Lengthy Poem Contest
         of
            2021

The summer house of the Old Ones

by Clarice Hare

 

 

negentien

 

A topsy-turvy web of streets—deathly
hallways, airless heights.

It’s a long way from the beach—“but that’s
where anyone who comes here goes to die.”

Ghastly, grim & ancient
as a pair of white-crowned ravens,
our hosts roost beneath the charcoal grave
rubbing of some vain-crusading knight, 
before the bright roar in a hearth 
of Russian malachite—
despite the heat that makes each breath
occlude the throat like forcefully
spooned cabbage from the steam
of boiling seas.

Even with three
bay windows open, & behind
a screen of peridot leaves,
the air has a strange…voodoo, “if you’ve
ever seen how my wife & I breathe!” He
chortles through a walrus fringe. With care not
to avoid the blind white oysters
of his eyes, I fake a laugh.

It’s like
gas, my master
genially agrees—“but
it gives that nauseous warmth
you’d only feel in the nare-pits
of a lithographed sea-monster,
such as that.”

A jade macaque
grim-frowningly devours
the innards of a headless turtle shell.
Her mocking crake denudes
my disregarded, blasé, baby-
art-historian perusal
of a vitrine of netsuke. Subdued,
I heel, & kneel
to kiss, as bid, her emerald
cabochon, outswelling (just)
the knuckle that entraps it.

Chortle—“Boy, you’ll get
a full night of that.”

Abashment— But
I mask it with an ambrette
of a cough, gulp
a giggle too real
to release, & take
a very shaky breath.

 

 

zeventien

 

The one who led you here
will lead you now—tonight,
this Chinese-lantern night—through library
after library, it seems: amber-
roomed in honeyblood layers of French
veneer & gilt. Then down
an iron spiral, into blanched
brick honeycombs. Canaries
scream in filigreed bell jars. Still

he will not tell you
his true name, or
yours. Instead, he calls you
by your aching soul. If you wish
to meet him at the cliff
in the outermost center of this
fractal, he first must lead you
out upon a three-hundred-
sixty-degree ladder.

At length,

he will say, “To the left!”—trust
a woman called Briar—“A
mother.”—the first step. Then
he will say, “To the right.” Fight
through the Pharaonic haze
of a hundred enslaved
chimney-kilns—he will

be there before you, cardinal-
winged, to take your halter like
a balking donkey—mount you
on Astarte’s sceptre, & lead you further
than you bargained, along the
seafood-shell-strewn tarmac
on your journey to
the very opposite of
enlightenment.

 

 

dertien

 

This morning, unobservant reeds
whisper never to have seen
the moon turn brown. All innocence
perfidious. In the cornucopia-
& violin-mosaicked breakfast-room,
the candles groan & sideboards
blaze with scalded swine & frosted
pomegranates. Labbrarosso
cherries plucked in Parma

shame the lips
they’re named for. My squeaking
lacerations now incessant, the servants’
saccharine smiles a source of styptic
irony. A dozen

streaked & dappled strangers, none
recognizable sans cagoules, bare
teeth & swig mimosas &
madeira. What such a

life must be like! When the caged
phoenix drowses & laments
all the little fires it has conjured, how not
to nictitate from those that never
idle? Under the seven last lilies
swooning from the mantel, I perch
in waiting like a gorged ortolan,
while every ember dwindles to
a cherry, & the scullery breathes
stink-waves of green garlic, & the sea
asserts its tireless tirade
inside those muttering, carping clouds
that clot into a rising shroud.

 

 

elf

 

Everything in this room is hideously
faded: the Oriental labyrinths,
the passementeries, the verdigris & azure
sky & sea to which ice-veined
pilasters form false portals. Amid
attentive fields of pallid wallflowers—the
tallest crowned with domed follies, or
fountaining stalled flocks of silken
albatross—each individual
disappears, until

you have no one to see, no
one to hear you. From Hatshepsut’s stepped
fireplace, a soft complaint of
massed, trapped doves, each
one alone. No one in this
universe loves no one. Even

the smallest things can cast
a threat by shadow, if
from plains & planes away. If
you could smother your senses’
feathered flurries thus—but
lacking will to fight, to stay
seems your soul’s alternative.

Scrimshaw of static, & your
focus shifts to where
you were. Illumination:
ormolu

mirror opaqued, eternal
blue, & something sighing
forth an insubstantial,
lunar beam.

 

 

zeven

 

I would pull myself up
by a ridgepole, & a wild thought
come over me: either a soul
or a stone is about to fall
from the sky, & I
will be the only one to see it, & I
will not believe it. One more grim
& pitiless secret of Elysium, where nothing is
what it seems, & nothing what
it should be.

This forest of Zeus-raised
crucifixes, turriform black
finials—sticklitter of an empty
nest—a stork’s? White vertebrae  
of the widow’s walk, where Arngrim’s
tied another naked
slave. The croquet

lawn below, where
crawl through tulips heart-
eaters that prey upon
the weak. Hoarse crow
hilarity in salt-gaunt pines: three
for a girl, twoscore & eight a dozen
capering, crowing boys. The widow’s
son among the drifting
snow. Steel fallout
shelter door. The whole
house suddenly empty
of its survivors.

All those who masqued
& poked are dead to me. But let the somber
moonscape not set upon my empty
wineskin. I would arch my throat against
the cratered razor of its crazed
cupola-pane, & the steeply
open south be mine. One moment
would be beadstrung on eternity, &
Perdition have the last
hellacious laugh.