Charlotte Mandel

Life Work

Interior: painting by Edouard Vuillard


Muted, she disappears into background,
her dress a match in color and silence
to the wallpaper. Public words earn pained
downturns of parental mouths. Her defense
rests on camouflage, inner ear listening
for a train approaching town, slackening
speed, its unmistakeable warning whistle
by which she calculates, keeping track
counting numbers of engines crossing east
or west, tapping a foot to syncopate
her college beat--set out for either coast--
jack-out-of-box, life hers to orchestrate.
Red duffle packed, she'll mount the wheels alone.
No sense waiting for some prince to telephone.


No prince, he calls from his college pay phone
at Sunday low rate. It isn't that they've
class news or gossip: subtleties of tone
report sweet, sour, ironic, fun. They crave
the heat of touch in space too dark to scan.
The wire opens trails where feelings flow
like steam from summer meadow after rain.
Contralto/tenor banter hides and shows
pattern for the future--pre-marriage play
disputing favorites--Jean Gabin
for her, Hedy for him. A chance to say
anything, nothing enacts a weaning
process--the other's face cannot distract
the sensory self day-dreaming love acts


The sensory self day-dreaming love acts
with movie stars or neighbors will not break
promises of licensed social contract.
Unwritten rules work like fences. To slake
thirsts, close the bedroom door while children sleep.
Marriage their roof-tree, no leaks in rafters.
He drives to work, gives up smoking; she keeps
the kids clean, vaccinated. A letter
invites him to a Far East war. He tosses
it out. And a second. A third cries: "Greetings!"
Lottery lands him in the live oak mosses
of Virginia, practice swamp. Defeating
an enemy can't relax today's wars.
Jet smoke arrows the blue, asking: What for?


Jet smoke arrows the blue sky, twin for-
mation, dissipates over barbed wire:
Truce. Home safe, they buy a house, G.I. mort-
gage. Though marriage rafters splinter, desire
re-glues. "Hey," they joke, "we're made of velcro--"
chest to chest, constructed to stick, pull, stick.
But the world spirals around--vertigo
has her holding on to doorways, afflicted
with agoraphobia as though a sea
has washed up the street, as though she must swim
to grocery, post office, library.
The word "love" dissolves to its antonym.
Meanwhile the children of a sudden grow
into strangely familiar people they know.


These strangely familiar people know
how to sweep back salt waters that linger
like a self-made lake of tears. Punctilio
filial pitch? No, their agile fingers
work the keyboards, ideas are summoned.
Marriage of Mom&Dad ends rivalry--
their talents linked towards a goal in common--
audit a sixtieth anniversary:
Earth rotates and the married numbers stun:
three hundred sixty five times sixty
equals twenty-one thousand nine hundred;
add fifteen leap years to the mix.
A banquet celebrates the count of days.
"He looks at you with love," the waiter says.


"He looks at you with love," the waiter says.
Is that his line to couples as he pours
champagne to honor years slept in one bed?
What does his practiced eye perceive in demure
shared glances across a table of friends?
What's love? How may needy ardor marry
friendship? Their day-by-day achieves a blend
on low speed, converting tears and "sorry"
to dialogue of shrugs. Anger outgrows
its role as flint to erotic spark. Tonight,
on the verge of drift into undertow
of solitary dream, hands re-unite--
his gold ring's been lost, and hers is worn thin--
still--pulse beats echo wedding violins.


The pillow transmits pulse beats--violin
vibrating pizzicato inside ear drums.
Unbutton pajamas--warm bony skin
to kiss. Limbs fall into sideward columns
of peace. Mind transposes the day's collage
into slides of honeymoon black and white
snapshots. Shuffle through glossy images
fading to sepia, history of bright
camera ready smiles. . .barefoot on a rough
makeshift pier at the lake's edge, classic pose
swan dive, slim in profile . . . in air. . . he coughs,
waking her, not himself. Rustle of bedclothes,
slow turnings. Breath has a feathery sound,
muted, disappearing into background.

Afternoon Rite

water scalding
gold to amber

sharp fragrant clove
intimate words

shall I pour you?
out of white glazed

porcelain, sound
of waterfall

whirlpooling spoon
lips at the rim

warmth of a breath
cools the steaming


Charlotte Mandel's seventh book of poetry, Rock Vein Sky, was named a "Best Poetry Book Read" by Monserrat Review. Her poem-novella, The Life of Mary, is published together with audiocassette reading and musical accompaniment. Her essay on "The Cinematics of H.D.'s Poetry" is forthcoming in a Modern Language Association volume, Approaches to Teaching H.D. As founder of the Saturday Press Eileen W. Barnes Award, she edited the anthology, Saturday's Women. She recently retired from teaching poetry writing at Barnard College Center for Research on Women. Visit her online. Earlier work in Mezzo Cammin: 2008.2 & 2007.1


Taylor Altman
Sarah Busse
Nicole Caruso Garcia
Brittany Hill
Lisa Huffaker
Jean Kreiling
Barbara Loots
Charlotte Mandel
Annabelle Moseley
Angela Alaimo O'Donnell
Ann Walker Phillips
Carolyn Raphael
Jennifer Reeser
Hollis Robbins
Catherine Tufariello
Doris Watts
Joyce Wilson
Marly Youmans

Fifth-Anniversary MC Reading
West Chester University Poetry Conference
Friday, June 10
8:15 AM
Alice Mizrachi: Growing up in New York, I have been immersed in a culture that is constantly growing. Throughout my work you can feel the influence the city has had on me, the never-ending desire to grow and flow. One common thread in my work is the texture--rhythm and layers. I love to incorporate tactile surfaces that compel the audience to approach and feel it. Timeless and universal, my images evoke a raw feminine energy that leaves you feeling nurtured. My art is a vehicle to express to the world my journey as a NYC female artist in the past, present and future. I am logging my time here. After completing a residency in Paris during 2010, I am focusing on residencies in other cities with the intention of spreading my art globally.
32 Poems
The Academy of American Poets
The Atlantic
The Christian Science Monitor
The Cortland Review
Favorite Poem Project
The Frost Place
The Iowa Review
Light Quarterly
Modern American Poetry
The Poem Tree
Poetry Daily
Poetry Society of America
Poets House
Raintown Review
String Poet
Valparaiso Poetry Review
Verse Daily
Women's Poetry Listserv
The Yale Review

Bread Loaf
Poetry by the Sea


Barefoot Muse Press
David Robert Books
David R. Godine Press
Graywolf Press
Headmistress Press
The Johns Hopkins University Press
Louisiana State University Press
Northwestern Univ Press
Ohio Univ Press
Persea Books
Red Hen Press
Texas Tech Univ Press
Tupelo Press
Univ of Akron Press
Univ of Arkansas Press
Univ of Illinois Press
Univ of Iowa Press
Waywiser Press
White Violet Press

City Lights
Grolier Poetry Bookshop
Joseph Fox Bookshop
Prairie Lights
Tattered Cover Bookstore

92nd Street Y
Literary Mothers
Poets & Writers