Campbell Corner Poetry Prize

Distinguished Entries 2002

Susan Thomas

City of Ghosts - Brassaï Photographs - Ghazal Of Jorge Garcia

City of Ghosts

Old Jews fill the empty streets of Kaunas.
They sit on boxes, chairs, they sit at tables
in the fancy cafés on the Laisves promenade.
They gawk when long-legged girls stride by
in four-inch heels and skin-tight trousers.
They whistle, stamp their feet and spit
three times. Others rise from the ditches
their neighbors made them dig.

They rise naked, with shovels
still in their hands. They rise with bullet
holes through which air passes as
they rise—blue Lithuanian air—
it passes through one Jew to the other.
They rise holding hands, embracing,
singing songs they remember from childhood.

They're old Jews now. Even the youngest,
who were murdered as infants. A whole
city of Jews, old Jews, on boxes, on chairs,
ghost Jews on every corner gossiping and
laughing at problems they no longer have.

And here's the Japanese consul disobeying
his orders, sending Jews on cruise ships
to Shanghai. The train pulling out of the station
as they expel Sugihara from Kaunas.
He pulls transit visas out of his luggage, throws
them out of the moving train's window.

Sometimes wailing breaks out
on one street and other streets join in.
They would like to leave it all behind,
to lose this world completely, but none
of them can leave so many stories untold,
haunting the young who half-hear and see them,
the innocent young, who are clueless
but know there's a secret
their parents have never told them.

Brassaï Photographs

Someone's foot is stretched
across the puddles.
Where has it been?
In the damp night:
trouser cuffs,
hem of a trench coat.

A carnival swing shaped
like a swan carries the man
who stands for a kiss
from a woman whose hair
blows into the circle
of upward flight the moment
before the swing drops down
to topple him out, or will
love keep him safe in its arc?

Fevered headlights search the night yard,
reach out for each other in the dark.

Behind the lonely station trains
tremble, their metal skins

nearly melt and
slide past the narrow platform,

ignoring the austere face of the clock.

The horses of Apollo have galloped
into the forest, left the statue where
they were forced to stand all day
with Apollo. They stomped and bit
each other, impatient to gallop across
the universe and pull the stubborn sun
into night. Here in Paris it is cloudy all
the time. Apollo is a lazy fuck who never
spurs them on, so they canter under trees,
eat horse chestnuts, whisper to each other
in the manner of horses with no work to do.
They sway in the wind and tell stories of how
they fished Dawn from the sea and sprang
Helios out of eclipse. But that was long ago
in Delphi, before they had to be statues, when
they were alive and everything depended on them.

He could be your gynecologist.
Manicured beard, glasses, vest,
white lab coat, standing next to a screen
obscuring his model/patient. Only
a chalk drawing on the studio door clues us
to the light he holds in his fingers: unhinged jaw,
tufts of hair, rounded beak. Matisse's self-portrait,
eyes narrowed to see how joy can leap from the canvas,
the model's skin lifting flat paint to rise luminous
in the charged air around his paintbrush.

Ghazal Of Jorge Garcia
                              after Federico García Lorca

Every morning near Battery Park,
every morning the dead come again.

Every morning the river comes up
for its coffee break with its friends.

The dead wear wings of steel.
The angry wind and the mournful wind

are two birds flying into the towers
and the day is a mutilated landscape.

No fire was left to shriek in the air
when you and I met underground.

Not a crumb of a cloud hung over the earth
on the morning you jumped through the sky.

A monster of smoke lunged into the streets.
The universe splintered with bones and paper.

The ash of your body lay on the riverbank,
invisible, an archangel of dust.