dinner rolls. Let the cruet breathe

its last inch of wine. Let the weather
be warmer than we'd like.
I won't even talk about the turkey, that obedient bird!















ON READING WALDEN


We had thrown some blue-stained sapwood
on the fire, the pine that only last summer
shaded our kitchen window in needled striations.
I imagined the beetles moving inside the logs,
their stridulous protests, their jaws gnawing
before they reached the cooked air, their young
hissing like sap in the pitch-tubes.

I was reading a copy of Walden, its binding
dropping pages of "Solitude" to my lap.
From the dry leaf of a farmer's kitchen table,
wrote Thoreau, emerged a boring-beetle.
Who knows what beautiful and winged life
is cooking in the hearth? he asked.
The beetle opened his sideways jaws;
the fire spit red on his wings.

Since then, I've learned not to worry so much
about other things surviving. Often,
they're well enough without me. The weeds
drill upwards through our river-rock driveway, the elk
still piss on the back lot, and when the crickets
rub their wings together, not even the trees move.















AN ACCOUNT OF MY PARENTS' COURTSHIP


In the only good photograph of my parents,
they sit on a sassafras-plaid couch, opposite

my aunt and uncle in queerly matching blouses.
My mother reaches for a butterscotch

from the glass candy-dish on the coffee table. Soon
she'll reapply her lipstick named Pink in the Afternoon.

The grill of my father's Austin-Healey sneaks,
barely visible, into the windowpane beside the couch.

My grandparents have already acquired the habits
of the elderly: blinking moisture into their eyes,

arguing over trays of bacon, wearing slippers
even when they have company. In this moment,

my father is courting my mother in my grandparents' house,
his hand on her lap, closer to her thigh than her knee.

My grandmother watches my grandfather
furtively: his open-kneed, kinetic perching

on the last inch of seat. In the backyard, pork steaks
cook over briquettes that slowly resign

their shape to grey circles of heat.
This will give them a chance to talk.

In the sepia that overtakes these rare photographs
thirty-five years ago seem twenty,

twenty-five seem ten, all their scenes imagined
as they struggle to find the right hue.















CAPTAIN FRANS BANNING COCQ'S CHICKEN


The Chicken Speaks

I know it was an accident-the man
in velvet pantaloons funneling powder
past the cool lips of his musket, the carelessness
to let it dangle there the moment Rembrandt
began to scratch his brush in oil-but never
can I forgive that angle: how its stump
covered, diagonally, the narrow swatch
of canvas where my neck and face should be,
hiding the most reflective plume of feathers
a chicken might have, figuring my wings
short as they are, to even shorter wedges
of feather. Though I might be angry, anger,
I find, is unbecoming: it thins the skin
about the cheeks; it reddens the tip of a cold
man's nose; and shadows of an autumn hour
mistake themselves as midnight, darker yet
than that unstable blue of Andalusian
down. Anger, then, it's not. The Captain's hand,
cupped, almost sympathetic, closes round
the narrow waist of his walking stick. Its head,
a talisman or thurible of wood,
hangs like an amulet and imitates
my heavy, chicken sway. We're pendulums,
two metronomes, modest accessories
of victory, smudges of contrast meant
only as metaphors-well, more or less.















FOR THE SLEEPING


This hour, caught
between two breaths, dissolves,

a wafer of light laid on the tongue.
To lake water, the sun resigns itself

when the moon
takes the opposite horizon.

You've read enough to know
this hour when pianos go quiet;

violets collect near a copse of cypress;
and horses set their eyes on Canaan.

Consider the trees,
the way they root through the cemetery yard.

Be still. Birds feed here.















IMPRESSIONIST AT SUNSET


Against ochre strokes of sunlit grass,
the gibbous-winged figures fly home to roost.
Like a curfew bell, the bellow of an alligator
dismisses the birds; frogs droop unswallowed
in necks curved like confused parabolas.

0 Lake, here is a City of Birds
tucked behind Monet-a polis
built on water lettuce and chinaberry trees
behind ramparts of sawgrass and white-robed sentinels,
feathers of jungle fowl floating on the lake top,

a sky colored from the underside, lengthening
like the hiss of an alligator-
and all he paints is waterlilies!

Everything must be ignored to get at something:
one egret, still wading, sees only an iridescent scale
behind a dorsal fin, panning
the last sunlight for gold, and that's enough.















