Campbell Corner Poetry Prize

The Poetry of Larissa Szporluk: Finalist, 2001





In China, Sz,
the first faint breeze
of autumn.

Cat's Paw, fainter,
lending almost nothing.

Opposed, in two's,
on afternoons,
Contrastes brush
each other.

Prodromes traipse
through ancient Greece
in dog day heat.

Enter Purga,
strong northeaster,
to buffet Russia,

grim as Samiel's
hot dry slam
on Constantinople.

Schneefresser circles,
eating the snow,
sudden as an eagle
lifting a girl.

Waltzing Jinn's
grip is fiercer: a punitive
love, a drowning swimmer,

but even more alarming
is the one that drives your life,
plumb out of sight.

*The prologue was inspired by the glossary of winds in Heaven's Breath, by Lyall Watson.


Why do you come to my house?
The two-toned trees?
Apple musk? Nostalgia?

Do you come to see the notch
that used to be the creek,
its high-speed body

curbed by scree,
not unlike our own
naïve hurry, daggered branches

shadowing our movements
like a clan of spies-
you take yourself apart,

shaken by the leaves'
omniscient cant,
Whore, whore, and like the waists

the sun pulls out of all the planets,
you whirl in the copper-
augur, aren't you?

Cat's Paw

Yonder lies a camp for the disturbed. Kids are roasting
hotdogs, singing songs. Some are clapping openly,
others in a frigid way inside. Get closer to the fire.
Whisper like an elf. One of them will give you
his whole dinner-on-a-stick. He'll watch it disappear,
the air begin to finger and divide. Then he'll dive in
after it, as if you were alive.


Yahweh in the thunder,
Jupiter, "the shining one,"

easting, westing,
Xerxes, near Salamis,

all those Persian bodies
silenced by the triremes,

pods of red sea lions
tossing on the beaches,

sunset, cold and soft,
widows in the snowfall,

frankincense, forgiveness,
lust, a masturbator's

picturebook, pekoe, hashish,
strokes of noon,

superboob, rhino horn,
foam, eroding knee.


It's not so sweet
to lose one's head,
Furia, lose one's
charge across the
dunes-the knees give
in, buckling down
of bone and skin,
Furia. Are we beast
or are we ghost,
and does this dash
toward our home
parallel Orion's own,
the reins I hold
like veins that know
how hot the neck
of this black night
must have sweat
to edge out dawn?


Depth is ahead,
not below.

Not deep like the sea,
but deep like the tips

of birches,
deep in their restlessness,

pinned by the dirt
and ice, silent as people,

deep in their silver,
shaking a little, not

touching. Deep as a figure
forced to wander,

extending the blizzard
wherever he goes-

practically winged now,
tines for feet,

eyes that weep


Is it possible to be different?
Exotic comes from afar.
With a bag on my head,
I fly to your plot.

In the sequel, where I fall,
I fall the way the brine
trickles down the winding snake
who rises up to man

from the bottom of the playa
to hear the echo of its name called
and hears, instead,
a hair poke through eternity,

a double sound, like tearing onion-
revelation by the bowman
that his game is dull. All the same,
a wonder girl, a birdbrain.


A boy glitters,
becoming snow.

She finds him
on the mountaintop

and stays all spring
until his body melts

inside her arms.
Strawberries push up

around her feet,
daughters, small and soft,

plump with seeds.
She puts them in her mouth,

one by one. The sky,
high and still,

makes an old face.
Forgive me.

Waltzing Jinn

So goes the world.
A pigeon comes down
with fluff in her mouth,
smelling of wife and ram,
and so go the herbs
that war through the garden,
enula, biondella,
gathered by Helen
the day she was stolen,
a bittersweet blond
trampled by soldiers,
the flayed-open nostrils
of lust without basis-
that's what this dance is,
the sperm of abandon,
a whale turning fragile,
a sinuous whisper
that grows, not in volume,
but toll, like the gold
on a wandering hand,
or a system of dust
that hurts less in fact
than it does to imagine.


