Red Stone Rose

I am carrying a red stone rose.
From where? Why stone? And why
Held up this way before me?
Am I an acolyte?
Is it a heart distilled from nights
of vigil in the damp
chapel of this winter of long waiting?
Questions to which I do not have the answers.

Sculpted from the intractable stuff of the world,
this hard cold folded grainy rose of stone
is suffused with a glow like alabaster.
Despite its weight, I hold to it from habit.
It lights my way. Some others seem to see
the petalled lantern cupped between my hands.

January Emblems

The key, the branch, the coin, the card, the bird:
riches waiting underneath my feet.
Capture the concept before it takes flight.
The penny lies there waiting; pick it up.
The branch the coin the bird the card the key:
the word remembered, pocketed for me.
Tools lie glitning, waiting to be used:
turn them deftly and unlock the loss.
A fragment of a branch, synecdoche
of every discarded Christmas tree.
The mind revolving, memory and brain,
daily demotic of the smallest coin,
weird warmth of winter and a puzzled bird
chirpingly insistent on one word.

House, Slope, Water, Women

Winter into spring: closed doors, no questions.
But here now is a house. Tall windows open

onto a terrace where two women sit
at a little table, laughing, weeping,

then get up, still talking,
and stroll toward a grassy downhill slope

and presently (still talking both at once)
find themselves in salty tear-warm water

up to their necks, still telling one another
tales of trouble. From the house a third

woman now comes through the open window
onto the terrace. She is dressed like spring.

I cannot say it--with what grace, what kindness
she moves out toward us across the lawn.

Leap Life

Spring encroaches: strange parenthesis,
bracketing a season. Here is this
time: not the best, but what I have is mine.
Leaves will be out when you come home again,
blossoms will start, my brother will be dead.
Leap life. Not eating; two, three weeks in bed,
visitors, phone calls, laughter, memories.
Pope called his (shorter) life a long disease.
Leap life. The secret circled in a ring
whose center's empty. But the center is
not a hole but a parenthesis.

All Dressed Up

Historians distrust
(or at least they used to)
literature in general
and poetry in particular
as ornament, as frill,
superfluous and silly.
When I seemed poised to study
literature in college
instead of history,
"Study literature,
especially poetry,
and you're all dressed up
with no place to go,"
intoned our neighbor Ralph,
an old historian
(he seemed old to me then).
But I got all dressed up
and went nowhere. And that
is where I am. And where
is Ralph at eighty-three?
Sitting in his chair.
My parents never told me
what to study or
most of what they knew.
Where are they now?
Solon, Athenian poet-politician,
arranged words into song
in place of a public speech.

Where is Solon now?
Elizabeth Bishop pointed out
More delicate than the historians'
are the map-makers' colors.

Where has Bishop gone?
How dressed up is she there?
The words were waiting
and I put them on.


Rachel Hadas is Board of Governors Professor English at the Newark campus of Rutgers University and the author of over a dozen books of poetry, essays, and translations. Her newest book of poems is The River of Forgetfulness (2006). Classics, selected prose, is due out in the fall of 2007. Visit Rachel Hadas's website.


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Judith Taylor: No one seems to disagree with me when I say there's something compelling about these images. Maybe it's because we're so inundated by the media with narrative that is manipulated and inflated that these honest little private struggles to say something touch us at the core. The eye with which we see them now is not the eye of the young writer, and that distance is interesting, surprising. Maybe the connection between the adolescent girl and the adult woman, or the diary page and the studio wall, is closer than I think.
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