Susan Kelly-Dewitt

June 1997

Imagining Eugene Atget in Southside Park

So what if the universe is expanding
from a primordial dot? Like a god,
Atget drags

his heavy bellows
camera into the condensing
shadows, peels a thin

layer of soul
from a prostitute’s skin.
Fog drifts in—cools

the death rays that drip
through the shattered ozone—
then, dusk:

Ghost trees
congealing in a theater
of leaves . . .

Back home, sifting
through proofs, he will focus
on the shrinking,

the mortal jardins
imaginaires, on broken
pods of eucalyptus

and bits of oak
gall in the prostitute’s hair.
Think of him

as the face behind
the wind when the last
light glazes

the surface
of the lake’s smoked

On Turning the Same Age as My Father, When He Died

I could sift the burnt
rice fields all
night for his sad grains

fill a flask with his magic
soot, mix it

with whiskey and drink
his elixir
elixir of the short-timer

a potion for all those years
he didn’t live

happy or right.
Instead I sweep the night
sky clean, free

as the Swan’s
open wings. I breathe in

the concoction
of his dispersed atoms—
I inhale

deeply, his
diffused shine.

June 2001

Aesop Revised

The weather has turned warm—the cherry blossoms are out,
making me think of Aesop’s grasshopper and ant.
As a child my sympathies were entirely

with the unfortunate musician who could not help
fiddling day and night in the fragrant fields
since he was born with violin

legs and some twitchy gene that jiggled his nervous
neurons, instructing him to dance and sing, instead of laboring
to scrimp and save like the obsessive ant,

who was born with a banker’s heart. All summer long
the poor hopper lived only to please with a simple tune
while folks gathered around

his green-gold cloud of notes, and the ant filled his coffers
and plowed a straight line, to and from his storehouse
of stacked goods. Of course,

the cold winds came with the cutting of the grain
and the fiddler was left to survive or starve
all alone, a homeless beggar.

(Where were the crowds when minstrel dragged
himself to the ant’s locked door?) I still hate that
smug look on the dour ant’s mug

as he cracked open the door to the hopper’s faint
knock, reproved him, then slammed the door shut.
But here’s what Aesop could not know:

The sequel: That after hours after the ink dried
and he turned the page to the next moral tale,
the stingy ant reconsidered,

and welcomed the starving troubadour in, where he strummed
his tuneful thanks for free and filled the ant’s whole
house with the spirit of summer

while the snows howled all around them and the winter
moon rose, cold and white as a slice of frozen porridge.
Then they both slept—

the ant under quilts in his good bed, and the grasshopper curled
like a new green leaf beside the fire, where he dreamed
of cherry blossoms dusting his open wings.

March Catkins

When I stroke the blossoms’ furred backs
I understand the meaning of pussy willow . . .

until the silvered catkins arch
into flared suns,

fuzzy elliptical wicks
raining pollen light

into my burgeoning yard, my realm
of delight. Beware

the ides of March, the saying goes.
Maybe so—

yet today, the glory
of pussy willow shows

how much of pure radiance
this dangerous world knows.

May 2000

Painitng Class

Deborah is a bee this morning; she stings
her boy Luther with the hard, flat back
of her hand; she pounds the table

twice with the crossboned fist, flashes
a tattooed wrist knotted with inky
lassos. Nairobi’s not going

to have any of it. She pounds
the table back—harder—hurls
four-letter words like live bait.

She is boldly beautiful in a cobalt
pique sundress that bares
a puckered constellation of scars

across her arms and chest.
(Her face is untouched except
where the kerosene lit

a pink ragged moon onto one
shined cheek.) She’d like to peel
off the crosshatched lizard skin

and fold it away, permanently
creeased. Misty Lavender is mute
since her rape. She gets shaky

and afraid whenever Deborah
and Nairobi start to fight. Today
she crayons a purple scallop

of cloud in a choppy lemon
sky and dangles a neon zigzag
cord from it—a rescue

helicopter’s waxy rope
but no rescuer to slide down