EXPANSIVE POETRY ONLINE
A Journal of Contemporary Arts 

 

 

POEMS

by

Carolyn Raphael

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TRYING TO GET A HANDLE ON IT

Whenever I entered the drug store where grandpa worked,
he'd slide a chocolate ice cream soda toward me on the counter.
I would stop it and take a sip even before I gave him a kiss.
The glass rested in a metal holder with a handle,
which you had to hold to drink it correctly.
Besides, that freed the other hand to spoon the ice cream.
Many years later, I lost the glasses, which I had acquired,
but the holders are still here, somewhere.

I've also lost my pride in presentation.
I haven't touched my giant wine glasses in years,
and the crystal pitcher is too heavy when filled.
My wedding bone china must be washed by hand;
my mother's silver must be polished.
So we make do with everyday dishes and stainless flatware.
Paper napkins, too, I'm ashamed to say.
The dishwasher swallows the load.

Too much trouble to wash and iron
old linen table cloths and napkins
with their scalloped edges and handmade lace.
After all, food is for eating, not display.
Of course we have more major concerns,
but the loss of beauty is to be mourned.
Some of us need an antidote to the ugliness
that assaults us every day.

 

 

 

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PT BALLET

This is not a fitness gym.
It's a physical therapy clinic
where patients try to soothe their aches,
strengthen legs to support them,
coerce fingers not to drop a key or spoon.

No bulging biceps, neon leggings, workout shoes.
Only words of encouragement to the person trying
to walk a straight line with a trainer's hands ready to catch.
Gentle words to talk through the hurt while massaging
withered muscles, damaged nerves.

Machines guard the perimeter, coaxing muscles into play:
A few steps to climb and descend with one-hand support;
the pulldown machine that strengthens shoulders;
a balance platform that we move with our legs
while trying to shoot down falling fruit.

As I wait for my therapist, I watch those lying on tables,
legs slowly rising and falling, sometimes in unison.
Like a dance class
with a geriatric corps de ballet
dreaming of mobility.

 

 

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BEING READ TO*

Every night my husband reads to me
in bed to usher me to sleep.
Often, books about Italy, but never poetry.
Too hard, he says, I’d have to rehearse.
So I hear about Verdi’s operas,
especially his last one, Falstaff,
a comedy he wrote when he was almost 80.
About Domus Aurea,
the Roman palace of Emperor Nero –
hundreds of rooms,
covered with gold leaf and frescoes.
Raphael and Michelangelo
were let down shafts to see
this buried exhibition of excess.
About the Villa d’Este in Tivoli, near Rome,
its 16th century gardens and dazzling fountains,
fueled by gravity instead of pumps.
The Organ Fountain, recently restored,
once more plays spurts of music as the water flows.
All with pictures that quicken memory.
This reading has long been a ritual.
Not like a parent lulling a child,
chasing away cares or monster fears.
Not like Cupid leaving Psyche in the dark.
More like partners sharing, then parting
without sorrow or regret,
in the hope of awakening
together with the morning light.

       from Travelers On My Route, Kelsay Press, 2023

 

 

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BLOOD WILL TELL

June 30, 2022. Police in Fuzhou, China identified a burglary suspect from DNA in his blood found in two dead mosquitoes that he had squashed on the wall of the apartment he robbed on June 11th. He had committed several other robberies.

He must have known the owners were away.
An entry from the balcony: he was in.
He packed his loot and found an appetite.
As if at home, he cooked up noodles and eggs,
then lit a mosquito coil, and went to bed.

Next morning, before he left, he swatted two
mosquitoes that had bitten him. Police
retrieved the bloody insects that defaced
the pristine, newly-painted living room wall.
His DNA was soon identified.

Conclusions: mosquitoes were the martyred heroes;
the thief needed a strong mosquito spray;
he should have left the apartment as he found it;
audacity is often unrewarded.

 

 

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IMPRECATIONS*

To the Person Who Defaced a Library Book

May the author's name be branded on your brow,
with the title and call number, to allow
the victims of this outrage
to avenge each ruined page––
silencing all attempts to disavow.

To the Person Who Broke Up with His Girlfriend on Facebook

May your profile photo morph into a beast,
and your private information be released;
may you find a thousand hate notes on your wall
(with each new one the fiercest of them all),
your conversations be abruptly ended,
and you yourself increasingly unfriended.

To the Person Who Blocked My Car

May you need to find a bathroom
with the urgency of age.
May you boast two Broadway tickets
less than ten feet from the stage.
May your husband‘s special client
grow impatient at the bar—
while you hold an uncharged cell phone
and someone’s blocked your car.

