The Poetry of Veronica Patterson

Co-Winner 2006

Around the Block of the World
The Samovar
Around the Block of the World I A story is being told to hold off pain, the listener thin, pale, a slight smile on her lips. The story could be about anything broken: a wall in a certain city, the day you came home from the hospital to this street, to all the years we walked around and around the block. It was summer. Or leaves fell on the children who had followed us. Laughing, hiding in hedges. As we were saying something about desire or renunciation Once when I asked if there were anything else I could do, you said, “Can you heal me?” II This isn’t, whatever you think, a cousin of pity. It is a happiness or resembles one we often had words in our air we taste them suspicious of pleasure then finding it Finches in the garden thistle lovers now the cosmos is tall the light is moving and stippled, cautious coming to you with its shadows. Outside, now, something flashes. Your new cane holding sun? A leaf? A message? As we walk, you tell me something to tell him, after you— “But not right away.” III All afternoon clouds pile toward, but then move past. Your eyes grow larger. Later, a dream wakes me with the words bear your form I’m trying to find something to close off, shut out, something to balance the landscape opening in your eyes, but despise means not to look at and it’s too late. I look and look. I keep, though I don’t know what— watch? time? Last night, in sleep, I walled you in a garden, but you said “I can’t see you,” so I cut a window. You wanted a door. “I don’t know,” I said. You said, “I want to be in the world.” “It’s so expensive,” I said, as we walked slowly around one block of it. You agree, “So dear.”
Around the Block of the World is from the Prairie Schooner, volume 79, number 1 (spring 2005) and is used by permission of the University of Nebraska Press.  Copyright 2005 by the University of Nebraska Press.
The Samovar “One person sees a minaret, but not the bird perched there. A second person sees the bird, but not the hair it carries. A third sees minaret, bird, and hair.” Rumi I It came to the sideboard in Colorado, with its tall brass barrel, gadrooned, wood grips on bail handles, two knobs on the top surface. As architecture, consider its minaret— a small brass teapot, a tip on the lid where a bird might perch. Looking over the city of the world is the spout, lifted arm, wrist turned— a Thai dancer. The samovar: a stilled dance, a small temple. Begin again. II From the samovar, a great aunt served tea in the dry air of New Mexico. She died of having lived, like Willa Cather’s archbishop who, before death came, heard the morning air sing “To-day, to-day”— It came to my house. It threw down its shadow. It watched all night like a jar. It gleamed before daybreak. It arranged time like a woman, her long skirts. Begin again. Define III a metal urn, used by Russians to heat water, for tea, samo self varit boil, self-boiler, fire in a tube of lighted coals. Dented tray, sturdy body, ornate handles. For years I had the samovar and, separately, filled with flowers, never tea though always in the center of the table, a small brass teapot I rubbed, wishing. Then one day I saw a photograph: a samovar with its pot on top. Humming I’m a little teapot, I found that which filled the waiting absence. But it might not work that way—absence. The samovar isn’t my lost mother, though it teaches me. Though it’s made to pour into. And I— poured into. On five round medallion seals, the alphabet is Cyrillic, the date 185_, the year a brass silence. Begin again, the journalist said, with who. IV Who— Lillian, but before? Another Lillian. what— samovar, when— in the time of czars, first steam of revolution, where— a factory in Tula or— the dominion of dining room. Why— life as a samovar?— tarnish, service, incompletion, the pot holding roses and scabiosa. Nevertheless, at the table,— Who has surrounded it, drunk its tea? What on earth did they fashion? In how many days did the samovar become world? As music, baroque. Yet time moves by terrain and custom, unevenly; therefore— a fugue? A cello? A French horn. Begin again. Map V the city inside the samovar, count chimneys above a wedding dance, the bride and groom carried in chairs, men dancing in lines, women in long skirts, bending lightly at the waist, their tired arms lift, fingers snap. Feet stomp to the guitar. To the balalaika, I mean (I might mean). As a dance, flamenco. Begin again or— Not. VI It is not an altar. It is not a hive, with combs of honey and hum. It is not perfect, except in October, certain afternoons. It is not a kettle drum. It is not an elephant. Not quite. It is not a village under a dome, a centrifuge, a cyclotron. It does not waste away into bone. It does not, like a pinwheel in a dump, turn to catch light, and yet— I have always had everything I needed. What is it sings of wholeness? Begin again. Today VII in a small bookshop, I saw men around a table drinking from cups, On the table, a small temple (birdhouse?). The morning’s first coffee, the last supper. Do we know the difference between right here and resurrection. These faces lined now, light catches now. All good now in the world could as easily be brewed here, in this small town, or wherever there’s still a heartland cafe. Because they hold up the sky, when they rise to leave, I hold my breath. But they lift and carry it and will reconvene. Begin again. Inside my samovar VIII a wilderness, steppes, a funeral procession, horses, fluttering red felt, silver jingling, put your ear to the body, listen to the mourning— A newborn cries out and is hushed with milk and a song of longing for the moon, the whole sky and here it is in this puddle, a saucer of tea. But here I pause, leaving space for two errors— the correct answer comes only after two substitutions. I want to be precise about my samovar, its dark infusion, though my pencil lead breaks and breaks. Begin again. In your zodiac cup IX read the tea leaves. They say: keep an eye out for hearts beating just a little faster when you’re near. Harmony is more attainable tomorrow. If you ask an important question, you may reach your destination. Express gratitude for dependable companions. For the downpour. For words at the right moment. Samovar— as a world, this one.