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“Then try, like some first human being, to say what you see and experience and love and lose.” — Rainer Maria Rilke

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more work online

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BLUE WINDOW is available through Amazon.com or from Archer Books

The Trinket Poems is available from Wind or from Ann directly.

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For more poetry

Ann Fisher-Wirth
Ann Fisher-Wirth







Walking Wu Wei's Scroll







Having No Choice, I Welcome You


To Kali with her necklace of skulls,
                    to Tlazolteotl the dirty lady



Come barefoot.

          Come with your hair down
                    in your skirt of knives.

                              Come through the rain.

Come to me where the wind blows—

          Here on the Allée Marcel Proust
                    where voices rise on the currents of air,
                                            where sunlight is a bird
                              and the sawing, down the Rue Royale, of sirens.
          You only do not die, though the woman
                    in russet stockings strolling with her man
                                            and her leather shoulderbag, and the woman
                              who limps already, and the salsa dancer
          who carries his shoulders unmoving
                    and leads with his black-clad hips must die,
                                            all of us in this wind, and the great,
                              wind-whipped chestnut trees.

          Each angle and tumble of hair, each stride,
                    like that man with the swagger and sway,
                                            or the black man in linen, the woman
                              with her head down who carries
          a woven shopping bag—each pigeon
                    cutting the air—
                                            and the fragility of their wishes,
                              their cheekbones—

I accept you into my heart
          but you have no comfort for me.

Come to me, come to me,
          you with the crimson.

________________________________________________________________________

The “dirty lady” is Tlazolteotl, the Aztec goddess of filth whose function is similar to Kali's, and who wears a skirt of knives.



Mississippi


1


Since Friday a small white cat has lain on the sidewalk next to Inside Oxford.
Ants crawl in its fur, ichor pools around its nostrils. Soon, that sweet smell
will rise as it bloats in the heat and stiffens further. Drive by it, drive
back at the end of the day. No one has removed it. Drive by again next morning,
then, in the evening, walk up close to look at it. Its eyes have spread from
temple to temple, as if someone had laid the blue wings of a Morphos butterfly
tenderly across it.


2


Kudzu's ragged emerald
     splays across the gully

stormclouds hover
   a bumblebee stumbles through grasses
       sucks the thick yolk of magnolias

tiretracks ripple
   in mud beneath your feet
       shadowy cedars loom at dream's torn selvage

a spiderweb pearls with rain
   gnats drink from your eyes
       the daddy long legs totes his sac of poison

wet, now, the trail you take
     birdsong dissolving

wet like your gristle and tendons
   wet like the secrets and needs of you


3


Downtown, every lily has its place,
every hydrangea fertilized for pink
or blue, tamped down beneath pine straw,

geometrically arranged. The manicured clumps
of monkey grass, barberry mounds, crape myrtles
on the curb like sixth-grade ballroom dancing

when I waited for a boy to cross the floor—
puffy, in magenta polished cotton.
Oh I wish something would lash out, some tendril

slip its moorings and strangle care in us.
By the brick Arts Center that leveled half a hill
of kudzu, snakes, and shadows,

the bronze fiddler advertises
(with her dirty feet stamping and her
hair flying) “wildness.” Nights, my husband

turns to me but it's too hot to touch.
Once we braved just about anything—
I danced for him, I danced for him.

The ceiling fan sluggishly churning.


4


Last winter in Uppsala, Sweden,
seven months into our year, I saw a crumpled
scrap of paper on the stairs to the apartment.
In that city with its birch trees
and the rushing Fyris River,
I thought it was a cockroach, and was
happy. I said “Damn, that’s home, I live there.”
For the first time I missed Oxford—
where in summer, by the Jitney,
streams of roaches from the gutter
ferry all night long, scrabbling into Lethe.


5


Once, we were in the same city—
this man who drifted away
when I was eighteen,
who found me again nearly forty years later.

His wife, my husband,
waited, chatting of schools or Strindberg,
back home in the apartment.
I held his elbow up Draggarbrunnsgatan
to the ICA, where we debated
about chicken, yoghurt, cherries, moving slowly
and more slowly, wanting it to take exactly forever.

The flatbread and pickled herring
shone with a holy light
as we stumbled along the aisles, clutching our little red baskets.


6


This wet and heavy summer
makes the soil rich.
Love brings the women dreams of peaches.

I get the car home, drunk. In the driveway
an orange zinnia is blossoming.
My husband stands in the kitchen, twirling
a tinsel pinwheel he has brought home
from his rambles in the woods.
The crystal decanter we bought in Calico Rock
on our fifteenth anniversary
glows on the table like a thousand rubies.

