Jean Nordhaus



I knew the rudiments: his
into hers. What I lacked
were illustrations. My parents
handed me a solemn book.
It would explain
what they could not. Feverish,
I browsed the chapters ("Eggs,"
"Pollen and Sperm"),
past grainy fish roe
(black and white); a nest
of speckled eggs, a flustered
German Shepherd bitch
who nursed her puppies
like the Roman She-Wolf
standing up. All this
I took for metaphor.
Likewise, the sad
fallopian lyre, the bristling
snapdragons, the peacock's
gorgeous poker-hand of plumes.
Only to reach the final
chapter, where an uxorious
bull and cow moose browsed
in a soggy glade, fondling
the ferns with blowzy lips. And this,
it seemed was frenzy's end: the bog,
the weeds, the slow beasts
cumbrous in their bodies.



Lord, give us food for angels and invalids,
poets and madwomen, all who find
the savor of this world too strong--
mourners and saints and those volatile souls
whose joy ignites dangerous fevers; for these
a cloud, a polished bone, a cup of snow
is sustenance enough. Spread them a tablecloth

clean as the page of an unwritten book
and serve upon crockery
plain as a nurse: the clear broth
of memory, skim milk of exile,
cooked grains and potted cheeses, purees
culled from roots of loneliness,
breast-meat, slivered from the bony tent.

Let this feast be lean as Pharoah's
seven dream-cows, humble to bless
the blue feet of the starving and let
each vessel, passed from hand to hand
above our plates, inscribe a circle
over circles. Let no clamorous spice,
no storm of seasoning distract these diners

from their secret craving--to hear
a mother's tongue tolling again
in the rooms of their childhood,
watch steam rising from that early soup,
sunlight glinting from that first spoon raised
like a lighthouse over waves--
a beacon for the hungry voyager.



Susan Goldman
monotype 30 x 42
see more work by Susan Goldman


On James Hampton's Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly, Museum of American Art,
Washington, DC

Everything begged to be saved:
three-legged tables, arthritic
chairs. The blind light bulbs
and sprung valises longed to be lifted,
transformed. With his dreaming
eye, he saw them as they might become:
an altar wrapped in foil; the gimpy chair
reborn as throne--though it would not
support a child; six twinned pedestals
with flower-faces, strumming brassy music
of the unreal world. Emblazoned
over all, this legend: Fear Not.
The kingdom of heaven is made of junk.
Busy as a spider in the dark
garage, he built it, fettling forth
Winged symmetries and curious
entablatures. A makeshift architecture,
tenuous as a breath. Exposed to public
view, it leans away, still hoarding
its darkness. Soon we will walk away
into sorrier streets than any Hampton knew.
A velvet ribbon bars the door to the unenterable room.



After the war, she painted her walls
a French blue, pale as the watered
blue silk of her eyes, filled her rooms
with cream and gold-leaf chairs,
and when she raised her porcelain cup
with pinky arched and blew the word
"Limo-o--o-gges" across the lip,
that made a tender wind, as if a host
of cherubs rafted through the room.
Mad for all things French,
she'd never read Voltaire,
went straight from the Academy
of Typing in the Bronx to work
for Mr. Hyman at the J.D.C.
In 1945 she went to Paris--ah, the city
was a shambles then, American cigarettes
were currency, her Yiddish
far more useful than her French
in working with the refugees. History
was hell, she learned, but life
moved on. She purchased
silver fruit knives, teacups, pastel
figurines, and tottered home on platform
wedgies to attend the rattle and attack
of morning trucks along Third
Avenue and to receive us kindly
when we came to call--in short,
to lead a life not sans souci
(for there were deaths,
and loneliness), but of her own
design. You'd never guess
King Frederick and my aunt
would have so much
in common. Both were short,
bilingual, stubborn, confused,
enlightened in some ways, benighted
in others, tyrannical, clever, benevolent,
fierce. Like Frederick, she flourished,
like Frederick, she died. She was tiny
and great and is buried in Queens.



When we came that day to the spring
I made my customary speech:
whoever drinks this water
will surely return.

And though we both half-knew
you would not be coming back,
you picked a careful path
across damp stones and

buoyed with sudden hope,
put your mouth to the pipe-mouth
buried among rocks and cress,
to the mossy O

and drank. Since then
you have joined the silent ones
beyond all thirst and hearing.
Yet whenever I bend

to the green pipe,
it is you who bend with me
to drink, and you who enter
my mouth as water

welling from the aquifer
of memory to plunge again
into the secret tubes and
vessels of the body.



Jean Nordhaus's books include My Life in Hiding, A Bracelet of Lies, and The Porcelain Apes of Moses Mendelssohn, which was published by Milkweed Editions in 2002. Her work has appeared in American Poetry Review, New Republic, Poetry, Best American Poetry 2000, and The Other Side of the Hill: 1975-1995, an anthology of poems by the Capitol Hill Poetry Group, published by Forest Woods Media Productions in 1996. Nordhaus has served as Coordinator of the Folger Shakespeare Library's poetry programs and as President of Washington Writers' Publishing House. She lives in Washington, DC.


Published in Volume 5, Number 2, Spring 2004.


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