Jeni Olin

High Art and Cedar


An artistic, unbalanced boy
          given to colitis, anorexia,
                    shingles, heartbreak, piles,
three chords for each disease,
          and after? Philip Glass
                    just wept & wept.
and what of me?
          "Fall." I leaned down,
              knew you, boyish, angular,
over fish & chips
          as over the frozen corn fields,
                    a red sun rose
          in its insistence, touching,
         risque in failure.

We did have a very nice time.

It would be so easy to stay but
          was it Sal Mineo in the doorframe?
                    I knew you felt like that.

And so my hell is hardly there.


Like a Goya noon
   of excessive leaf-drop
                    or an intense plate of oysters,
connecting a figure & a background,
          I am always sick
                    in time.
Too, there is space
                    thin as monks
between winter pines.
          They were sweet
                    when I pressured them
but we had to cry a lot.
          You could lose
           your mind in their loving
(monks, not pines)
as though it weren't
                    the end of the world
of latchless aviaries.
          And the Beatrix Potter show
          we attended
at the Morgan Library --
                    the smudged mothers
                              muscular as dusk
in Tolstoy.
          It seems I resisted
                    when evening fell
myself, intensely Anna
          over the years,
to help care for Anna
          with her neurotic fear
                   of kids and sprinklers.


Our fragility, our bravado:
          Well, Christ, honey,
                    this hair and these words
are all we got.
          Enjoyable, yes;
        and so is divine Anna,
in her peeled doorlight, still
          in the throes
                    of a modernist
prejudice against
                    To say something obscure
and never return to it --
          a colophon of our indiscretions
        like the green carnations
of Oscar Wilde
          or the forgotten logic
                    of The Good Earth:
Why didn't they just sell the farm
          and move to the city,
                    if it was all that bad?


          I seem to mean my lies
or that I so very much
          need this image
         not to be true:
a pile of wallboard,
          not yet unpacked
  outside the Howard Johnson's
in Rochester
          and beside that,
                    a small girl sucking her thumb
through a frayed arm cast
          the color of mackerel.
                    "Elle n'est pas artiste,"
in definitive tones,
      her silence enervated
                    though porous
as tiny cork castles
                    in Chinatown


We were shanghai'ed into this
          meaning, a heritage of tears
                    particular to the hells
we're peopled with.
          How is it then
                    I found you through skies
so bright if our veins
          hadn't stolen
                    the purest blue first?
Milky, as dropped aspirin
          in a child's sweaty hair,
                    like Vietnam:
"Never should have been there,
          seen such..." a vulgar comparison,
   I know that,
but to have renewed,
          with this error, the reckless sorrow
                    of a poem at its close,
as always, second from last
          in the sack race,
                    yours but only just.