Today's poetry for today's world

Charlotte Mandel


Charlotte Mandel’s seventh book of poetry, Rock Vein Sky, published by Midmarch Arts Press, was named a Best Poetry Book Read for Fall 2008 by Montserrat Review.  Previous titles include Sight Lines (Midmarch Arts Press), A Disc of Clear Water, Keeping Him Alive, Doll, and two poem-novellas of feminist biblical revision—The Life of Mary (foreword by Sandra M. Gilbert) and The Marriages of Jacob.  She edited Saturday’s Women, the Eileen W. Barnes Award Anthology of contest-winning poems by older women, co-edited Maxine Silverman and Rachel Hadas.  Mandel has received two fellowships from New Jersey State Council on the Arts and was named an Open Voices Winner by the 63rd Street Y in New York City.  For several years she taught a poetry writing course at Barnard College Center for Research on Women.





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                         “The birds are on fire!” —school child                                      


Flying streamers of blaze 

            they leap

                        hands locked 


                                    one hundred stories


Trailing a bridal train of smoke 

            they dive

                        fingers knotted


                                    eighty stories


He takes this woman as long as  

            she holds

                        ring in her palm


                                    sixty stories


She takes this man as long as 

            he saves

                        ring in his palm


                                    forty stories


Coasting on gravity

            bones whistle

                        fingers thrum


                                    twenty stories                                       


Spirals of ash     the lovers

            stroke our eyelids

                        we breathe


                                    their story  




 --from Rock Vein Sky, Midmarch Arts Press,

first published in Lips.











It's five minutes to twelve and the sun
glares in our faces--quite a phenomenon,
he says, to see the windows full of light
and everyone going about--at midnight!
The clock plays second fiddle to his brain.
An hour's nap and he begins the day again,
washes, changes his shirt, and expects
his breakfast on the table.  He respects
my worn explaining as a kind of busy
work, shrugs with courtesy.  He is dizzy
with the earth's rotation spinning away
twenty-four to the dozen, each brief new day
a clone to the last.  Like a match burning
meridians, he strikes his shadow's turn.




From Keeping Him Alive, first published in Seneca Review.




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Still Life




Transfixed within the scrolled frame of marriage—

Glossy, still as a Flemish nature mort

You are the basket’s woven lines,


I the overripe purpling grapes.  What is marriage

without realism, plain detail, the more

examined the more discretely outlined?


Gleam seizes shadow, motionless.  Marriage

of canvas, oil and turpentine.  One more

scrape of the palette’s umber and aniline’s


blue thin menace.  I animated marriage

cartoons as a child, bright crayon, not a mor-

bid thought in view.  Polka dot curtains lined


window frames with daisies: picture marriage

as bungalow tilting, blue skies evermore,

uplifted arms diaper-pinning the line.


Watercolors risk salt: over marriage

tides flow.  Initials carved in sycamore

erode the jackknife wriggle of their lines.


A playhouse, yet a serious marriage.

Undeclared we knew the stakes, how much more

asked of us.  Anniversaries fall in line—


patina thickens—varnish conceals—marriages                     

shiver apart—ours strains its well-mixed mor-

tar—surfaces enhanced by spider line.


Who sees us defines us by this marriage.

Hand in hand, smile / click.  To viewers, a maud-

lin sentiment.  To ourselves, still, life line. 





--from Rock Vein Sky, Midmarch Arts Press, 

first published in The National Poetry Review.







Writer’s Comment: Poetry opens guidelines to infinity.  Each poem is a turning point, again and again translating silences into rhythms and sounds of words.

Writer’s tip: Read poets, through the ages and contemporary, in your native language and in translation.  Write in free association without any self-judgment or worry about perfection, honor a natural object by intense attention, honor your own passions, and write what may be fearful.




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