Suzanne Cleary's books are Trick Pear and Keeping Time, published by Carnegie Mellon University Press, which will also publish her third book,
Beauty Mark. Recent poems have appeared in Poetry London and Best American Poetry.
Freud’s Little Statues
He liked to hold them and offer them
to his patients to hold.
ArtNews, Summer 2007
The father of psychotherapy, mourning his father's death,
frequented the antique shops of Vienna, full
of stone angels and bronze girls playing flutes.
He wandered among nameless terracotta gods
worn to nubbins by worship or neglect, say,
set in a garden and then forgotten
as the plants grew up around them.
From 1896, the year of his father's death,
until 1938, when he fled Vienna for London,
Freud often returned from his afternoon walk
with a little statue, assembling in his room
a small Heaven. Here, he wrote
The Interpretation of Dreams, reading passages aloud
to the audience crowded onto shelves, and tables,
and along the edge of his desk,
where the figures served as paperweights.
The father of talk therapy would lie on the couch,
wishing he could talk to his father, about the weather,
dinner last night followed by a cigar, just a cigar.
Without his saying a word, the statues understood.
Statues are experts on loneliness,
for they are made by someone
who works quietly, alone.
They are good travel companions.
Many of Freud's statues accompanied him
on vacation, luxuriating in a seaside room
before returning home, to help
patients on their most difficult journeys
by doing nothing more than being
handed from doctor to patient,
and, finally, back again--
stone wings in brief flight,
brief hands on wings.
Swimming with Miss Peggy Lee
I am 50 years old and she is 30 years dead
but we swim together in my college pool,
as together as possible for two lap-swimmers.
I am focused almost entirely on that place inside of me
where I swim when the swimming goes well,
until I notice her, some new woman, her stroke
stately, efficient, with a certain swing,
her flutter kick powerful without being showy.
She is slower than I, but has more stamina.
As I rest, goggles on forehead, I watch her flip
heels over head, push off from the wall, and glide
as if slipping into a tight sequined gown, letting it fall
over her head and shoulders, shimmying it down
over her hips, and it hits me: The Ed Sullivan Show,
1966, my grandmother pointing at the little screen,
That's Miss Peggy Lee , who, in truth, scared me
with her platinum hair like sheet metal, her beauty mark.
Her dark eyes looked sideways as she sang,
as if she heard a different song
from the song we heard her sing.
But today, behind her goggles, I think she stares
straight ahead, and I think her beauty mark
has washed away, or fallen off in the pool.
Maybe it's stuck to my foot, or,
as someone showers, it swirls down the drain.
I asked my grandmother, What's that black dot?
even then my attention drawn to the small, the incidental,
making of it a still center around which everything moves,
like the round mouth of Miss Peggy Lee as she comes up for air.
Her stroke looks effortless, as if she could swim forever.>
She was famous for practicing until her band nearly collapsed,
and then she'd say, One more time. From the top.My dreams are not usually this long, nor are my poems,
but I feel Miss Peggy Lee has something to teach me
and I have not yet learned it, even identified it.
I feel sheepish for having imagined
her beauty mark stuck to my foot,
which now seems disrespectful, and not as funny
as I thought it would be. Resting, winded,
my elbows on the side of the pool, I wonder
how she developed a form that fits her so perfectly
she can forget it, disappear inside of it,
inside of herself, this her true element, it seems,
as she cups her hands and pulls the water toward her,
as if to say, Reach, Darlin'. Just reach,
and it'll be alright.
Enough about Cezanne’s apples. I, for one,
am just as interested, more interested,
in Cezanne’s clogs, thick gray leather
with closed heels, like leather gravy boats,
although they’re hard to see in this photograph,
Cezanne standing in a small pile of leaves
in what looks to be an apple orchard,
his right hand lifted, resting on a branch.
His left hand rests on his hip, lightly,
as if he were about to reach into his pocket
when someone asks, Would you mind, Monsieur,
if I took your photograph? and Cezanne,
instead of unfurling a large white handkerchief,
freezes. He looks straight into the camera,
looks uncomfortable despite the inspiration
to pose with his hand thrown over
the tree branch. Only his feet look comfortable,
in the putty-colored, paint-spattered clogs
so supportive he can stand for hours
in front of his several easels, strolling casually,
and as if casually, from one canvas to the next,
following the light, following the brush.
Wearing these clogs Cezanne could forget his feet,
and if you can forget your feet you can forget
your entire body, can’t you, for hours on end?
You become lighter, then, light itself.
Maybe in front of his easel Cezanne eventually
grew thirsty, drank coffee, grew hungry,
ate the apple most soft, most mottled,
but I doubt that Cezanne,
in these clogs, had need to sit, unless to see
his canvas from another angle, or to wait out
daylight’s slow walk. These storm-cloud-colored clogs,
these driftwood-at-twilight-colored clogs,
scuffed and dusty, held together by nails and by gum,
these have yet to be studied by art historians.
I propose a symposium on these clogs
that led Cezanne out of his studio
and then led him back,
and each night stood beside the painter’s bed
like two dreams waiting to be dreamt.