ELEGY FOR MRS. ROCHESTER


Bertha Mason is mad... she came of a mad family;--idiots and maniacs through three
generations!
-Mr. Rochester, Jane Eyre

Dear Reader, we'll give you the particulars,
she was the Mrs. Rochester, the first,
all hair and hollyhock, dead as the lilacs
and mad as winter; the sweet Creole cursed
to England; the trailing, speechless flapping of fabric
that chased the candles through the corridors;
the howling, tangled woman from the attic.
Some nights, she'd lie on the floor boards
and listen for Jane, the turning down of linens
a floor below; sometimes she'd press her thigh
against the fender, later, remake the marks
the brass had made with ashes from the fire.
Passing the nights as she did, we wonder why
she waited, at last, how sane she felt her sins.















ODE TO A PEACH HANGING IN ILLINOIS


Sweet drupe, opal of roses,
porcelain ornament of Persia,
you hang like a point of light,
hiding your cyanide almond
in the bosky fidgeting leaves
of the peach tree.

Bashful lantern,
Botticelli
plucks you
at the foot of spring,
when, jealous of your likeness,
the ocean throws its conchs
to the shoreline.

Your pedicle confines you-
ringless planet, diminutive moon-
over Illinois;
you hang above the barges
that skiff the apples south,
flicker like a slow satellite
fixing itself on the horizon.

With the summer
ending in Calhoun County,
with the leaves curling
in the mouths of aphids,
with the galvanic zephyrs
crossing the river,
with the peach-heavy vans
and van-heavy ferries
pushing west to the shore of Missouri,
you, bulb of savor, spongy, blushing seed,
drop to the grass.















VIGIL AT THE MURFREESBORO MOTEL


There was only the idling of a Kenworth-
A purple T350-to make the morning palpable.
Headlights still cut the highway around poplars;
The lobby sent its A-framed roofline through

The fog of yellow streetlight. Inside,
The walls were sponged with blue fleurs-de-lis;
My mother used to fold my blankets
Like a flat accordion, or a coiled spring.

(During the summer my quilts were reduced
To a foot-wide string of stitched hearts.)
By the doorway I found a box of kittens,
Their belly buttons like grape stems, which I could

Have brought inside and wrapped
In bed sheets. Air brakes sighed
In the parking lot. I couldn't feel
The streetlight take up space or watch

The flowers arrange themselves
Into quiet bouquets; the kittens didn't mewl
For my attention. Of the things we collected
At the service that day before, I forgot

To take the card-Sorry for Your Loss, it said.















GETTING AT MY PARENTS IN METAPHOR


My parents are nothing like nature.
The sand-boils in Florida springs

Make you believe the earth moves
Everything from an underneath

Hotter than the sulfurous
Lawn sprinklers jigging

Morning and dusk.
Whipping the sand like milkshakes,

These boils massage clumps of tadpoles
And thump them from the center of their springs,

Docking their spongy flageolet tails.
I have those same bulbous

Eyes that point everywhere
But forward.















PHOTOTAXIS


In the morning the cooled abdomens and folded wings
of moths lie on the front stoop by the newspaper,
as if the step and doormat make an altar.
Mom sweeps them into the lawn, but occasionally
a wing or two and a body with hollowed eyes,
like two burnt souffles, tangle in the bristles.

Like an island, a raft of rough planks floats in the cove
behind the house. The water has warped its boards
and pushed up nail heads that catch our bathing suits
and dimple our thighs. Standing on that unsteady platform,
we aim pebbles at geese nesting on the mud shore,
their white throat-patches like deer tails. Their necks
curve as they clean their wings or look backward
at the catfish tracing the lakeshore with whiskers,
walking through the mud on bent fins.

I know this summer will come in color.
Last night a willow was felled in a fitful rain storm:
roots and leaves now shrinking in the air. Its trunk
lies along the water, not pointing toward
or away from it, but caught somewhere
in between when the lightning struck.















A CAMEL SNEEZES IN IAMBIC PENTAMETER


The yoke and broom lie on the threshing floor
when Joseph comes to Atad. Husks of wheat
shoveled into the air for winnowing
bother the camel Joseph rides. The rider
slouches, his camel sneezes; all the cattle
laughing-those fat lips, puckered, hanging, that tongue
narrow enough for speech, the stoic, flat
expression, they seem almost funereal.
Some miles away, the oak of Abraham
lowers a branch or two. The wheat, too light
to fall, hovers above the threshing stones.
God separates, but God delays his reasons
(the cattle again). Their eyes, oil brown, watch Joseph.
He leans against the camel. At his feet,
an acorn rolls a circle in the sand.















TEXT FOR BROCHURE


An hour east, or two, perhaps,
along the curved Caribbean
where your hotel has laid out a towel
for you, you'll nap. The canopy
of white-faced monkeys will applaud
each wave. Oranges, green though ripe,
ripe though green, will float
in tidal pools (this coast is garden-like,
where meals are found, not caught).

