Selected Poems

 

I'm pleased to share here a sampling of poems published throughout my career.

Click on the colored titles for further information about the book in which a particular poem appears.

Each poem also lets you play a recording of me reading it.

 

At the bottom of the page you'll find links to a video of my 2012 reading at Syracuse University, and to other poems.

 

From Enamel Eyes, A Fantasia on Paris, 1870

     (forthcoming from LSU Press, Fall 2016):

 

Wing Light

                               (Giuseppina Bozzacchi, 23 November 1862)

 

My dreams burst in flame each night till I wake

drenched in unquenching liquid. Poor Emma Livry!

The bright dust on the butterfly’s wing—ash.

Nine candles Mama’d lit upon my cake

curled up their silky wicks, crisp, black, and grisly.

With all my breath I blew them out. A flash,

Signorina Boschetti said, a wing light

caught Emma’s skirt as she rehearsed the deaf

and dumb girl in some opera—not dance’s

silk geometry, but ignorant mime.

Her mute screams ricocheted off paradise.

 

            Weeks before, she’d schooled Feydeau

            on ballet terms his novel lacked.

            He revealed his book’s heroine

            dies onstage, tulle skirt having swept

 

            through the footlights, burned to ash.

            How awful! How grim! Emma cried.

            Then: We dance like moths. All the same,

            fine death for any dancer.

 

Panettone from La Signorina

for my birthday. Already I’m on pointe!  

She’s exiting Milan because La Scala

turns dancers (she says) into furniture

in tulle and greasepaint (a few more panettone

and she’ll be a dancing breakfront!). Join her?

Would I! And train with Madame Dominique?

A petit rat! The Paris Opéra!

 

            All onstage froze, fire and smoke

            trailed her screams, loud meteor

            till a coryphée knocked Emma down,

            beating flames out barehandedly.

           

            Emma grabbed charred scraps of tulle

            to cover up burnt nakedness.

            I will come back grown up, she sighed,

            not twenty-one. And France wept.

 

City of Flame, I’ll spread my wings. They burn

to dance Le Papillon. I’ll likewise dare

disdain the flameproofing that turns our skirts

a dingy shade of ash before the fact.

Poor Emma Livry—your death demands I dance

your apotheosis of sheer suffering

but not like I’m on fire.

                                           Like fire itself.

 

 

In May 1870, 16-year-old Giuseppina Bozzacchi danced Swanilda in the world premiere of Léo Delibes and Arthur Saint-Léon’s Coppélia, or the Girl with Enamel Eyes, becoming the toast of Paris. Two months later, the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War would utterly change her life.

 

 

 

 

Listen to Jay Rogoff read "Wing Light"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reprinted from The Southern Review 45.4 (Autumn 2009).

Copyright © 2009 by Jay Rogoff.

Wing Light - Jay Rogoff
00:00 / 00:00

Winner of the Pushcart Prize:

 

Wear

 

The birds wear air

 

and the fish wear water.

 

Once we knew

 

the soul wore matter

 

but now, no matter,

 

the soul wears down.

 

The duckling's down

 

lets it wear water

 

in wearying weather.

 

The weather wears

 

the sun's fire

 

that warms the earth

 

in its wrap of air.

 

Earth wears the moon

 

and the moon wears water,

 

pulling the tides

 

from their coastal harbor

 

and wearing them down

 

upon the sand

 

where the tides wear land,

 

where we wore each other

 

like winter clothing.

 

We watched our breath

 

and into the ground

 

we wore each other,

 

honeymooners

 

on a train

 

squabbling over

 

the lower berth.

 

Christ, how can you                          Listen to Jay Rogoff read "Wear"

 

lie, my darling,

 

naked under

 

cover in the winter,

 

wearing earth?

 

 

Reprinted from Pushcart Prize 35 (2010) and The Journal 33.1 (Spring/Summer 2009). Copyright © 2009 by Jay Rogoff.

Wear - Jay Rogoff
00:00 / 00:00

 

From Venera (LSU Press, 2014):

 

The Table

 

The angel is in love with her. He wants

to break his contract as the messenger.

He wants to speak for himself. But what terror

in choosing the dreck of human romance,

to feel wing-feathers scatter to the winds;

worse, to have to eat, to kneel at her altar,

he who’s never so much as tasted water,

his airy gorge rising at those communions:

the bread not even bread but always tasting

like human flesh, the wine rich, disgusting

as blood. Yet he’d eat at her board, he’d grow

bones for her; if he could encounter her by

chance somewhere, a garden say, even he

might offer her some food, some fruit or something.

 

 

 

 

Listen to Jay Rogoff read "The Table"

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2014 by Jay Rogoff.

 

The Table - Jay Rogoff
00:00 / 00:00

From The Art of Gravity (LSU Press, 2011):

Museum

 

Quick sidelong glances

      clodhoppers in fourth position

            and you know

      this young woman

                  you’re trying to conceal you’re studying studying

            with you this Degas

dancer dances

      so it’s difficult not to imagine

                   as you watch those flinging

                  painted limbs the flinging

 

in precise abandon of these legs growing

      out of her clunky

            shoes like saplings springing

            from the pavement and inclining

                  their two trunks

      like lovers toward each other irrevocably

                  seeking a crux

and disappearing

                        into the short

                        shade of her black skirt.

                        Art

 

is exciting. As you peek

      from the paint to the paint

            on her eyelids an identical

      mauve under Degas’s light

and this, she shoots a look

            too quick to be meaningful

      and you’ve stopped breathing right

            so you haul

your attention back to the work

of art from the work

 

of art. Yes.

