Poems

by Peter Mansbach
CONTENTS


These poems are original compositions of mine, developed over a number of years, and are copyright © Peter Mansbach, 1961 - 2007. No reproduction or publication of this material may be made without explicit written permission of the author.

Most of my poems attempt to be musical in some way, either by the rhythmic pattern (meter) or through alliteration, so they are intended to be read aloud.


Contradancing is an American dance form similar to square dancing, except the dancers are arranged in facing lines. One of the favorite calls in contradancing is "swing your partner". This poem captures the "swinging" experience. The "Jennifer Anne" in the poem (not her real name) refers to a redhead who helped me refine my swinging style, many years ago.

Swinging

Spinning and drifting in circles of space,
Seeing colors on colors, blurred shapes upon shapes
In a cadence of images carelessly panned —
  And the strawberry outline of Jennifer Anne.

Other dancers recede with centrifugal ease
Into undiscerned shapes on a circular frieze —
While etched in relief on this background there stands
  The strawberry outline of Jennifer Anne.

The windows dissolve and the walls disappear —
But the steady blue eyes and the smile are clear!
A pale Cheshire cat, set apart by the strands
  Of the strawberry outline of Jennifer Anne.


The next two poems are about romantic breakups. Writing them was therapeutic.

The Courtship of Butterflies is about a particular woman, a runner, who was quite a lot younger than I and really didn't view relationships with the same seriousness as I did. The music comes from the alliteration within the lines.

The Courtship of Butterflies

A melancholy long-distance runner,
Soul-searching in silence,
Breaks stride by the bright sunlit brook.

A butterfly flirts with the hyacinth,
Lights on the petals, partakes
Of the nourishing nectar.
Shimmering wings still outstretched,
She shares her mystique for a moment,
And then flits away, a mirage of the morning.

The runner pauses to contemplate,
Curious at the courtship of butterflies,
Then returns to her thoughts and her stride.


This was a particularly painful breakup. ’Nuff said.

A Hundred Thousand Corners

There were a hundred thousand ragged corners in my mind,
With ties to you, and memories, and feelings,

A hundred thousand treacherous corridors,
To be sealed off, one by one,

Lest I turn again by chance into one of these blind passages,
Only to be confronted by the ceaseless images of your face,
The agony of your remembered touch.

Lest I wander unthinking into one of these familiar passages,
And stumble yet again on some half-remembered tenderness.


The next poem is a sequel to the last. It was written about another relationship, after the woman broke up with me and then decided to get back together again. It's not very good poetry, but I include it for completeness.

Corridors Revisited

Do you remember the poem ďA Hundred Thousand CornersĒ?
ďThere were a hundred thousand ragged corners of my mind
With ties to you, and memories, and feelings,
A hundred thousand treacherous corridors,
To be sealed off, one by one...Ē

Iíd started sealing them off, of course, one by one,
Before I learned that you wanted to get back together again,
And one by one Iíd forced my mind never again to turn in their direction.
I said
	Donít pursue the ties to you,
	Donít call up those memories,
	Donít ever feel those feelings,
 ďLest I stumble yet again on some half-remembered tenderness.Ē

Determined, by the danger of remembering lost love,
I sealed them off, one by one, planting guarding reflexes to warn of dangers:
	Sever all those ties to you,
	Donít even remember thereís a corridor here,
	Donít feel those familiar feelings.

While many ties to you remain, of course,
I do not know how to unblock the many corridors Iíve blocked,
Now that youíve returned (again).

How do I renew the ties to you?
How do I recall the memories that Iíve enjoined myself from ever recalling?
How do I resume the tender feelings
	when I mustnít even remember thereís a corridor?


This one wasn't written after a breakup, but rather before, when we could sense that things weren't going that well.

Panorama

The two of us sat
   in the serene majesty of the Blue Ridge Mountains,
   evenly lit by a clouded sky,
And we looked out over the panorama,
   over the soft blue-green of the valley below,
   and the purple haze of more distant hills.

And each of us recalled the sunlit splendor of the year before.


Here's one that I started at the beginning of a relationship. This poem is more visual than auditory - it tries to paint the picture that I saw.

That Moment in the Spring

Itís that moment in the spring
When the trees stand poised
Between the bud and the leaf.

The tight-wrapped buds,
Freed from the barren grasp of winter,
Have eased their protective grip,
Have yielded just enough to reveal
The yellow-green and shiny leaves beneath.

The leaves are not yet open.
But the grim, gray branches, once so stern,
Have merged with insubstantial specks of yellow-green,
Applied by an impressionist's brush
That knows no shapes,
But only dots of light and color.

The dry gray branches of winter's trees,
Warmed by the splendid springtime sun,
Have sprouted tiny emeralds,
Which, glinting in the sun,
In the profusion of nature's myriad instances
Form a vast impression of greenery,
But with as yet no substance,

Like a nightgown of emerald chiffon,
Diaphanous, shimmering yellow-green,
That veils the form beneath,
Yet adds a motion and a color of its own.

