Monday Apr 22

Claudia-Emerson-1.jpg Claudia Emerson earned her BA from the University of Virginia and her MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where she was poetry editor for The Greensboro Review. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Smartish Pace, The Southern Review, Shenandoah, TriQuarterly, Crazyhorse, New England Review, and other journals. Pharaoh, Pharaoh (1997), Pinion, An Elegy (2002), Late Wife (2005), and Figure Studies (2008) were published as part of Louisiana State University Press’s signature series, Southern Messenger Poets, edited by Dave Smith. Late Wife won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for poetry. An advisory and contributing editor for Shenandoah, Emerson has been awarded individual artist’s fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Virginia Commission for the Arts, and was also a Witter Bynner fellow through the Library of Congress. She was awarded the 2008 Donald Justice Award from the Fellowship of Southern Writers. Currently serving as Poet Laureate of Virginia, she is Professor of English and Arrington Distinguished Chair in Poetry at the University Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Variations from the Porch
The season for it past, the porch
had become a deep threshold
I did not want to give up
or cross despite the cold; I learned
that I could will myself to stop
shivering. The garden bewildered,
 the birdbath was a frozen slurry
of rainwater and the leaves
not raked, months since they fell, some still
quick in the breeze. I don’t know
what felt safe about that bleak
reclusion, out where anyone
could have seen me; but I
understand now that when
a bird sleeps under its own wing,
            it is the world ceasing to see.

 Spiders thrived there well past summer,
surviving the shortened days,
some webs tightly made in the perfect
symmetry of sundials
or compass roses, and some
corner-made funnels bored smooth,
the spider hiding behind the slight
quiescent turning, the spill of web
the mute, delicate mouth
            of a backward cornucopia.

Late September blooming,
a glorious bee-thick senescence;
the cardinal flowers I had ignored
all summer had climbed the porch railing
to fold themselves now into needle-thin
red sleeves of seed, and dark grey moths
thickened the abelia
like a fever, a chill, that kind
of possession. I could hear them
breathing with their wings.

Time then came death-exhausted—
hollowed out despite the usual
acts of vibrance. Nothing
original about seeds dissolving
out of the possibility
of dormancy into disappointment:
the rote bloom, known flower,
inevitable fading
anticipated, its scent
a sect, something it was born to.

The month my only brother died,
mindless grief met its desire
when the confederate rose climbed high
and deep inside the old crepe myrtle—
tall and broad as a full grown maple.
It should not yet have been blooming,
so when at last I noticed the
something dull pink inside it—
slightly out of place and season
intricately entwined and in full flower,
I thought first how beautiful
it was and, then, how wrong.
Honeysuckle had bound the quince
from within, so I worked to find,
then follow a fragrant muscle
as close as possible to the ground
for the cut, then pull, wrestle it out
like an impossible tangle
from neglected hair. I knew
I had not killed anything.
It would come back. But for the while,
the quince breathed, red crowding
the porch and the painted-shut
windows of the mudroom, casting
a roseglow reflection inside
the glass; it bloomed in quiet fury
as though to please me,
or, again, fully taken with itself.