Featured Poet

Photography by Robert Colosanto

Lynne Knight


( Berkeley, California )

The Amateurs

In her three-day visit from Vermont, my sister and I talk enough to fill three novels. Novel
one: A woman sits in a bare apartment with the door to the spare bedroom closed. It was
the room she used with the lover, when he came to her from his life with the wife and kids. Then
one day she said a terrible thing: Choose. So he did, leaving her the empty room, which she
keeps the same, as people do for the dead. He might be dead—no one would call, surely not the
wife, whom the woman met once, a museum. Novel two: minimalist, experimental: a post-
modern exhibition. The three of them meet by design (the woman's idea), walk from wall to wall,
everything going to pieces. In real life, the details are different, my sister says; in real life,
everybody gets to choose. But this isn't necessarily good. Take, for instance, the woman, staring
at the closed door, beginning to believe she can will the lover back, fill the room with him
exactly as if she'd gone out to buy tuberose, freesia, then let them ride in long vases toward the
inevitable—we're into novel three, now, though it's really all the same one. My sister and I know
this, so when we finish our tea, drive to visit our sick mother, whose mind is full of holes like a
bad plot, Swiss cheese, her doctor says, we try to make grief into an empty space at the end,
where happiness might appear again. But we're amateurs, and some things are beyond us.


I slipped into bed beside him with my clove-sweet mouth 
that had known the hunger of an ox an hour earlier 
when I'd crept down to the kitchen to stand in the dark, 
eating from cartons and boxes.

Some nights he would wake, want me.
I would lie still and run, he had no idea how far.
Afterwards I would hold him in my arms 
the way I sometimes held one of his shirts,
thinking of the ways to measure emptiness.

It was not what you would call a life, 
though it was a life. I kept hearing the word 
ungoverned. Even the trees knew no restraint, 
banging against the back of the house, the low sky.

By day I never let on. I took my body,
walked it into a schoolroom, gave instruction. 
I was careful never to scrape my knuckles
or cause other signs, so I did not look 
like someone with such hunger.

But I was yoked to it.
One day, reading the dictionary
while my students bent to their work, I went from bulimia
to ox, stared down at the words draft animal. 
I felt myself tear open. More holes to fill. 

Finally I broke away. But there's still the feel
of the yoke at my shoulders each day, though I eat 
so little, a dark shape dragging behind me.

The Bargain

Van Gogh’s man and woman have turned 
from the river streaked with stars 
as if they are about to step out of the painting
into the next century, their clothes all wrong 

but their sorrow at exile pure as the original 
those other two knew as they turned from the light
to flee through the gates into shadow and aridity, 
doubt, disillusion, knowing that to atone would take 

all their lives. So here they are on the eve of another 
century, the skirts of their dark coats brushing the wall 
of a bedroom, their faces younger than seems likely 
as they stare down at the middle-aged woman 

lying sleepless. They would soothe her as they might 
their own daughter, who drowned herself years ago 
in the river when the potato grower’s son died of fever. 
Oh, she is so like their daughter, the fine skin

blue with veins, the mouth slightly open as if 
a word had caught half-finished on her lips. 
What they would give to hear! If only they could 
kneel closer. . . .  The woman shifts the covers, 

thinking the tumor pushing deeper against her 
bones might choose just such a moment to stop. 
It is not, after all, like light from a star, having to go on. 
Why could it not be more like those two figures, 

paused where they are while night continues? 
Her terms are so simple, surely there is no
need to argue; she’ll accept anything. 
Anything there is time for.

Elegy after Van Gogh’s The Poet’s Garden
– for Forrest Hamer

The poet’s garden suffers from neglect.
Weeds and grasses choke the roots of trees.
It’s late summer, so some trees have gone
fiery gold while others blossom. Wait. 
Green, fiery gold, blossoms—time is out
of sync here. What’s more, the sky
is yellow. When’s the last time you saw
a yellow sky? Maybe when you drew one
as a child. That’s why it’s here: the child’s sky

above the poet’s garden—all out of sync
with time. Do I repeat myself? It must be
the effect of all these small wild flowers
in the foreground and the strange cast
of their shadows. They can’t be real,
those high trees flung like shawls against 
the sky. No, across the yellow bed
where the poet sleeps, dreaming of life
in a different order, death like the rusted gate

unseen beyond the weeping willow—
nothing the poet will push open, no matter
how close it comes—no matter the grit of rust 
on the poet’s palms, the cold feel of the iron,
the emptiness of the moment when the dream
stops and life resumes, sweetness resurrecting
though it may taste bitter as the rust,
though it may make no more sense than trees
on fire with autumn while others bloom.


Sometimes a child comes along
with an old-leather look in her eye,
a quaver in her child’s Why?

When she takes out the cups 
and saucers for tea, she’s mashing
her gums like biscuits, 

you can hear the bones in her knees.
You decide she could use a doll.
She draws a red-ink heart

where the heart should be, 
then scissors it out. The stuffing 
looks like a million old socks cut up.

Later, the child sews the hole shut
with black thread, insisting
the doll is improved. 

She names it Charity.
Every time you come to visit,
she holds Charity out 

to you, then snatches it back. Ha ha! 
she shouts. It’s more a cackle,
but you ignore this, for her mother’s sake.

After all, it’s not as if you’re going to escape 
time, either. Some nights you dream 
your own death.

You’re a death doll, with a sock
plugged in the hole where there once
was a heart. You cry and cry

but nobody comes to stitch you back up.
The child pours tea in a thimble cup.
She’s done sewing.

A Problem of Infinities

Memorize a sonnet by Leopardi, the one
so full of sweetness the air filled with bees and flowers
when you first heard it, although it was raining,
cold April rain that kept the deer going back
to the hills because the roses were late,
even the acanthus seemed arrested in mid-flight,
small green-winged birds whose feathers shirred at the edge
just the way her voice did when she said, Why is this

happening to me? and it was like being given
a problem in infinities—the symbols 
conveying nothing but cries from a void where 
the mad and sorrowful stood naked in wind and rain,
lashed by forces beyond their control, as we all
are, as she was, sheltered from the actual rain and cold 
but her memory ruined like the last 
of the camellias, strewn like that, useless
abundance—as you stood at the window refusing 

to turn to her, thinking that if you multiplied
one sorrow by another there would still be this one sorrow
you were made to carry with whatever grace
you might summon to your side, like those elegant exponentials
you used to love writing, 10¹º, imagining yourself
magnified to the dimensions of a star and then reduced
to a small speck disappearing while she cried
to you again to solve the problem and the flowers
shook with bees and wind and sweetness massed into
the densities surrounding you—

I - Clenched Fists and Clouded Metaphors
II - Soleil
III - Guesting in the House
IV - In the Dusky Hours
V - Finding Favor with the Muse

Featured Artist - Leslie Marcus

Current Issue - Summer 2005