Lengthy Poem Contest

The summer house of the Old Ones

by Clarice Hare





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.





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





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.





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:

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





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.





That staircase that subtly
broadcasts headache just happens (or
doesn’t just happen) to also be
the only opening to the upper lands. That’s where
they hide their evil’s best. Stay

your steps, pray—or
if you can’t, or won’t, pray then
to stay dead

level with the center, & gently let
your spirit saturate with cosmic
righteousness. Travel
sunwise (with your shins
watch out for stumblecats) up & in-
to the invisible nautilus, its cleft
bones chiming in your inmost
ears, & gaze upon the pearls
it mothered, forced & then
bereft. Look up

at the thirteenth
thirteenth step, & greet the celestial
globe that floats above
your head. Gaining

the top—the attic—make your way
by freshet scent upon your face
through the arch you cannot
see as they have charmed. The door
to the sky is still open—though

it gapes within
a brimstone, beached-whale,
pelting rain—radiating
peacock’s-eye & robin’s-egg.





A fathomless & devious
dark enfolds the cliff halfway
down to oblivion. The egotism of
the room livid with thwarted
will. The sounds

that burble to the surface vast
& terrible: hazy subaudible whir
of not-wind, subaquatic
whine. But though the first
you’ve ever heard, it is not
foreign to you, &
the opposite of

new. Clasped helplessness serenely
nestled in chiffon knee-valley, I sit
between Canopic vases that could pickle me
within their celadon bellies, & decline
to parrot lies. Meanwhile,

the chosen hierophant—stuffed
dodo, self-important—chariots
the orbed lapis lazuli urn about
in god’s hands, preemptively nettle-
dyed. But when he

enters… Coronation.
Desolation. It is here the god
into whose hands you’ve fallen
sent you. O, you were bound
to fall. You may as
well give up. —But I

will never give up trying. Though
skewered on a drake’s corkscrew, still
I will see you cleaved & baked
into a blackbird pie. How can I

communicate this to my love: eye
spyglass-glued, me light-
years out of mind? Does he not think
I know just what I
deal with? I do—& I
have studied under you: how you
suspend breath through an infinite
kiss, while clawing loose my gnawed-
on flesh as if to free

something. Your scathing
jokes, your scourging
tongue—cheap stimulants to
simulant of ego-death. I have
unlocked that tome, & now—all
unbeknownst—I sacrifice you
of your own free will.





Iced squalls. Seagulls swept wrung-
moppishly through alleys &
neglected oriels. The Blood
Raven could reportedly be seen
cruising the oceans of some closely
layered world, snaring guillemots
& stunted aspens, shrieking
at the scent of something
fishy. Could none else see that he
bore flowers in his beak that
he adored? Half-

mile along the jagged lip of new-
world moors. Wild speculations
incubated. But before the first
could hatch, smug indication of an ultimate
gulf. “This, then, is the path
to paradise.”

He seemed pleased with my
hyperbolic opposition. A pinhole
wider in my heart, to know I couldn’t
help—& never would—but
wish to straddle such a pig-
sick specimen.

Auroras ranged like fish, fanning their wings
far out to sense the water’s warmth. An excessively
fingered hand, grappling with a vermilion
flea, was pummeled by a drag
from underneath. The whitecaps tinged flamingo,
then incarnadine. No alternate
escape route to be seen.

Palm braced between my wingless
blades, encouraging, he
muttered as if talking to
himself. Then—all at
once—someone stood
in his way.





Stumbling from a unicornic tower,
she gazed up from her knees through
tunnels of broken baths & bowers, into the
archaic silence of the city’s
heart. For all its vascular & dappled
stone—for all its parapets,
dry fountains, flaking domes—the
jaundiced sky had it aright: aflap
with pterodactyl wings, every reticulate
window toothed with broken tile, every plaza
gridded with abysses. But

the sigil dangling from the west-wind
arch, a bleak skyfinger shadow
damningly accused the melancholy
figure of a kneeling menhir.

From one lunette of pure twilight, a gray
owl’s baffled day-complaint—“so
wise, yet more confused
than I.”

With that wind-
twisted spire as background &
the strange high house in
forced perspective, only true
life could dare intrude: a breath
of air blown upward from
the fogged & flattened lower land,
avid to attract the first bemused,
forgetful glance.

It faced her off one star-dewed facet
of an obelisk:

“When there is nothing left
for gods to teach you.
When your voice is forlorn, & your
chest a hollow place.
When your eyes turn, & your head
turns, & your skirts swirl, oh,
say, dame reason—dame
of reason—shall not your lips
& chin pass for
the rose & milk hills of
my pilgrimage?

“Let the sunset walls of your
dreams yawn, & stretch,
& part.

“Be condemned to rule beside
your heart.”