An inch of map will take you south,
past cataracts of water
and larged-eared leaves that shade the highway,
past the one town that sits in clouds
perpetually, looking over
a valley and slopes so green
they hide the steepness of their angles.
On dunes of coffee plants, snakes
curl like roots and hold the dirt in place.
And once a day, the hills
will shake so subtly that the berries,
like the prisms and pendalogues of a chandelier,
jingle in their skins.

The foreignness could be a touch familiar:
if you had come a few years sooner:
the coffee, the winters mild enough
to be mistaken would have made you swear
(to friends) you wished
you'd never left, or never come,
so you'd never miss it, when all,
all of it, had gone.















FAMILY PHOTO, 1904


The sons, all but one, will survive
their parents. Already, in their stiff collars,
they look like men.

It's difficult to place them anywhere
except in this parlor, counting bouquets
on the rug, on the wallpaper,

looking out the window behind the slow camera
onto a street (cobblestone? mud?)
busy with horse traffic.

Somewhere in that parlor
there might be something of value:
a sideboard, a ticket to the Pike at Forest Park,

a well-preserved pamphlet
from the Palace of Mines and Metallurgy-
or something to tease their flat expressions

with the World's Fair hullabaloo
that took St. Louis that year: ice cream cones,
X-rays, electricity, the Ferris wheel

whose skeleton, now hidden like an ark
next to 1-44, hibernates beneath Forest Park,
though no one can find it.















BUG STUDY


The swales are dry. There is one cricket left
scratching a circle of fifths for God-knows-who
in this weather-poor winter, and all of Florida
is mourning the too quick interview of cold
with the peninsula. It is night, of course.

Think of the lights that come from the highway:
the jeweled refraction, how it ends, and, when
it does, how wide the beams will break. Our cricket,
too. Its trill runs against our row of houses,
and somewhere in the line of echoes, it ends.















THE SHIFTING CATHOLIC


Despite the chapel and transepts, the basilica
remains a hallway for sinners, flickering little prayers
against varnished wood and polished marble.

From the ceiling a rough wood-cross suspends
a stole of silk, like Degas' tulled ballerina:
out of place among cherubim and painted crossbeams.

As a child, I feared the sound of my voice here,
how it surrendered to the priest's voice ruffling
the marble robes in the alcoves.

He told me I was the Dead Sea, hoarding
God's love until it rotted inside me. I remember
that year differently, how I tossed peach pits

behind my house, wrist flicking like the priest's
when he blessed us with wands of holy water.
Though no orchard grew, the fox grape was curvier

and the saw palms bent their fronds
like heads in prayer. It was the way I saw God
fidget when He's nervous.















DOUBLEGANGER


The small shadows cupping his eyes
just before his exit match the storm clouds
outside my apartment, the hard-to-forgive
frowns of weather, the half-hearted chiaroscuro

that falls, every once in a while,
on the carpet footing my vertical blinds.
Sometimes, from the persistence of looking
at these prints of light, outside seems an illusion

of unfaithfulness, like the rustle
of newspapers, or the horse
whose four legs lift into the air
when its picture turns at speed.















DIRGE FOR ATTILA


Oldest son of Mundzuk, you were probably
born in Hungary. Of this we keep no record.

But a thousand years from now-no,
longer-they will tell stories about you:

the cities you burned; your nonpareil
table-manners, that wood bowl

toasting Priscus, Rome, your new Goth princess.
They'll put you next to the Danube,

maybe the Theiss (your buriers we'll bury).
There will be the usual, barbarian epithets.

Your saddles, your flock of arrows,
the meat beneath your thigh, your smattering

of wives, even the ring of Honoria,
will all be in your opera.

Attila, we found your bride in the corer,
weeping in her tunic, afraid to touch a king.















1983


The fruit had fallen early that year,
skirting the field in wrinkled bulbs
of russet. For a week, when the flocks
crossed from the north, they carried
to our house cider and craws of mulled air
before it ripened to vinegar. Their claws
dropped the hoary morning on our roof
like dew or shreds of aphids
that chewed the cheeks of leaves.
The boards of the cider press had taken
the color of branch frost or of the Midwest
on a January afternoon.

Each fall I stop on those days:
I add rows to the orchard and fruit
to their branches; Dad carries me
on his shoulders so I can touch
the bellies of the flock flying overhead;
the trees are generous and the birds
stretch forward their necks at my offer of fruit.
There were apples sometime in January.
I'm sure; the rest I remember remembering.















THE BRISTLECONE


The bristlecone's flowers tightened
into little fists of cold resin, its branches
readied to drop a needle. Somebody-the mayor, I think-
built a restaurant up here for tourists who wanted
to see Denver. In 1979, it caught fire and the mountain
glowed like a watchtower signaling war.
Since then, sheep have recovered the restaurant crags,
and picas reclaimed their tunnels under its cool foundations.

