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Prairie Schooner 79.1 (2005) 41-43

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Two Poems

It is Possible to Live Justly and Happily and Do Good Things For Men.

The force of the middle voice often
cannot be reproduced in translation.
It represents the subject as doing something
to himself, for himself, or with something
belonging to himself. It is often used of acts
done willingly. One syllable can do all this,

turn a word in on its subject like a duck
who tucks her beak in the fold of her wing
and sleeps for a while, quitting
the dutiful act to do
a thing less translatable,

dozing by herself, for herself,
dreaming whatever self a duck can dream.
Words pulled to their centers,
neither active nor passive
with the same black hair, only blacker,
and a tendency to stare into mirrors. [End Page 41]

So I persuade becomes I obey;
to have is to hold onto; and so on.
Render in the Greek: What did it beseem
the city to do when it saw Philip
compassing for himself dominion
and despotic sway over the Greeks?

That's the way to put a question. Not,
What was Athens' plan when she saw
there was no way out, but a query
flattened of panic, extracting from her own
throttled cries the poise it takes to name
one's enemy, the reach of its power.

Can one language do another's work?
I desire now to mercy myself on behalf
of myself and of him who tends me
and of those who cannot. Let me be,

a weed by the wall.

Pisces Poem

The sun off the snowfields
   is too much today.
      I guess we live

in a cathedral whose interior reaches
   can't be taken in, especially now
      with the scaffolding in place [End Page 42]

and walkways of fragrant plywood.
   cathedral is a world:
      clusters of people doing things, together,

some singly, tower of crutches,
   stone columns torqued into sheaves of wheat.
      There are no fixed pews: what if

five or six people want to sit facing one another
   in a circle, or in a line, knee to knee,
      before one of the lesser windows

or the newly commissioned mosaic?
   See them there where they've been
      for days, the vigilant ones.

Behind them, the cabinet of reliquaries:
   some splinters, a questionable bone -
      our woods.

It's imprecise to say that the sun
   has begun to go down a bit later
      than it did yesterday.

Still there's hope. One ray
   passes over the foot of Christ - there!
      a fish! gold, animate.

There now,
   the mountain
      is softening.

Cassandra Cleghorn's poems have appeared in the Paris Review, Yale Review, Western Humanities Review, Southwest Review, and Seneca Review.



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