Wind is a lesson,
bringing the tongues
of chewing sheep
the blue of heaven,
eliminating illness
by changing its name:
circling, mosaic, psychic,
convincing the human too
by way of reason
to empty his head,
throw out the gnomes
who bless his house
whenever they visit,
throw out the egg
whose virile yolk
smoothes his failing body
like a savage pelt;
throw it all out,
the disquieting beauty
of bizarre things,
and follow the voice
of perpetual wash
expected of him.



The wind, Master Cherry, the wind;
the workshop is empty;

the voice, it doesn't exist.
By heaven, don't hurt me.

The wind, Master Cherry, the wind.
The secret of the narrative:

Deny the strange-please, don't,
reverse the grain;

give it a taste for steel,
something to live for, don't!

if living is what it is. Shave the outer
surface of its urge to feel;

down your wine; tuck yourself in
to the Tuscan silence,

like a boy at the hearth without feet,
or the puppet he learns to be,

selfish, dreamy, festive,
up to his ears in the usual jelly,

and rest assured no one was born
this evening--no star, no king,

no limb of wood. It was only the wind,
what you think you heard,

returning the fright
to a frightening world.

Scamp of a Son

A nose without end.
Dark, weak eyes
graced by the lack
of reflection.
Tongue flicking out,
mouth in a snarl.
Geppetto losing
patience. A little bit
of sun through a dirty
window; this alone,
like a drummer's lapse
into a crazy song,
keeps him going.
Brow. Neck. Hands-
snatch his yellow
jasey. Scamp of a son!
Respect your father!

Geppetto is miserable,
as never before in his life,
like somebody forced
to dance, a horse
to tap out math,
a monkey dressed
for war, a witness
to a stoning.

Pinocchio Smashes the Cricket

with a wooden mallet.
What could have been
a musical pet,

Learn to read
or learn a trade
is nailed on the head

to the wall like a saint.
A shutter flaps open,
the room shrieks, Cri,

and all things killed
abnormally soon
swarm down to sing

curses, like nurses
who jab the veins
of those not afraid

not to listen,
then surge, like bats,
throughout his brain,

a killer's cave
of sleeplessness,
bewilderment, starvation.


But what is that beautiful jingle?
At the end of a long street
that leads to a popular square
near the seashore…panpipes
and tambourines. But school…

Who doesn't will their mistakes?
Even the coarse Mangiafuoco
lives in a house with wheels,
and only deep down is he good,
a grade below unconditional,

his love, a random demon
badgered by statistics, who,
in order to mix with life,
has to erupt-his whimpering
gut fuels a rip-roaring sneeze

at Pinocchio's scream: Non voglio
And then it's not flame
but a kiss that's coerced: The troupe
is saved! They romp until dawn,
a family again, glad to be crude.


Now picture this-me, your wife,
a snail. Picture my insular freedom.
It snows and no one sees me
at home in my own white shoulder.

Pulcinella, Arlecchino,
beating each other with sticks;
your overly merry music
ripping through space like ice-

The Grand Puppet Theatre! Already far from spite,
the caravan, our wooden children
strapped inside, I kissed them all

goodbye, your ruby lantern eyes
blackening behind me. Divorce.
Beard from head to floor,
whip made of fox and snake…

What would I be
if I hadn't been pitted against you?
My soul would have no furniture
to burn on a night like this.

The Thieves Hang Pinocchio

Sunset is long here
falling, slipping between
the Great Oak's leaves,
striking the puppet
like pieces of metal,
impossibly many, impossibly
hungry, staining him
red and gold, no matter
how faint his throat is,
clicking against
the wooden skull, as if
of opinion too
that the coins in his mouth
should spit right out
into their murderous paws-
but then it is dark
at last, and the thieves
who had lain under his feet
slouch away, tired of waiting,
of watching him die
like the tongue of a bell,
mumbling, Father, if only,
softer and softer,
until they could hear,
had they stayed in range,
a third, more durable
thief invade.

