March 29, 2011

Diane Lockward

THE STUDY OF NATURE

Every morning for thirty years you’ve kissed me,
the same kiss, one neat peck, chaste

as toast. Look through the window.
Take a lesson from the cat that visits our yard:

Hide in the bushes. Be still, every muscle poised.
Observe me as I stroll across the patio and enter

the garden, your ears raised and stiff, as if listening
to some ancient primal call, some deep-throated

growl. Catch the scent of my heated blood drifting
through the leaves. Let it tickle the touch organs

of your whiskers. Size me up. Picture your mouth
stuffed. Think of the different ways

to take me. When I’ve bent over to smell a rose
or nibble a berry, unaware of your upraised fur,

the vertical lift of your tail, sneak out of the bushes,
one paw in front of the other. Go slow, glide,

as if not moving at all. Imagine me all catnip
and cream. Then pounce. Lick me

with your rough tongue. Make me pray
for mercy. Devour me down to the bone.

from Rattle #16, Winter 2001

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March 28, 2011

Diane Lockward

THE MATHEMATICS OF YOUR LEAVING

Today I remembered my algebra book
flying across the room,
my father shouting I was stupid,
a dumb girl, because I couldn’t do math–
and all because you are leaving,
I’m calculating numbers,
totaling years, even
working out equations:
If x + 1 = 2, what is the value of x alone?

All day I’ve been thinking about
word problems: If a train travels west
at the speed of 60 miles per hour
against a thirty mile per hour wind, how fast
will you be gone?

Today I’ve added and subtracted,
multiplied and divided. I’ve mastered
fractions. Even that theorem
I could never understand–plus 1
plus minus 1 equals zero–is perfectly clear.

Then just when I think I’ve finally
caught on, a whiz kid now, a regular
Einstein, suddenly the numbers
betray me. No matter how many times
I count the beads on the abacus, work it out
on the calculator, everything comes
to nothing.

Mute and fractured, a dumb girl again,
I sit alone at my desk, staring
out the window, homework
incomplete. A square root unrooted,
I contemplate infinity.

from Rattle #11, Summer 1999

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October 10, 2010

Review by Barbara DanielsTemptation by Water by Diane Lockward

TEMPTATION BY WATER
by Diane Lockward

Wind Publications
600 Overbrook Drive
Nicholasville KY 40356
IBSN 978-1-936138-12-8
2010, 93 pp., $15.00
http://windpub.com

Temptation by Water, Diane Lockward’s fourth volume of poetry, is both fierce and funny. This lively new collection piercingly depicts loss but balances it with wit and genial good humor. Some of Lockward’s poems confront difficult but necessary truths but others are sexy, irreverent and amusing. Despite the heart-wrenching loss of a husband or lover, the poet never feels sorry for herself. Her poems are a pleasure to read, and her talent for the unexpected keeps readers turning the pages.

One of the satisfactions of this collection is its control of craft. Lockward is a master of the apt metaphor, such as “the blood-soaked butcher paper / flapping in the street,” an emblem of lost love in “There Where Love Had Been.” Her surprising line breaks add extra dimensions of meaning, and rhyme and near rhyme add lovely, subtle music. The poems’ wording is often both surprising and exactly right, as in “the razzle / of light on water” in the title poem, “Temptation by Water,” an ekphrastic work based on Henri Matisse’s The Open Window. Lockward uses evocative, multilayered language but is not afraid to make sense; readers always know where they are.

The book’s epigraph claims that “our real desire is to be tempted enough” (Augustus William Hare). But how much is too much? There are many temptations in these pages, including a too-expensive sexy red dress and disturbing, desirable men, one of whom is so dangerous he comes with a warning label: “all trans fats and palm oil,” “a four-hour erection,” “the Mickey Finn of obsessions” (“Side Effects”). Food is another temptation. Seductive and amusing food fills the pages of this volume: soup for “the man who has lost everything” (“No soup for you!”), irresistible Autumnglo and Elegant Lady peaches, aromatic lychee, a potato chip containing the image of Jesus, and a filbert, a runty nut so disdained that Lockward imagines it plotting a Carrie-like revenge on its enemies. Some of the poems, such as “If Only Humpty Dumpty Had Been a Cookie,” are pure fun, but even here a shadow falls over the women who bake for Humpty Dumpty, “filling and enfolding him, / bringing him home, wrapped / in the unbreakable dough of their arms.”