A kid trails down the street, holding a Coke can.
My son sways on the porch swing,
his old Great Dane with the swollen paws
sprawled beneath him.


7


I can't outwalk myself. Streetlights, moonlight—
   down Price, up Sivley—
When I get to Annandale, there it is.
   Creature of tongues, it watches from shadows.

It tells me, Take off your skin,
   your sound and sight,
unwind these sheets, and dance for me.
   Dance for me.

It tells me, Night across the pond thickens
   where the owl is riding.
You'll be the hare caught in its claws,
   fear and fur, a skittering meat thing.


8


It's whipping up storm tonight.
The rusted Hindu temple bells on the porch sing.

I tell myself,
   I have come back to Mississippi
to the mud daubers' swollen, intricate chambers,

the spiders' parchment egg sacs,
the soft throng of their new-hatched babies.

I tell myself,
   I have come back to the place where I will die

My kind husband, on his side, stretches out his arms to me.
But where I am, not even the cicadas chanting in the thicket know.



There Ought To Be a Poem


in this dance of the failing body parts
between them, who have found each other
again, who blossom if only by
email, after thirty-seven years: long-ago
boyfriend, girlfriend, who long ago drifted
apart, now parents of many children,
true and loyal spouses, but caught in this
dither this sweetness. He emails from the
hospital—lay down to read a book
she recommended, suddenly coughed blood,
finished the book in the ECU.
She writes him the saga of her busted
ski knee—no sooner tried to turn than she
was moaning in the snow, remembering,
too late, she has faulty ligaments.
He tells her he did yoga, meditated
for years, till they found the scoliosis.
She describes her broken molar, the thumb
that won’t bend, the joints or pulled muscles
that make the heart cage ache, make sleeping
a matter of pills and prayer. There ought
to be a poem in his wife’s coral
fingernails as they trace the snail track
of his fused spine, a scar she’ll probably
never see—longest scar, he boasts, in the
Guinness Book. And a poem in her husband's
thigh, patient resting station for that wrenched,
throbbing knee, and her husband's hand warming
her cheek above the socket where the tooth was
till the bone groaned and the forceps yanked
the bits out. There ought to be a poem
in all this awkward, scary love, the way
snow falls everywhere, the way rivers
leap their banks in spring, and sunlight warms us.



Consequently I Rejoice


Because when Susie Cahill wore black with flowers
I wore black with flowers as we sat
with our rhinestone pipes and fragrant Latakia,
dreaming of college boys with long hair,
no underwear, in the U C Berkeley Student Union.
Because we smoked rolled-up paper towels
lit at Bunsen burners in lab, inhaling
knife-sharp smoke while Mr. Carr taught Chemistry,
and she wasn't a virgin when I
wasn't a virgin, even at Berkeley High
everybody was a virgin
or so they said, and they stared at us.
Because at lunch we drank paperbag gin
in the Berkeley Public Library gardens,
and when we swaggered late into the
Marquis de B. Patterson’s advanced
English class, he groaned, barely lifting his head.
Because her favorite poem, she confessed
in one of her nightly letters, was “somewhere
i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence...”
and we wanted a lover like that or like
Camus or Jean Gênet, someone difficult,
to throw our whole hearts and all our poetry
and tragedy into. Because when she came home
next year she came the long way—Wellesley
to California via the Trans-Siberian Railroad—
three weeks peeling eggs, never changing clothes,
talking in hand circles and flips
of the long blonde hair to vodka-swigging
strangers. Because she was braver than I
but at least she chose me, and the dirty
storefront windows gave us back our shimmering selves
as in tights, gold hoops, ankh necklaces,
we swooped along Solano through the rain.



Marriage


I dream my husband naked in the mountains
in summer his unabashed groin
lovely to my gaze a split pomegranate.
Crimson with seeds he sprawls on a boulder
his groin a darkness a kiss
I know in my sleep pomegranate is a female metaphor

but I mean he teaches me mystery.

I don’t know anything about marriage, our son says.
Twenty years in the same bed sleeping waking
your thoughts all tangled up in each other…


Night opens her dress
the great winds of the world
arrange themselves for storm outside our window.

I pull the quilts around us closer.

That such a one as he should ever die—

He dreams I write of the bareness of winter.



