Maryann Corbett

An Aisle of Japanese Tree Lilacs

North lawn, State Office Building, Saint Paul

We amble from the train
or from our cars, far off, resigned to lesser lots.
The great, with the bespoke, ramp-covered parking spots,
who enter from low-ceilinged, dank concrete
miss this last sweet: white-petalled, fragrant rain.
Floret and bract and spray
above the formal walk's procession to the entryway
toss celebration like a ticker-tape parade
hailing all comers—
the stony-faced in pinstripes, staid,
equally with the fashion-backward slummers,
the rumpled and the sleek,
clandestine poet, closet rocker, gambler on a winning streak,
the garrulous, the oddly blessèd meek.
Arched by a triumph cheered in flowering trees,
like generals in old Rome,
we're conquerors by a bald truth: here we come
out of our war-zone mornings and our muddled histories
into these ordered, honorific spaces.
We swipe our keycards, breathe once, step inside,
and set our working faces,
labeled and sorted, filed and classified.

Responsorial Psalm for the Beneficiary of My Mother's Will

O Lord, You are my inheritance

unearthed from murky records,
set down at tables where too little was said
by kinfolk who hedged their memories

Yea, I have in you a goodly heritage

in a will laid out like an Edwardian banquet,
its places set by gloved hands,
precision ready to shatter

in you who are my portion and cup,

my place at a feast set by death,
a dinner announced by unnerving letters from courts
full of strange demands, like the dreams of prophets

my cup of blessing.

delivered in the fullness of time
by UPS, in a corrugated carton
whose breached sides leak bubble wrap

and unpacked at last: gold-rimmed, daintily painted,
bone-white shimmer of longing
for an ease there was never enough of

O Lord, You uphold my lot

which I hoard now at the back of a cupboard
accreting a fuzz of dust and kitchen grease,
a richness, O Lord,
too breakable for the living.

Back Story

There is a category of Northern European art in which a panoramic view, often a landscape, is the principal subject, while a classical or biblical scene appears as a distant detail.

The foregrounds are ablaze with the mundane—
a Renaissance reality, but real,
though magicked with the North's painterly light.
Take Breughel's. (Auden did, although we question,
these days, if it was Breughel.) Or one might
ponder Teniers. Up front: the world and the flesh.
So solid you think of stepping into the canvas
to the plowed ground, or hefting the armor's weight.
Yet in the distance, a few brushstrokes of fable—
the boy with wings, the prisoner freed by the angel,
mere specks you have to hunt for, with attention—
yank the scene by its ears and flip it over,

as if to ask, What strange spell are you under
that you go dazzled by life's pure distraction
and daylight's daze? Do not fall prey to the demon
who soothes you with the steadiness of fact.
Look here. The whole scene's leavened with this lightness.
Step back and stare at the mist beyond this frame,
these layers of ground earth and mineral spirit.
It's there, if you look past mere vision's weakness.
The question, always haunted by its answer:
What if the world you learned in flame and darkness
can only be apprehended through these fancies?
What if the whole of it is heavenly?


Maryann Corbett spent almost thirty-five years working for the Office of the Revisor of Statutes at the Minnesota Legislature. Her poems, essays, and translations have appeared widely in journals like 32 Poems, Barrow Street, Ecotone, Rattle, River Styx, Southwest Review, and Subtropics and in anthologies like Imago Dei and Measure for Measure: An Anthology of Poetic Meters. Her third book, Mid Evil, won the 2014 Richard Wilbur Award; she is also a past winner of the Willis Barnstone Translation Prize and a past finalist for the Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award. New work appears or is forthcoming in Able Muse, Crab Orchard Review, Tampa Review, and others. A fourth book, Street View, was a finalist for the Able Muse Book Prize and is forthcoming from Able Muse Press.


Jane Blanchard
Lesley Clinton
Maryann Corbett
Barbara Lydecker Crane
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Jean L. Kreiling
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The most recent addition to The Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline is Etel Adnan by Joyce Wilson.

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Sacred Sisters is a collaboration between visual artist Holly Trostle Brigham and award-winning poet Marilyn Nelson, touching on such issues as gender and creativity, connections between the visual and literary arts, and religion and history. Brigham met Nelson at the all-girls prep school, the Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, in the Fall of 2012. Nelson was visiting the school as part of the Baldwin Write Now program and Brigham was a parent who co-founded the program and was her liaison for the day. They had the opportunity to visit and when Nelson asked about Brigham's work it started a conversation about nuns who were artists and writers. Brigham had already completed three paintings in her Seven Sisters II Series, later renamed Sacred Sisters.

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