Much has been lost and broken in the world of these poems, including a family that cannot be mended despite a repair crew that comes in to sew a woman’s mouth shut and teach her son how to shoot, and most tellingly, the spouse or lover who leaves despite prayers for a miracle. Lockward forces readers to look when they might not want to—at terrifying dreams, poisoned starlings plummeting from the sky, and the rosy anus of a beloved infant, “the lilliputian donut hole, / the dark star puckered like a kiss” (“It Runs This Deep”). She gazes unblinkingly at the bleeding leg of a young raccoon, young neighbors passionately tangled in each other’s arms, and dying butterflies captured for a science project. If a kill jar and a pin through the thorax of a butterfly are necessary, so be it, Lockward implies.

Facing complexities and contradictions forces the poet to gain hard-won self-knowledge. “I don’t trust my heart these days, too often / a foul cistern breeding toads,” she acknowledges (“Capturing the Image”). She wants the ocean to wash her clean, yet she also yearns for its opposite: “Cover me in filth,” she asks in “My Dark Lord.” She has been exposed, stripped like a lemon or an ecdysiast and longing for escape. In “When Pigs Flee,” piglets are sensualists who “want what’s outside— / quail and turkey eggs, / the woodsy flavor of porcinis.” Most of all, they want to get away, “Their unfettered feet forever unpickled.”

Temptation by Water
depicts some ways to escape, but nothing comes easily in these poems. Lockward skillfully portrays the forced lightheartedness of a happy hour drinker who proclaims: “Here’s to the gin mills / of America, the taverns, bars, pubs, / road stops, cafés, saloons, and the shot / and beer joints. . . . Let the engines idle / the dark roads remain untraveled” (“Happy Hour”). Nature provides some consolation:

There where a heart
has bled,
I breathe the duff
of deciduous leaves,
leave my sorrows
among moss and mushrooms
(“Bathing in Forest Dusk”)

But what the poet turns to may necessarily be bitter. “What I want is the desert,” she confesses (“The Temptation of Mirage”). In “Nostrum” she advises facing loss directly by telling a medicine man “what you mourn— / the house you lost, the man you loved, the child torn / in pieces. Add it up, calculate the sum / of your grief. Drink the pulp and skin, the fermented must”—the harsh leftovers after wine has been made. “Must” appears again in “The Very Smell of Him,” in which it is the thistle and cinnamon scented must of the lost man that the poet longs for.

The best revenge on a husband who may deserve living in the doghouse (as happens in the amusing “Leaving in Pieces” in which a bald husband trades places with a dog) is to fall hard for someone else. “Love Song with Plum” is a giddy celebration of sensuousness and new love. Readers know the new directions the poet’s life is taking are not easy, but her humor and zest for life make this poem—and this book—a delight.

____________

Barbara Daniels’ Rose Fever was published by WordTech Press. She received two Individual Artist Fellowships from the New Jersey Council on the Arts, earned an MFA in poetry at Vermont College, and serves on the staff at Peter Murphy’s Winter Getaway in Cape May, NJ.

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July 29, 2008

Diane Lockward

LOVE SONG WITH PLUM

I take what he offers, a plum,
round and plump,
deeper than amethyst purple.
I lift the fruit from his palm.
Like Little Jack Horner, I want it in a pie,
my thumb stuck in to pluck
out that plum.
I wanted it baked in a pudding,
served post-prandial,
drenched in something potable,
and set on fire, to sit across from him and say, Pass
the pudding, please.
Spread on our morning toast, dollops of plum preserves,
and when we grow old, a bowl of prunes,
which, after all, are nothing more than withered plums.
But today the air is scented with plumeria,
and at this particular fruit stand, I’m plumb
loco in love with the plumiest
man. Festooned with peacock plumes
and swaddled in the plumage
of my happiness, I want to stand at the perimeter
of this plum-luscious
earth, sink a plumb
line for balance, then plummet
like a bird on fire, placate
all my desires, my implacable
hunger for the ripeness of my sweetheart’s plum.

from Rattle #28, Winter 2007

__________

Diane Lockward: “This poem began as an experiment, an attempt to enter a poem via sound rather than subject. The lead word ‘plum’ was used to create a vertical list of rhymes and near rhymes. The words in the list then became line endings.” (website)

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