Five Poems by Christian Schlegel
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Oh well, I am my master now . . . The step,
the tamped-earth track are mine . . . and I cannot be lost.
If dreams I had in boyhood they were dreams
of this, walking alone. Crabbed, pink-veined and swelled,
aged forty-four, I keep the light in me.
That is the hill where he is gone to disappear, my little lord.
I do rehearse at night, at home with Sam, the early shame,
my failures as a man she held not to account
and such a man I do not mark today.
My father read the sermon when we married were and mother laughed.
You, William, take the bond of me I offer you,
I give it fast and mostly free . . . ah, yes, brown wool,
I thought this was your scarf—it has a hole—you could
not run away. Leave off beside that spike
of fence and I will soon to warm your hand, to lead you back.
You will have cried believing you were dead
(I dreamt once that my teeth and neck were teal.)
Curse neither luck nor beast that brought you here,
boy that I’ve raised and found, boy that I would were James.
Look to—pick up the reins, press with your spurs.
I give you peace—lean close, lean to the horse’s mane. Have peace.
THE NEW TENDENCY
winter had been, summer was, a train fit with people receding
throughout the meadow scattered like a card game
the data-points of people receding, forming a light stellate dust through which the flash traveled
the house by which
the train sat heavy, fire wept in and out the windows
inside the train was the man writing
inside the forest was one thing, a yellow barn
the land darkled, grew vivid, land darkled
two cousins cobbled
insects answered low and to the wind
whatever emerged from the dark meadow found a path like music
and back to the dark meadow, and back to the old considerations, somewhat changed
inside the train was the man writing
from Rome to Ravenna, and in this period two ideas were grown green and velvet from the loam surrounding
a flare coughed, begetting one absent
wind and two (formerly sullen) patches of raw heat, nervous in their
oft and a rare sheen, a wilderness
between the flash and the cone deliquescing from bright lines before them
I can say this only one way
or perhaps two ways if the first
seems implausible, filled with a solution I do not understand but am needfully
that is all I’m asking now, in the small span of time before (before)
otherwise I can pretend that the purple weight of this (much of it at once) is sufficient for me
multiplying in evening and the tall grass
but soon enough we feel this isn’t so
ON FINISHING THE NARRATIVE OF ARTHUR GORDON PYM
Someone was here, an acquaintance of mine:
Paul S., with whom I’d studied as a boy
in Pennsylvania (and not long a time;
the intervening years could not destroy
completely what I now call childish joy)—
Paul S., passing through, alone, on business.
We talked in my apartment, mostly books.
“Have you read—,” he stopped, testing a crepitus
in the floorboards, looking at me as looks
an engineer, though he was not,—“this thing of Poe’s?”
“I have,” I said, and it was true. “I don’t suppose
you’ve read it also?” “Yes,” he answered, woefully,
“I say, that book had quite an ill effect on me.”
On my south wall I have an imitation of a tapestry.
“And so it had an ill effect on you . . . ”
At first I only parroted his thought,
but I recalled the book’s expansive blue
and, ending as it did, in white, that dot
among the snow, that whiter shade, the knot
the boy had drawn to represent the caves,
his friend whose arm rots off, whom they won’t eat,
and black-toothed men with thigh-bones for their staves . . . .
“I find the novel rather over-neat,
the way one’s death is neat,” I said to Paul,
now looking at the empty northern wall
on which I hope to put a sketch from Cuvier.
Whatever Paul would like to say, he thinks he’ll say.
The islands off Antarctica are humid, and they smell of shea.
Mill-shacks amid lingonberry scrubs.
She revises Part Four, “Catachreses of a Jotun,” until 6 o’clock . . . inserting
a talking badger and ruddy
The speaker unspools three Vedantic parables.
A brash youth refuses a secret . . . grows mute, makes camp far from the mere.
He is the father of the hero in the
second, an adolescent possessed of immaterial sight and pocked
There are attempts at plainsong . . . all sepulchral wheezings becoming dissonance.
The third relates the lives of an
ancient. She calls him “halting occiput of the warrior class.” He sits
His yarn, of animals discussing
battle in alterable-stress meter, abets uprising . . . .
She ignores its
As with others: a preponderance of windows, candles, rotted eaves, doors, chapped hands, the ocean.
The poem immediately precedent, “A
Giant’s Discriminations,” she allows into and out of terza
Though I proceed from, unify vale and atmosphere
the perturbations about my cuffs you call atmosphere.
My face distends at the withering farce
of my rhyming here . . . . The force
of my footfall interrupts your performance.
Painted bawds quake in the distance,
plangent, aware of my standing here. This power
is your only power.
To which she replies, “It is not
unlike another. It is well-wrought. I remember an earlier sequence,
The new poems include correspondence.
Bits of vers
libre. She interpolates the journals of
Humboldt, institutional analyses into a history of
An abecedarian closes the first section.
Material accrues, the peaks, tunnels.
Her heroine becomes Elena, will not
practice viola or borrow, scattering chicken-feed in Lima. She
“Elena wears knickers like a
stevedore, clips back her bangs.” This is the beginning. A fat hound
Elena was reared without sisters high
on the craggy reef, where came her lover silent as death, bearded,
But father disapproved. Sea
bludgeoned that fragile plaster. She was sent to the interior to study; he
And the haibun goes
for even if was he However stray the sun . . .
and passion was he.
THE THREE MEN IN THE ONE GARDEN
Perfect tree, perfect idiomatic tree-signifier, “this here poplar,” for example—alongside the unproblematic sideplane of bramble bushes; the prating dumph-flower with its photoreceptacles. Most plants in the public garden whisper one way, then one way again, then laugh forever and in unison. We can turn through the terminal fructifying regions if we are agreed this is standard protocol and content tonight in our sleep.
Is this a rutabaga I have uncovered in the sterile earth? It reflects like a rutabaga ought. It is, however, a parsnip. Everyone was pulling for the rutabaga, and a magical if temporary region brimming with rutabagas, so that each could be cultivated and before that each marveled at, and when the finished products are numbered, dispatched we will drive to Delaware and patronize the right establishments and parsnips do not inspire me along these lines.
Dear Lord, what we are expected to give of ourselves, and to whom. Like the molder-heap of yams, those, by the door—like the yam skin you have incorporated into your complicating gestures and visions. It’s only a yam’s skin.
The day passes through.
Don’t you wonder how many people have
considered exactly the thing you’re attempting? And when you’re attempting it
Born and raised in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, Christian Schlegel studied German at Princeton and received an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His first book, Honest James, was published by The Song Cave in 2015. He is currently an English PhD student at Harvard.