Intermission at the Stadttheater
The dark night of the soul is playing
out, and we know how it will end—badly.
The ladies and men scan the crowd
like pigeons. Let’s all have a single try
at the window, I think, ready to swoop.
The play is listing, without props.
It doesn’t matter the language:
All you have to understand are the heels,
pursuing, retreating, pursuing.
In the ladies’ room we straighten our hose.
The crowd spills in little archipelagos
across the carpet. We are not like death:
we fidget with our ice and ask
the price of gin. Morning will dawn
with bodies strewn. We know the hero
won’t skip rope; the playwright won’t
confess to a lie; the lady won’t giggle
or live. To the left of me a woman
with heightened eyebrows reapplies
her champagne in moderate gulps.
We’ve all slipped like necklaces
from reality’s neck. Meine Damen und Herren,
the lights flicker. We shuffle back
to glimmer through the denouement
in our evening-black velvet and bones.
The rain is putting bricks in my head
all day and night, brick after brick.
The Rhine pounds, an angry boar
in its banks. I cross the bridge
every morning and clutch my keys
for fear I will toss them into the river.
Although the cobblestones are rain-glazed,
cold and slippery, the women wear heels resolutely
and click along like beetles under their umbrellas.
Any moment now a murky figure like Dr. Caligari
could emerge from one of the slanting houses
in his black cloak rubbing his eely hands,
slinking among the storm-streaked eyes.
The artist Christo has wrapped trees, dozens
of city trees in cloud-colored gauze,
but the sky is also wrapped, wrapped
and leaking rain, so the trees resemble mops.
Or trees covered in cloth. People throng to see,
no branches shimmer like little fish
bones through the skins. No silver veins.
We pinch at papers on our desks,
make tiny noises with our mouths.
The rain scales down the windows
all afternoon; lights burn. O,
to slip into a black skin of sleep.
In the bone department of the Museum of Natural History,
a man with fat hands counts time in bones
that didn’t ask to be found: little knobs
and sticks, great hammers and shafts
of mammoths, tigers, sharks. Keys to life,
he says. But these can’t be life. Life is
the soft skin behind the knee, the eyelid folding up,
not these yellowed bludgeons that burrow in the dark.
I dream some nights of bones, of eels
turning to bones in the glass cases
of all the vessels we have built for bones.
I dream I am a great bone sleeping,
and it’s dark now in this museum. Someone
is tapping on the glass. The rain at night.
Will no one crack open the light?
After Galileo Galilei
Did Lorella Calamba, the chambermaid, latch
the cabinet more tightly the night she heard intimations
of earth’s moving? Lace her lady’s dress more snugly
the next day? Step more charily, grip the crockery
more deliberately? Did she batten her hair down, pack
her head under a shawl as if for a journey or a funeral?
Or did she lean into the turning—let her scarf
fly in the wind, hang her laundry higher to flap
in the revolution, strain to see the flat edge
go round? How did she feel the first rumblings
of knowledge, the spit-start of realization that,
on looking out the window, it wasn’t the station
of stars moving, but her? Not a worshipping sun
diving in and out like dolphins off the coast,
but her sinking and rising under the waves of light?
What chaos now, the world hung like a piano
out the window to spin, each person riding some note
of light or dark, each one plucking and letting go.
American Grocery Store Idyll
To go to America, to cruise the aisle of cereal choices forever,
that enormous aisle, long as a river.
To visit the produce department when the thunder
crashes and the rain mists down.
To discover unreal cheese, individually wrapped,
to peruse the lunch packs, meals already assembled.
To have to decide nothing, To have to decide
everything. To be handed plastic cups
of Spanish-style salmon from the women
who cook there, who give you sponge cake too.
To take a cart for free and push it all day
if you want. To have to buy nothing. To have
to buy everything, To cruise three aisles
of frozen foods, never growing cold.
To trundle up to the checkout where cashiers are
always standing, where you never pack your own stuff.
To be asked Plastic or paper? Debit or credit?
Cash back? To go to the grocery store and come out
with more money in your pocket than when you went in.
To cruise the cereal choices forever.
I’m behind a mountain and ahead
in the headlights, sand resembles snow.
Once men blasted holes here and gnawed
away at them, but the ground gave up,
not easily, only bits at a time.
It’s 4 a.m. The stars hurt me. I’m driving
west fast as the laws let me. Yesterday
noon I met a coyote skulking hungry
by the road. Strange, all I could think
to call him was dog dog dog. He wasn’t
skinny though he licked his lips, so I slipped
my hand into my bag for the bread
I’d stolen away from the hotel’s free
breakfast buffet, and he froze, notched
his head lower, wanting it, notched
his eyelids down, giving up free
range for the idea of bread.
He ate from my hand as the sun slipped
down in the sky, I’d say. But you’d think it wasn’t
so, wouldn’t you? Or worse, you’d think
it was—because we’re all hungry
people. Well, I’ve got no film, so yesterday
is anybody’s game—like coyotes and driving
through this absence of rain. Time’s
a fickle hound. I’m giving up
the idea of a leash. My gnawed
heart has stories now, some snow
jobs. I’m building mountains in my head.
“After Galileo Galilei” originally appeared in Waccamaw Review. “American Grocery Store Idyll” originally appeared in Poet Lore. Reprinted with permission of the author.
Suzanne Zweizig's poetry has appeared in 32 Poems, Barn Owl Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Subtropics, and RHINO. She has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and was a semi-finalist for The Nation/Discovery prize in 2003. Zweizig holds a PhD in English from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and an MFA in poetry from the University of Florida. After seven years living in Europe and the Middle East, she currently lives in Washington, DC.