Yes the forms. This

      should be a decent

            enough interval but when you look she’s gone

            so you turn

      to see her walking, turned out

      out

                  into the next gallery.

            Hurrying to the center of the room you yearn

to raise

      your hand ah despair but that

                  seems silly

 

so from afar you watch her thick-soled slenderness assume

      second position in front of—

            does it matter? The dance

            must go on, her exit, your entrance

this absurd chasing from room to room

                  of art that must insist on inspiring

      you and give

                  you nothing, nothing! you! savoring

                        this fruit-

                        less pursuit.

 

 

 

Listen to Jay Rogoff read "Museum"

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2011 by Jay Rogoff.

From The Art of Gravity (LSU Press, 2011):

  

Breathless

 

                                    for Hilary Sio

 

I dreamed I brought you back from underground

and for a time in time I repossessed

your breathless self, whom gravely I undressed.

Your stocking’s black whisper under my hand,

your black garter’s stutter against blood-drained,

squid-white flesh, the ultimate minimalist

art, despite your time passed away, amazed

me with arousal. We danced again, we sinned

as if there were no tomorrow. Each tear

that sprang abrupt and human to your eyes

sparkled and said I dreamed. You weren’t there

after all these damned years: ever faithless,

the party girl, sucker for a black leather

jacket, ever the dirty adulteress.

 

 

 

Listen to Jay Rogoff read "Breathless"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2011 by Jay Rogoff.

  

  

 

 

From The Long Fault (LSU Press, 2008):

 

Memorial Chapel

 

We’ve arrived expressly to be transported

while we sit stock-still in the college chapel’s

1800 Federal architecture,

            witnessing music,

 

Schubert, Bach, Prokofiev, Shostakovich,

week in, week out, making this room a spare, sparse

paradise, a garden where sound waves loiter

            rounded to crystal.

 

Now, for instance, Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge in

B-flat major scrolls from the quartet’s guts while

listening I study again the names carved

            back of the players,

 

marble-clad memorial to the Great War

dead, the undergrads and alumni who got

butchered giving Europe democracy it

            didn’t desire and

 

lie transported off overseas. The Grosse

Fuge spreads thick, deciduous layers, aural

flavors—ash, ambrosia—in living ears un-

            stopped with the earth, un-

 

like the ears of Wesley D. Karker, Luther

Hagar, William W. Waiteskill, Herbert

Rankin, Talbot Carmichael, Allen Ashton,

            Kennedy Conklin,

 

Wolcott Caulkins, Alwyn G. Levy, Howard Thorne, and

dozens more stone deaf to the music, deafer

than a post, than Beethoven, college guys now

            deafer than when they

 

sat in boring lectures and dreamt that bloody

high romance, imagined those French jeunes filles, but

found nothing transporting them, no returning

            even as cargo.

 

 

 

Listen to Jay Rogoff read "Memorial Chapel"

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2008 by Jay Rogoff.

  

From The Cutoff: A Sequence (The Word Works, 1995):

Extra Innings

                        The end of this game may never come.

                                                                --Roger Angell

 

 

Playing since two, I look up

      at the blackened

midsummer sky. Three up, three down, three up,

 

three-- Top of the thirty-second

      as we head

for the all-time pro record--

 

"The hell we are!" yells Ed

      in center. "Fifty

if you play a pop into an inside-

 

the-park." Next guy, a lefty,

      wearily lofts one shallow, and before I can think

of rapacious obstetricians and my helpless baby,

 

instinct

      has me under it and I'm jogging

in, Ed calling me a blankety-blank.

 

Too bushed to do anything

      in our half so the game enters--

good God!--the thirty-third inning.

 

As night cools down I hallucinate that winter's

      coming and we'll still be tied,

icicles hanging off the fielders'

 

caps, the diamond needing to be plowed

      every other inning, the game

spiraling on without end:

 

no one else can play either team

      ever again, my baby's born,

I can't help Adele, not there to choose a name,

 

I miss the high school graduation

      and the wedding and my first grandkid,                 Listen to Jay Rogoff read

and I see myself falling down                                        "Extra Innings"

 

dead

      diving for a liner in the top of the hundred

thousandth, spearing it to keep us tied.

 

 

Copyright © 1995 by Jay Rogoff.

From How We Came to Stand on That Shore

(River City Publishing, 2003):

 

Driving in Fog

 

And now you're nothing and you're going nowhere.

Trees beckon you, struggling out of the vague

half-dawn and dissolving into the fog

behind you. The road emerges out of nowhere--

all ten yards of it--and runs straight nowhere,

the white lines stuttering, No dream, just nothing.

Wheel still feels firm in your hands, but your leg

has gone dead. What in hell are you doing here?

 

And now on the dim screen floats your lost

father, striding from a far land. Dim your brights.

Where's he gone? He sang that song you loved, you heard

it, yes. The same tree beckons. The same fencepost

flashes over and over, on each a blackbird

standing sentry in his red epaulets.

 

 

 

Listen to Jay Rogoff read "Driving in Fog"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2003 by Jay Rogoff.

Breathless - Jay Rogoff
00:00 / 00:00
Memorial Chapel - Jay Rogoff
00:00 / 00:00
Driving in Fog - Jay Rogoff
00:00 / 00:00
Museum - Jay Rogoff
00:00 / 00:00
Extra Innings - Jay Rogoff
00:00 / 00:00