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Geraldine Connolly

Regrets

Out of their secret places
in autumn, from under

dark logs and smooth gravestones
they come, black snakes,
stripped, floating free

in the golden September sunlight
which drifts as they try
to hold onto it.

They lay their bodies
across our warm paths,
branches of misspent hours,

limbs from the low gullies.
Past school children and old men
they wind, making no sound

sliding the earth in silence,

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To a Joshua Tree

I watch you flare up from the Mojave backdrop,
obstreperous, a lyric of exploding tar—
bold and unpredictable after legions of vernacular,
tawdry scrub pine. I am taken aback,

dazed by a temperamental tremor
of branches flung across the desert's spine.
High limbs swirl into vivid saxophones.
A tree that plays on being a tree, an impostor

among the true believers, you are all asymmetry
and wild trumpets of spiked hair unloosed at noon,
the disorder of a jazz riff, a July blizzard.
I love your crazed charm, a madman raving at sky.
An old world prophet, you brandish a vision
as the world's traffic turns its back, glides onward

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Blue Bridge

Praise the good-tempered summer
and the red cardinal
that jumps
like a hot coal off the track.
Praise the heavy leaves,
heroines of green, frosted
with silver. Praise the litter
of torn paper, mulch
and sticks, the spiny holly,
its scarlet land mines.

Praise the black snake that whips
and shudders its way across my path
and the lane where grandmother
and grandfather walked, arms
around each other's waists
next to such a river, below
a blue bridge about to be
crossed by a train.

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Procession of All Souls

Gnarled and blessed
be the hour of autumn
when spotted pears sink
into wet sod, and blessed be
the songs of virgins rising
into the hunchbacked trees.

November dawn.
Down damp stone stairs
we followed the priest,
past leaf-choked wells
and jagged trees,
past the red rage of dogwood
ringing a black lake.

Dies Irae, he intoned,
Dies Illae, day of wrath.
We followed his swinging
censer, trail of smoke:
schoolgirls in gray, novices

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New Territory

Sent off to boarding school
at twelve, with a pair of oxfords,
a pair of patents, my sterling
silver christening rosary
and two dozen name tags stitched
like drops of blood onto the collars
of starched blouses, I stare
down the hall, long and dim,
slippery from too many waxings.
Plaster statues of the holy family live
here, in cave-like niches, the Blessed Virgin,
her face soft and chalky, cheeks
powdered pink. Everything about her
is pliable; she is to be our model.
Joseph is nondescript, covered by
a long brown robe. The baby sleeps.
I eye the nuns, black and fluttery,
and my parents, in wool, with fur collars,
giddy with their new freedom.
I unpack my suitcase and survey

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The Summer I Was Sixteen

The turquoise pool rose up to meet us,
its slide a silver afterthought down which
we plunged, screaming, into a mirage of bubbles.
We did not exist beyond the gaze of a boy.

Shaking water off our limbs, we lifted
up from ladder rungs across the fern-cool
lip of rim. Afternoon. Oiled and sated,
we sunbathed, rose and paraded the concrete,

danced to the low beat of "Duke of Earl".
Past cherry colas, hot-dogs, Dreamsicles,
we came to the counter where bees staggered
into root beer cups and drowned. We gobbled

cotton candy torches, sweet as furtive kisses,
shared on benches beneath summer shadows.
Cherry. Elm. Sycamore. We spread our chenille
blankets across grass, pressed radios to our ears,

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Lydia

There was life before us

my sister and I discovered
looking at photographs

we shouldn't have been looking at
of the English girl my father

was engaged to during the war.
Here she is right in front of our eyes,

the woman before my mother,
in a black lace cocktail dress,

a cigarette in a holder,
pensive, earthy—waiting

in front of the carved wooden radio,
for news from the front.
This is the war, after all,

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The Entropy of Pleasure

By the time you walk up to the ocean
the wave has already disappeared,
replaced by another wave, another sadness
as in passion or the light dying at dusk

or the shell split under your foot, another
scar made in the sand. You can't remember
exactly what you need to remember. White fluttering
wings arrive in the sweet grass like letters

from someone you loved who has abandoned you
for another city. And all the signs
read 'Dangerous Currents', 'Sea Forest'.
It's so difficult to keep track of the tracks
that are leading to unexpected places.

Change is a way we can't easily follow,
the water disappearing; even the dunes
have shifted and right when you are about to lose
your way into the wild oats, shuddering,

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Why I was sent to Boarding School

to lengthen my hemlines and straighten
my morals

because I was difficult

because my parents were tired

to lock me in chastity's cupboard

to Latinize me, teach me manners,
give me a good solid dose of fear

to place over my fact the mask
of stoic cheerfulness

to take away my swagger
tame my wild hair and rebellious tongue

because that's where the doctors
sent their daughters

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In Praise of Dawn

You can keep afternoon and its dwindling mysteries,
twilight with its seedy hauteur. You can have night
with its phony neon and rented motel rooms.
I prefer morning when the air is so quiet the rub
of a cricket's leg sounds like wildness beckoning.

My feet pad along the carpet like bears' paws
along a stretch of furred moss. The cherry tree
catches the first glint of gold in its deep green.
The kitchen is mine, empty and humming.
I am queen of the breakfast room, empress
of a new regime. Ideas sprout from my head

like bursts of startled blue jays. All possibilities
lie before me in the rustle of leaves at the window.
Something extraordinary is about to happen—
I could write an essay on forgiveness,
or construct an altar to Artemis with five red
maple leaves, a fish bone and a snake's rattle.

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