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.
(forthcoming from LSU Press, Fall 2016):
(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.
Winner of the Pushcart Prize:
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,
on a train
the lower berth.
Christ, how can you Listen to Jay Rogoff read "Wear"
lie, my darling,
cover in the winter,
Reprinted from Pushcart Prize 35 (2010) and The Journal 33.1 (Spring/Summer 2009). Copyright © 2009 by Jay Rogoff.
From Venera (LSU Press, 2014):
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.
From The Art of Gravity (LSU Press, 2011):
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
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
into the short
shade of her black skirt.
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
into the next gallery.
Hurrying to the center of the room you yearn
your hand ah despair but that
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
Listen to Jay Rogoff read "Museum"
Copyright © 2011 by Jay Rogoff.
From The Art of Gravity (LSU Press, 2011):
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):
We’ve arrived expressly to be transported
while we sit stock-still in the college chapel’s
1800 Federal architecture,
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,
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):
The end of this game may never come.
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,
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"
diving for a liner in the top of the hundred
thousandth, spearing it to keep us tied.
Copyright © 1995 by Jay Rogoff.
(River City Publishing, 2003):
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.
VIDEO OF JAY ROGOFF READING (Click on the colored text to watch):
ADDITIONAL POEMS (Click on the title to read):