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.



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
borne by, a new tendency





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



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
provincial audience. Vintners and chemists cycle by. Clerks have auburn-haired spouses.


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
complexion, mystic given to adumbrations.


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
cross-legged before the fire, picks out leaves.


His yarn, of animals discussing battle in alterable-stress meter, abets uprising . . . . She ignores its
parabolic structure and anachronisms (impossible vegetables, for a while; knowledge of the future).


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 rima. It
petrifacts into a short monologue delivered at the nexus of two rivers. Says the giant,


                           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,
someone scooting over piled barrels . . . it is left out.”



The new poems include correspondence.


Bits of vers libre. She interpolates the journals of Humboldt, institutional analyses into a history of
Peru, “wood-wheels working a trail.”


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
kens the region’s patois.


“Elena wears knickers like a stevedore, clips back her bangs.” This is the beginning. A fat hound
parades and is footnoted, signaling cathexis.


Elena was reared without sisters high on the craggy reef, where came her lover silent as death, bearded,
his back to the harbor.


But father disapproved. Sea bludgeoned that fragile plaster. She was sent to the interior to study; he
hiked to Parana, so humid is Parana.


And the haibun goes


                            for even if        was he        However     stray the sun . . .

                            and passion            was he.



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
               do you imagine yourselves all in strange communion, and does this instance of imagination
               frighten you, or does it cause you to redouble your efforts and try again,
               as though you might capture that safe feeling a second time?


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.