Walking Wu Wei's Scroll Le Grand Fleuve à perte de vue


Wu Wei, 1459-1509, lived during the Ming Dynasty. This room-length horizontal scroll was on display at the Grand Palais in Paris, in the exhibit of “Montagnes célestes” during the spring and early summer of 2004. Translated from the French translation from the Chinese, the title means, approximately, “the great river as far as the eye can see,” or, more evocatively, “the great river to the loss of sight or view.”




* * *




You could be the man in the small house making tea,
or one of the friends fishing off the footbridge over the river.




* * *




You could be that aspen, that cedar—
or the woman we do not see, who spins thread or boils silkworms
in the house below the boulder, the house
of which we see
an upper roof corner, and another, then the rocks surround it.




* * *




Out of silence, the brimming lake, spills the waterfall.
Behind mountains, other mountains fade
until we cannot tell
what's stone, what's cloud,
and what the mark of time upon the silk.

          And look, here someone rides home—
or is it a squiggle—
up the path to a terraced house.
Then a village fading in fog,
on the watery side of the mountain.




* * *




Somewhere in those houses, a lover turns to his beloved.
Somewhere else, a child cries.

                                                     But the cries
of their pain or pleasure are lost in the fog…
though not how a man’s hands caress
and caress a blue bowl, turning and warming it
between his fingers—
a bowl in which a fish, now dizzy with circling, swims.




* * *




Now they go down to boats we do not see.
The merest wisps of pine trees dot the waters.




* * *




And what do you want? Where is your house?
Or do you walk among the rocks, beneath the trees?

Oh, me, if I can't be the fish,
swimming giddily round and round as my orange fins
flashed and his hands warmed my waters,
then I'd like to be the fog,
and lay my touch down
on every crack and crevice, every pine,
every boulder—and give the villagers sleep.




* * *




Time mars the silk:
a few spots and stains, as if smoke or tears.
Then rushes, fishing junks, elegant curved sails,
facing into the open waters.




* * *




Now we have come to the place,
my love,
where I must lay you down.
Only a few hair-thin scribbles of boats endure,
and the mountains
whose edges cannot be distinguished from shadow.




* * *




Ah, the courage to leave something empty.
To wait, and wait,
                                   and wait,
as the hair-thin fishing boats float and wait

                          till at last, the world (as we call it)
reconstitutes itself in the solemnity of boulders.
As on both sides of the scroll—
to east, to west; to right, to left—
solidity cups fog, or as two hands cup the silence where a face was.




* * *




And here again, a village, two men on a bridge,
the torque and slow fluidity of trees.

Brushstrokes black on gray
define the ridges of the mountains.




* * *




Where would I be in this? I would be anywhere.

Each thing singular, each thing perfect,
fog and water
and tree and rocks, the fish that swims in its bowl,
the blood that swims in the bowl of the body.
Entrails, cilia—and here, toward the left side of the scroll,
the faintest touches of pink:

                                   Why? As if dawn is coming?




* * *




No climax, no conclusion.

We begin with such solidity: large trees, boulders,
thickest and densest at the beginning.
Midway through the scroll, the emptiness is greatest,
the brume thickest. Then, moving left, the solidity returns.

But no: moving left, the emptiness returns.
The village faces away once more, at the left side of the scroll,

and we're in fog, in swirl and fade,
with only the faintest shadows to say “mountain”
and slashes to say “foreground: trees,”
or maybe “boats,” or maybe just “slashes. ”




* * *




Here and there, all facing the same direction,
fishing boats near and far: alone, together.

And half the people walking this scroll
here at the Grand Palais on the 21st of June
move left to right, and half move right to left.
It doesn’t matter.




* * *




But the faintest pink in the houses to the left—
                                                          is that dawn,
or has someone lit some tiny lanterns?




* * *




was I ere I saw




* * *




But the faintest pink in the houses to the left—
                                                          is that dawn,
or has someone lit some tiny lanterns?




* * *




Here and there, all facing the same direction,
fishing boats near and far: alone, together.

And half the people walking this scroll
here at the Grand Palais on the 21st of June
move left to right, and half move right to left.
It doesn't matter.




* * *




No climax, no conclusion.

We begin with such solidity: large trees, boulders,
thickest and densest at the beginning.
Midway through the scroll, the emptiness is greatest,
the brume thickest. Then, moving left, the solidity returns.

But no: moving left, the emptiness returns.
The village faces away once more, at the left side of the scroll,

and we're in fog, in swirl and fade,
with only the faintest shadows to say “mountain”
and slashes to say “foreground: trees,”
or maybe “boats,” or maybe just “slashes.”




* * *




Where would I be in this? I would be anywhere.