Itís that moment in the spring
When the trees stand poised
Between the bud and the leaf,
When nature subtly senses
The coming burst of greenery,
And waits, expectant,
Echoing the anticipation of new lovers.



I've always been fascinated by the alliterative pattern used in the Old English poem Beowulf. The Heaney translation captures this verse form. It's not meter in the sense that we're used to it in more recent poetry. Rather, each line contains four accented syllables, mixed with a bunch of non-accented syllables. Several of the accented syllables alliterate, in various patterns.

Heathcliff, the stark, elemental lead character in Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, seemed to call for this type of verse.

Heathcliff

Heathcliff, brown battered bastard,
Howling at the moon on the moor,
Bellowing, and beating a branch with your head —
Where's Catherine?

Proud, passionate Heathcliff,
Deaf with distrust, in your desolation
Hearing only half her heartfelt confession,
You fled in fear, forsaking your soulmate.

Where's Catherine?
Ensconced at the Grange, Edgar's wife,
Married, maintained in material fortune,
Her now listless soul without spirit, desolate,
Wanders the windy moor.

Heathcliff, vile with visions of vengeance,
You wed the weaker, unwary Isabella,
Then, cruel with contempt, you crushed your captive
Wife, in woe-filled Wuthering.

Proud, passionate Heathcliff,
Madly howling at the moon on the moor
In grief at the grave of Catherine,
Tormented by her troubled soul
Wailing in the wind at Wuthering.


This was written on an otherwise lovely backpacking trip.

The Flies

based on Edgar Allen Poe's The Bells

Hear the buzzing of the flies,
	nasty flies,
The pastoral idyllic solitude
	their cacaphony belies.
All their harping and their dither,
	constant bother and distress,
Then the biting, and the itching,
	and the scratching, and the mess
Of the DEET, and the swatting
	and the gnashing and the stress
Of incessant keening, whining,
	almost screaming of the flies--
Of the flies, flies, flies, flies,
	flies, flies, flies,
Of the flitting and the zitting of the flies.

Older Poems

I recently sorted some old papers, and came upon these poems written when I was much younger.



When I was a student I managed to buy 40 acres of forest in Maine. I would visit regularly in summer, and would stay up to view the incredible night sky, far from city lights.

The Stars in Maine

I used to go to Maine,
To my land in Maine,
My forty acres of trees and brush.
I had cleared some space,
Cut down trees and some of the brush,
And built a platform
From which to see the stars.

It was quiet at night in Maine,
And peaceful being there alone.
It was dark at night in Maine.
The trees and brush merged with the black sky,
And nothing at all could be seen except the stars.

I looked at the stars.
I knew their names, then,
Castor and Pollux, Altair, Deneb,
And even the ancient Arabic names,
Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamali.
These bright start shone steady,
Familiar, and easy to recognize.

But on top of them,
Covering the sky in all directions,
Were millions of faint stars,
Visible and sparkling.
And even these faint stars made contrast
With the dark, still blackness of the sky.

I could also see the Milky Way,
A lighter band of sky, sprinkled with stars,
Meandering across the blackness
Like a canyon carved by rivers in the sky--
And always still.
This I remember most about the Milky Way,
That it was so still, so steady.

I gazed at it for hours, unchanging.
My soul was then both here on earth
And there, eons away,
In the star-filled reaches of the galaxy.
I remember still that sensing
Of the quiet of the earth,
And of the vast deep stillness of space.

And I remember my dreams,
Those dreams that shed their bonds to the earth
To soar among the multitudes of stars--
Those stars were my dreams.
My soul remains behind there still,
There, on my land in Maine,
And there, eons away, among the stars.


This poem explores an interesting rhythm.

Greek Clay Pots

Greek clay pots brought
Shouldered on shoulders of worshipping supplicants,
Dutifully rendered according to the wishes of their imagined gods.

Greek clay pots brought
Answered, the summons of goddess Athena;
A single file unending from the foot of the Acropolis to the Parthenon.

Greek clay pots brought
Carefully painted with figures of holiness,
Images of the legended heroes and their encounters with the gods.

Greek clay pots brought
Crafted by artists in far distant cities,
For pilgrimages reverently undertaken in the custom of their ancestors.


Greek clay pots brought
Piece by piece, a fragile relic,
Fragment by fragment, and cautiously dusted,
Reassembled with the patience of archeological devotion,
Remnants of the ritual past.


These two short poems were written during sad times.

Gone

Gone are the warm summer evenings of old,
Dead are the flowers, in numbers untold,
Chill now the wild wintry blasts of the cold,
Bleak is the sky, and barren the earth.

Gone is the love that once flamed in my soul,
Gray are its ashes that witness my dole,
Sad and alone I will play out my role,
Barren of joy, and longing for death.


Parting

I shall not forget the dying embers of the fire,
Dim red sorrow,
The last warm lingering glow
To hold hands by.

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See also the Chocolate Poems, famous poems misremembered with a chocolate theme