Moses floated
down the winding river
in an ark of woven
reeds. He was found
by Pharaoh's daughter,
against her knee. The close
of an average morning.
An extraordinary moon-rise,
wielding a duo
of horns. Pinocchio,

in pendulum, is cut
from the hangman's
cord. Dropped
in a soft-blue carriage
attached to hundreds of mice,
he is driven, like Cinderella,
shivering, deranged,
her sequin gown
trailing off, like God from all
but one small leaf.

A Little Case of Death

Four black rabbits
enter the room,
conveying a casket.

Imagine a train,
a crowded station,
the plan of a god

dressed as a swan
to suddenly re-costume.
Pinocchio straightens

his back in bed.
Why did my mother
let you all in?

Why does Nemesi
welcome the eagle
into her grembo?

Because he isn't a swan,
and these are just rabbits,
not uniformed men.

What do you want from me?
--We came to take you.

A mantle of snow

covers the Jordan,
Elijah the Prophet
dividing the waters…

Pinocchio, drink it!
It's your interior country,
your faith they are after:

Think of the staggering
egg she is big with,
the sights and the sounds

of the daughter of night
almost riding herself,
but in vain.

Alone in the World

This is our slab of marble.
We died here
of sorrow, praying
that you would be good,
only good, lowing
all night like unfed
cattle drifting
through steppes
and straits. And now
we are dead, your cricket,
your Fairy, our skin
gone to tear-stain,
devotion in ruins…
A huge Roman snail
will answer a door
in the terrible future
and hand you a bowl
of unreal fruit.
And then you will know
forgiveness is over,
just as the cypress
high above Garda
laughs at its silver face,
never thinks twice
about messenger doves
or whether or not
it was fathered.

The Star of the Dance

The circus is as bright as day.
The famous donkey Pinocchio
leaps through flaming hoops
in four white boots,
his hide as lustrous as a mirror.
His hair has been curled;
adorned with roses--in truth,
he's an ass to be in love with.

The ring-leader raises an arm,
fires a pistol. The star
feigns being shot, slumps
to the earth as if truly morbid,
this to a flood of applause.
The Fairy, high in the stands,
is wearing his portrait
tight on her throat.

Trying to reach her, he trips,
is lamed, sold to a drunk
who needs skin for a drum.
Blind-folded, hurled, tied
to a stone, a star withdrawing
shine-how droll to see him
drown, the cord yanked up
like a riled viper.

Inside the Dog-Fish

Wide as the church, the sea, the cavern,
hard as a rock, a tree, a geyser, tight
as the spot of birth, hot as the furnace,
serpent, witch, plain as the ego, primitive,
tomb, loose as a swallow's whirling torso,
fiery vertebra-madre terribile, mother
of agony, atony, urge, providing a passage,
a sabbath, excuse, symbol of charm
gone darkly sour, emotional windbag
pricked by the light of the luna cornuta,
spitting up trinkets and bottles of rum,
and pages of books, and chunks of men.

Fulfilled by Parting

Before Him, all souls are feminine.
The women are feminine,

and so are the men. In the desert,
Nonnus wondered at the harlot's beauty;

Pelagia, at the bishop's trust-
dousing her head, sacking her chest,

sending her off in trousers.
A pretty blue goat yelled from a cliff,

The monster's behind you, Pinocchio, swim!
When she sees him again,

he has chestnut locks, celestial eyes, flesh
like bread. Crouched in a cell,

Pelagius the monk plaited himself
an eternal collar. The sun rolled low

like a drunk. Brethren come by.
They carry him out, into the crowd,

anointed with myrrh, mouth rigored wide,
a definite woman. How silly I was

when I was a puppet. How happy I am
to be real
. When the bad

become good, you can feel His pleasure
wax like a heartening lie.