Each thing singular, each thing perfect,
fog and water
and tree and rocks, the fish that swims in its bowl,
the blood that swims in the bowl of the body.
Entrails, cilia—and here, toward the left side of the scroll,
the faintest touches of pink:

                                   Why? As if dawn is coming?




* * *




And here again, a village, two men on a bridge,
the torque and slow fluidity of trees.

Brushstrokes black on gray
define the ridges of the mountains.




* * *




To wait, and wait,
                                   and wait,
as the hair-thin fishing boats float and wait

                           till at last, the world (as we call it)
reconstitutes itself in the solemnity of boulders.
As on both sides of the scroll—
to east, to west; to right, to left—
solidity cups fog, or as two hands cup the silence where a face was.




* * *




Now we have come to the place,
my love,
where I must lay you down.
Only a few hair-thin scribbles of boats endure,
and the mountains
whose edges cannot be distinguished from shadow.





* * *




Time mars the silk:
a few spots and stains, as if smoke or tears.
Then rushes, fishing junks, elegant curved sails,
facing into the open waters.




* * *




And what do you want? Where is your house?
Or do you walk among the rocks, beneath the trees?

Oh, me, if I can't be the fish,
swimming giddily round and round as my orange fins
flashed and his hands warmed my waters,
then I'd like to be the fog,
and lay my touch down
on every crack and crevice, every pine,
every boulder—and give the villagers sleep.




* * *




Now they go down to boats we do not see.
The merest wisps of pine trees dot the waters.




* * *




Somewhere in those houses, a lover turns to his beloved.
Somewhere else, a child cries.

                                                     But the cries
of their pain or pleasure are lost in the fog…
though not how a man’s hands caress
and caress a blue bowl, turning and warming it
between his fingers—
a bowl in which a fish, now dizzy with circling, swims.




* * *




Out of silence, the brimming lake, spills the waterfall.
Behind mountains, other mountains fade
until we cannot tell
what's stone, what's cloud,
and what the mark of time upon the silk.

          And look, here someone rides home—
or is it a squiggle—
up the path to a terraced house.
Then a village fading in fog,
on the watery side of the mountain.




* * *




You could be that aspen, that cedar—
or the woman we do not see, who spins thread or boils silkworms
in the house below the boulder, the house
of which we see
an upper roof corner, and another, then the rocks surround it.




* * *




You could be the man in the small house making tea,
or one of the friends fishing off the footbridge over the river.





* * *





Ann Fisher-Wirth was an Army brat as a child; after her father's retirement, she grew up in Berkeley, California. She has lived in the South for more than twenty years, first in Charlottesville, Virginia, and then in Oxford, Mississippi; now, she considers both Mississippi and northern California to be home. She is married to Peter Wirth. Hers, his, and theirs, they have five grown children.

A Professor of English, Ann teaches poetry workshops and seminars, and courses in environmental literature, at the University of Mississippi. She also teaches yoga. She has been a senior Fulbright lecturer at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, and has held the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in American Studies at Uppsala University, Sweden. She is vice president, and in 2006 will become president, of the 1000-member international Association for the Study of Literature and Environment. Her academic publications include a book, William Carlos Williams and Autobiography: The Woods of His Own Nature, and numerous articles on American writers.

Ann is the author of Blue Window (Archer Books, 2003) and The Trinket Poems, which was runner-up in the 2003 Quentin R. Howard Poetry Chapbook Competition and is published by Wind. A new book of poems, Five Terraces, will appear from Wind Publications in September 2005.

Ann has been writing poetry seriously for about a dozen years. During that time, her work has received numerous awards. She won a 2003 Malahat Review Long Poem Prize for “Olaus Magnus, Carta Marina,” the first section of a book-length poem “Carta Marina.” She also won the 2004 Rita Dove Poetry Award from the Salem College Center for Women Writers for a poem called “Rain”; a poem called “October” was a Finalist in the same contest. In 2004 she received the Poetry Award from the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters, and a Poetry Fellowship from the Mississippi Arts Commission. Her chapbook, “Walking Wu Wei's Scroll Le Grand Fleuve à perte de vue,” received Honorable Mention in the 2005 Center for Book Arts contest. Her poems have appeared in The Georgia Review, The Kenyon Review, The Connecticut Review, ISLE, Solo, Feminist Studies, Runes, and many other journals, as well as several anthologies. She has been featured online in Poetry Magazine, Forpoetry, Gloria Mundi, and Verse Daily. She has attended the Squaw Valley Community of Writers Poetry Workshop and the Art of the Wild, and has been awarded residencies at The Mesa Refuge and Djerassi, both in California.