*Published in Dancing with Bare Feet,
Kelsay Books, 2016.

 

SPREZZATURA*

To practise in all things a certain nonchalance which conceals
all artistry and makes whatever one says or does seem
uncontrived and effortless.

-Baldesar Castiglione. The Book of the Courtier. 1528.
Tr. George Bull, London, 1967.

 

DiMaggio had it, so did Fred Astaire—
the dazzle of a sweet swing, the appealing
insouciance of a dancer on the ceiling—
the absent strain, the unassuming flair.

 

Since what we saw seemed natural as air,
the artistry that disallows revealing
bewitched us as we reveled in the feeling
that we could do it too, if we were there.

 

But elegance has shriveled into cool:
the fashion model pouting into space,
disdainful glances from the clique at school.

 

And accolades for apathy erase
the reverence for skill that was the rule,
while we sweep up the vestiges of grace.

 

* Published in Measure, Vol. IV Issue 1, 2009
   Published in Dancing with Bare Feet,
  
Kelsay Books, 2016.

 

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END-OF-SUMMER'S CRICKET SERENADE
I raise my bedroom window every night
to hear the crickets trill a lullabye.
The synchronous male voices glorify
the power of their prowess to excite.
The females chirp a short response, invite
their suitors to persist and amplify.
They choose the sweetest love song, then they fly
to one whose presentation brings delight.      
New word: I learned that crickets stridulate
their song, and not by rubbing legs but wings.
In heat they carol at a faster rate.
You might ask why I care about such things.
My answer is they help me meditate
on letting go and on the peace it brings.
 
RAPTURE
       On watching then 11-year-old Israeli violinist 
       Masha Mershon play the "Meditation" solo from 
       Massenet's opera Tha´s with the Israel Philharmonic 
       Orchestra conducted by Roni Porat.
Eyes closed, lips slightly-parted, Masha plays 
the lovely Intermezzo from Tha´s.
Transported, where? Where does a young girl go?
From time to time she opens her eyes, looks briefly
at the conductor, resumes the sweet refrain.
Unlike Tha´s, viewing the afterlife,
the violinist honors this one, onstage,
stroking the notes that lullaby her soul.
Eyes closed, she sounds the high harmonic note
that brings the traveler home, reluctantly.

 

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DINNER WITH EMPRESS LIVIA

Livia Drusilla (later Julia Augusta - 58BCE to 29CE) was the third wife of Emperor Augustus. Her Prima Porta Villa's beautiful dining room frescoes were moved to Rome's Palazzo Massimo al Terme (Roman National Museum) in 1998. Today, one can sit surrounded by garden scenes of flowers and fruit trees filled with doves and partridges. And dream...

Cornelius to Lucius, Greetings

I must describe my dinner with our Empress.
Her sprawling, lavish villa outshines praise.
One marvel is the summer dining room:
partially underground, the perfect place
to flee the ravages of Roman heat.
High up, small windows let in just enough light.

On all four walls the artist painted frescoes
that imitate surroundings of this villa.
Cerulian blue and beryl green assuage
the troubled soul and captivate the eye.
Sixty-nine kinds of birds, I'm told, including
partridges, thrushes, magpies, warblers, jays.
most feasting on the bounty of the fruit trees.
A nightingale warbles in a golden cage.

The foreground shows the cultivated garden,
contained by a lattice fence and low stone wall.
Beyond, a wild grove boasts oak and laurel;
the date palms mix with cypress, spruce and pines,
with fruiting quince and pomegranate trees.
Viburnums grow with poppies and acanthus.
All seasons merge; all bloom concurrently—
harmonious as Rome's Augustan Age.

As we reclined on couches piled with cushions,
the servants filled the tables with camel heels,
flamingo's tongues. And then there were the dormice:
first dipped in honey, rolled in poppy seeds.
Exotic dishes I had never seen.
(The silver wine cups featured Dionysus.)
Though we began at five, the courses flowed
as constant as the Tiber through the night.

For entertainment, female slaves, who danced
to melodies of lyres, flutes, and harps.
The acrobats and mimes astonished all.
At last it was my turn to play a part
when I was asked to read my poetry.
I saw the empress smile as I took my bow.

Take care so that you are well, my friend,
Cornelius

         -Carolyn Raphael

Note: Cura ut valeas (Take care so that you are well)
         was a common closing to Latin letters


 

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 Carolyn Raphael EPO Poems Prior To 2023.
            

 

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