Campbell Corner Language Exchange

The Poetry of Ann Lauinger

Coleridge After Dejection

Souvenir of Segesta

Between Rockland and Camden


The Poet and the Hedgehog

Coleridge After Dejection

Hence, viper thoughts, that coil around my mind,
          Reality's dark dream!
I turn from you and listen to the wind...

At his desk, where Sara thinks he is writing,
he is, in fact, engaged in examining his pockets,
arranging their contents in a semi-circle
               compass jack-knife comb
               laudanum vial (empty)
               bit of blue wax

I may not hope from outward forms to win
The passion and the life, whose fountains are within.

     Well, he pays dear for his presumption:
a post-box stuffed with letters to himself,
     the bony grip tightening on his throat.

He mends some pens, checks his supply of paper,
     but what is this noise...
A mounting roar, as raving breakers beat
The sea to foam, and hiss in petulant retreat...

     No. He will rewrite that. He is miles inland.

The noise insists, draws him from his desk.
     Outside, a hard, tail-thumping wind
shoves him back and bangs the door.

Saplings, sacred acrobats, sweep
     the cliff wall; the path to the garden
          makes a dizzy mosaic of shivered
               sun and shade, Heraclitus' river.
          Vines and branches, self-scourgers,
     strain to unseam themselves;
a gypsy glitter trembles in the undersides of leaves.

He opens his mouth to proclaim
     the approach of angels
     the life in motion, within him and abroad,
     or maybe just to call Sara,
but the hurling wind empties his voice.

This is the poem he will not write.

Souvenir of Segesta

Crest the limestone hill
at Segesta and find the future
in ruins. Sixty talents of silver

bought this paradox under
the bright unwavering sky:
a perfect skeleton, never fleshed

and not a single column fallen.
The heart of the god never
beat here. Somewhere else

a black ram with gilded horns
screamed, blood streamed
and the dark wine; but nothing

stained this chalky ground.
No dwelling, no dispossession.
Sparrows have colonized

the vines hanging like hair
from the entablature; two
empty pediments stare.

What was and what will be fuse
in this palpable ghost, white
peristyle enclosing a roofless

oblong of air. Then why
do you slip that stone
in your pocket, soft shard

of the ungraspable idea?
What you really want to take home
is that small green lizard,

now motionless in the clear
noon blue, now nimbly
disappearing into the spiky

yellow-tipped brush as you
descend the shallow steps.
Lucertola, you would coax it,

green darter, until
in its flickering language
it spoke to you-

here, gone, here-
fugitive celebrant threading
the immemorial now:

stubborn dun of prickly
grasses, unconsecrated stone,
the fiery air.

Note: According to Thucydides, the sight of this temple under construction convinced Athens to send military aid to prosperous-seeming Segesta in Sicily. But after paying 60 talents to Athens as an advance, Segesta was bankrupt, and the temple was never completed.


Between Rockland and Camden

I drove back to forty years ago
and photographed it.
Look, the house is unchanged,
still dark-shingled, buffered by pines.
Here, still sloping away, is the sunny
garden where a child pinched snapdragons
to make them open their jaws.

Petals drop; the sexual blossom-
anthers, ovary, style-stands bare.
But function fades too, falls to junk.
Against all odds, there it still stands:
a miracle, but without the power to save.

Here is the photo I didn't take
showing a house that isn't there.
Two red-brick chimneys frame
a perfect spiral staircase
ending in mid-air.
Spent fires
rise as pure beauty, keeping no one warm.

Clean as a camera's shutter-click,
sunlit rubble winks through balusters
on the unhoused stair.

Ruin's a progressive revelation.
Tomorrow or next week a crowbar
will have scavenged the polished rail,
collapsed the treads like playing cards.
Those taper chimneys, unmortared
by cold chisel and hammer, will be patching
someone's walkway or garden wall.

Memory must lie down
with rose bricks in rust-colored clay,
stiffen in change as in seawater,
sorrow fire it to ash.
Close your eyes.
First one foot, then the other. Slowly.
Those are your directions.
Fingertips graze
nothing to tell you if you're
climbing, straying, getting anywhere
so vast is the curve of this spiral stair.

(This poem first appeared in Tampa Review, No. 21)



Dear Kaufmann,

                                  Are you a brave man?
I'm back from Bear Run, yes, but the visit
to the waterfall in the woods stays with me.

The view is, you have said, your chief concern.
Of course. The panorama is sublime.
In spring, the falls spit foam in the sun's eye;
they throw off diamonds, milk, opaline fire
before they drop away.
Winter sculpts the water's frozen fall,
a black marble mirror. . .

And so forth. Views are exhilarating,
especially when they're fortified in stone.
Anyone can heap together a tower,
Kaufmann, or live in one. I don't advise it:
stone eminence breeds a basilisk gaze.
To live with things, you have to listen to them.

At Bear Run I listened. How shall I tell
you what I heard? A poet might call it music,
if one sole note repeated makes a tune.
At first the monotony of water splashing
half-hypnotized me. Limp as a mesmerist's geek,
I listened and despaired. From this onrush,
unceasing, undifferentiated,
what Form could ever struggle into being?
I went on listening, until the Sameness lifted,
as the heavy gold curtain at the opera
scrolls slowly upward after the overture.

It came at the end, beside the stream, to chaos,
the brutal cry of beautiful un-making.
Each staccato instant, change hammered change-
as in the falling water, so in the furious
currents occulted beneath my traitor skin.

The house I want to build asks daring-
not of me, Kaufmann, but of you.
I shall cantilever concrete slabs
over falls and stream, layered like birthday cake.
My job's a conjuror's trick, mere cunning.
The question, Kaufmann, is: have you the courage
not simply to look at the waterfalls, but to live with them?

Yours most sincerely,

                      F. Lloyd Wright

NOTE: In 1936 Frank Lloyd Wright built Fallingwater, the Edgar J. Kaufmann house, on Bear Run in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. Italicized phrases are quoted from Wright's correspondence.

(This poem first appeared in Parnassus: Poetry in Review, Vol. 24, No.1)

The Poet and the Hedgehog

Next morning I got up and it did not.

                                                         Philip Larkin,
                                                         "The Mower"

Call it the attraction of one prickly creature for another.
If the misanthrope poet had to prize
something in his garden, it wouldn't be a primrose,
an oak tree, or a songbird.
What else but a hedgehog glimpsed at dusk
in its furtive, lone routine:
an alter ego, a second genius of the place.
He "even fed it, once."

The poem he wrote after
he killed it in the blades of his mower
ends with uncharacteristic meekness
in honor-I like to think-
even love
of the mild little creature.
But maybe
what blunted the poet's barbs
and muzzled his bite was simply
the shock of ceasing,
against which (it frightened him to see)
sharpness is no defense.

(This poem first appeared in Natural Bridge, No.5)