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   Jacket 34 — October 2007        link Jacket 34 Contents page        link Jacket Homepage

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Robyn Sarah

Six poems:

Black Walnut
Redoing the Entrance
Tony’s Sharpening

This piece is about 6 printed pages long.
It is copyright © Robyn Sarah and Jacket magazine 2007.


Women are on their way
to the new country. The men watch
from high office windows
while the women go.
They do not get very far
in a day. You can still see them
from high office windows.

Women are on their way
to the new country. They are taking
it all with them: rugs,
pianos, children. Or they are leaving
it all behind them: cats,
plants, children.
They do not get very far in a day.

Some women travel alone
to the new country. Some
with a child, or children.
Some go in pairs or groups
or in pairs with a child
or children. Some in a group with
cats, plants, children.

They do not get very far in a day.
They must stop to bake bread on the road
to the new country, and to share
bread with other women. Children
outgrow their clothes and shed them
for smaller children. The women too
shed clothes, put on each other’s

cats, plants, children, and at full moon
no one remembers the way to the new country
where there will be room for everyone and
it will be summer and children will
shed their clothes and the loaves will
rise without yeast and women will have come
so far that no one can see them, even from

high office windows.


She sits up late, listening
to the wind in leaves that
may be gone tomorrow: one gust
this time of year, and up they fly,
there is no calling them back, and
it will always happen too quickly:
in the next room the child
stirs in his crib, cries out
without waking — she thinks of sleep
but sits on, unmoving; a moth
flops in the lampshade, the chairs
cast straight shadows. What
keeps her here at this hour, what —
in the plainness of things, the bare floor,
the broom in the corner, the tea stains
on the frayed tablecloth — sharpens her nerve
to the quiver of a flame-end?
She thinks: Alive.

Down the alley a dog begins barking.
The tree shakes with a knowing
the bones soon share.

Black Walnut

We found those funny green balls in the grass,
perfumy as unripe oranges, but hard,
and bleeding rank iodine when cut open,
leaving their stain deep in the palms’ creases.
The stone inside was hard to hack away
from the raw flesh of the stubborn fruit.

Now, heading into winter, one fruit
of the several we picked up that day in the grass
sits on the sill, where I put it away
to see if it would ripen. Blackish, rock hard
though light as pumice, it has dried in ridged creases.
It would take a hammer to break this open.

But who would ever think of breaking it open?
It seems an artifact now, not a fruit.
Its history is sealed into these creases
as ice preserves the lay of the tangled grass.
I have no use for this thing; why is it hard
to decide the time has come to throw it away?

Maybe because the scent has not gone away,
and the faint spice of it has power to open
thought-ways to other things grown soft or hard
with age or their own failure to yield fruit
(though they persist, unkillable as the grass
that, flattened, springs back up from its own creases.)

I think how ice moves over the earth, and creases
the face of it, or grinds the edges away,
leaving a smooth bed for the blanketing grass.
I think how, in the rock, deep fissures open
and endure to become valleys, lush with fruit —
and then, how rotting trees have turned stone hard.

And I think of the passion to preserve, the hard
clear light that loves to register the creases
in a face, or a cloth with an arrangement of fruit:
as if recording these could hold away
the shadow of that chasm we know must open
soon at our feet, in the supple familiar grass.

Hard as its nut, this mummy of a fruit
creases the brow. The mind drifts far away,
open to every current in the grass.

Redoing the Entrance

Today the stairs end in mid-air, halfway down.
I see you at the bottom — pencil in hand,
chewing your lip, assessing with slight frown
the space you’ve opened for the curved stairs planned
in place of straight ones. — You’ve got it figured out,
you tell me — smell of hot sawdust on the air —
you see how you can do it. (Scenting my doubt?)
I gaze down at the sawdust in your hair,
and wonder at the faith that made the cut
before the plans were drawn. The way you are.
The way you made me yours — not asking what
could go wrong — trusting we’d come this far.
And how you’ve placed a table for a landing,
so I can climb down now, to where you’re standing.


Make much of something small.
The pouring-out of tea,
a drying flower’s shadow on the wall
from last week’s sad bouquet.
A fact: it isn’t summer any more.

Say that December sun
is pitiless, but crystalline
and strikes like a bell.
Say it plays colours like a glockenspiel.
It shows the dust as well,

the elemental sediment
your broom has missed,
and lights each grain of sugar spilled
upon the tabletop, beside
pistachio shells, peel of a clementine.

Slippers and morning papers on the floor,
and wafts of iron heat from rumbling rads,
can this be all? No, look — here comes the cat,
with one ear inside out.
Make much of something small.

Tony’s Sharpening

A summer evening sound, his silver bell
summoning householders to bring
their scissors, kitchen knives, blunt blades
to sing against his whetstone.

Tony the Sharpener. He used to pass
on a bicycle, years back.
Now it’s a little truck he has,
but the same sweet-toned bell

cling-clings across the evening’s
linden-laden air, the languid games
of after-supper children
granted a stay of bath and bed

for the red hour of afterglow
when robins pipe in the hedge.
Tony, spin your stone again,
give life back its edge.

Robyn Sarah

Robyn Sarah

Robyn Sarah is the author of seven poetry collections, two collections of short stories, and most recently a book of essays, Little Eurekas: A Decade’s Thoughts on Poetry (2007). Her writing has appeared widely in Canada and the United States, and her poems have been anthologized in The Bedford Introduction to Literature and The Norton Anthology of Poetry. Her last poetry collection was A Day’s Grace (2003). A Selected Poems in French translation is forthcoming.

Acknowledgments: “Fugue”, “Nocturne”. From The Space Between Sleep and Waking, (Villeneuve, 1981). “Black Walnut”. From Anyone Skating On That Middle Ground, (Véhicule Press, 1984). “Redoing the Entrance”. From Questions About The Stars, (Brick Books, 1998). “Bounty” and “Tony’s Sharpening”. From  A Day’s Grace, (Porcupine’s Quill, 2003).

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