The purple fireweed shook its petals
from its skirt. Rock rabbits flattened into the sinking peak,
and sheep-those dodgy, solid beasts-blurred
into wisps of cloud. My summer mountain exchanged
its solidity for the lap and suspension of lake water in January.

The mountain disappeared beneath me. I could see
only fish and a useless green canoe, drifting.
The sky was formal and hard. My arms cut the lake water
and my cheeks turned red, though I knew the blood was gone.
Fish line wound around my legs, and I quit trying
to move. Then, just as suddenly, the waves
tightened into air. I stood on the mountain once more.

That moment bothered me: the lake
where there should have been slopes of wildflower.
Then I remembered that afternoon in Nevada
my last year of college, the fisherman
pulling me onto his boat, the scent of cold pine-trees
and cotton blankets as he rubbed the needles from my feet.















ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA, COMPLAINS OF ITS AGE


I am sick of Minorcan chowder,
sick of Juan Ponce, his sulfurous fountain,
sick of the sea wall, the tour trolleys,

the colic sewer belching rainwater.
In the cataracts of summer rain,
I buoy the vaults of the Huguenot cemetery

where just now, under the gray festoons
of a live oak, a busty mallard
pecks a few hatless acorns.

I am sick of being a city,
sick of this false remembering
of things between tides.

The Huguenots are dead; the conquistadors
have gone. Even the water tower
looks sickly in its leaning.















SMITH'S ELEGIAC SONNETS


In Switzerland, Charlotte remembers,
there are orchards and vineyards, alabaster beards
on the men who swing scythes across the grass,
women winding wool around their fingers,
and mothers swaddling cheese in cotton gauze.

She liked the way the hem revealed the skin around her ankle,
the way her ankle reflected too whitely the sun,
how snow hardened on the croissant-shaped shore
and collected footprints.

At Woolbeding House, a day from King's Bench,
she waits for the man who is her husband
and sweeps cinder from her lap. The floor steals heat
from orange logs; ash settles on her cheeks like cheap rouge.
The receipts from T. flutter when she billows the fire.















THE PALM BEACH STORY


Seven hundred dollars
looks small in a rich man's fist. The bills
curl inside themselves like a tadpole's legs,

unfolding only
for a poor man whose wife has left him for apas de deux
in Palm Beach, a quick divorce, a convenient

millionaire whose philanthropy
is empty or selfish or blind, but ready, at least,
to unroll for her long legs and crimped hair.

During Sunday's offertory,
I imagined Jesus directing Claudette Colbert
as the widow who put her mite in the collection plate.

She had given up
her arabesque bracelet and exchanged
petticoats for more penitent linen. There,

I was stuck.
Does He direct her to feel her own charity
or affect the face of humility, like Mary,

or the lambs?
He means us to be charitable,
but He has never taught us how

charity should feel-
whether it is meant to feel like mercy, or like a wafer
of bread softening on the tongue, or nothing, nothing at all.















THE FRENCHMAN'S POOL IN QUAN LOI


Now 1st Air Cavalrymen have their own version of the Apollo 12 "splashdown. An
Olympic-sizedpool built by the French Terre Rouge Rubber Corporation has been re-
opened for use by members of the 3rd Brigade. --The Cavalier, Feb. 18, 1970

What would you do for a little indiscretion?
The girls, you, Quan Loi, everything might look
The same some thirty years from now except
The ox-bowed banks crooking toward Saigon.

The girls, you, Quan Loi, everything might look
The same, but less so. The earth will hide again
The ox-bowed banks, crooking toward Saigon,
Where once, you say, you saw a young girl washing

Her stockings in clay. The earth will hide again
The rubber trees, the pool, the Frenchman's farm
Where once, you say, you saw a young girl washing,
Watching for men in the reeds around her bathtub.

The rubber trees, the pool, the Frenchman's farm
Will all be gone by then, even the girl
Watching for men in the reeds around her bathtub.
Her stockings hang from trees. The clay-red earth

Will all be gone by then, even the girl's
tan cheeks that blush for you. No one will look
At her stockings hanging from trees. The clay-red earth,
Quan Loi, its private girls, will wash in the Saigon.

Their cheeks will blush for you. No one will look
The same some thirty years from now except
Quan Loi, its private girls who wash in the Saigon.
What you would do for a little indiscretion!















BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH

Laura Paul was born on a Tuesday in Kansas City, Kansas. She has a silly affair

with Midwestern sensibilities but likes to place herself near coasts, or other significant

landforms. In 2002, she received her B.A. in English and Spanish from Truman State

University. The time in between the major events of her life has been one long succession

of minor indiscretions.