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Woman and the Sea by Michael Mott


Michael Mott's poems are strong in all the qualities that make good poetry: formal beauty, wise sense, and well-drawn imagery. He speaks to and for our time, from deep wells of history, with a firm understanding that the present is always an experience of the past. -- Guy Davenport

I am awed by the range and depth of this compilation of Michael Mott's poetry. Do you crave lyrics on nature, wry/wise readings of history: the famous, the infamous and the unknown; unflinching examinations of love, death and our pretenses? Those who have read Mott's two most recent books of poetry, the intricate and dark Piero di Cosimo and the brilliant Corday, will recognize the mastery and emotional power that place him firmly among the great poets of this or any other century. -- Bradley R. Strahan

The Hebraic premise that "words are things" invests these poems with uncommon power, uncommon trouble, In Woman and the Sea, Michael Mott performs a mystery; his poems attain the surface stillness of finely sculpted artifacts, but with human blood -- and passion, and grief, and surprising joy -- coursing through them. From an astonishing range of localities... Mr. Mott conducts his permutations of letters, yielding in virtually every case the Presence, if not the Name. -- Scott Cairns


Woman and the Sea

imagine a whitewashed tower sea holly and a woman
contain in your ears the sound of the wind through
the three openings and doorway of the tower the returning
waves each third second on the pebbles also the rasp
of wind in the sea holly also the wind in the woman's
clothes an austerity of color imagine a gray day
think if you like of isolation or of Ilium
think if you like that she is thinking
she has walked from the bus from the station
think if you like of the lover she has left
or who has left her do not make too much of your thoughts
she will not walk into the sea there is a gravity of situation

whatever the sea may be in a dream a sentimental poem
or a colored print on a wall here it is simply the sea
a consoler perhaps but neither pathos nor tragedy
can be set on this stage a consoler by taking away
what even the Greeks would have left us not Sophocles
Aeschylus Euripides everything forced to some point
but the no point is nothing think if you like your own thoughts
that the woman is beautiful in a way that the calm
is not wholly deceptive that the light too is changing
pellucid one moment it is almost opaque at another
what is her lover to this and what are your eyes on the woman

burden the wind say it sighs say the sea holly catches
she must bend to untangle the hooks from the fringe of her dress
rub her leg with her fingers without looking down and afterwards
walk to the tower where she puts out her hands to the stones
she goes once round comes back to the doorway looks in does 
not enter

think if you like she is blind that she seeks out her cell
think if you like of her life in that small circulation
think of a question to ask ask are the three windows open important

she steps inside the tower and looks out through an opening of slates
and there is an island why an island now and never before
assuredly there is an island or at least a black rock in the water
what should there be there that is not there if we learn of an island

how long does she look at the rock and what thoughts come what
are beginning a while she comes out but what thoughts there to walk
so straight from the doorway without looking back and behind her
is falling each third second remember a wave of the sea and remember
especially remember I beg you the light and the wind she is walking in

Red Leaves

All that reading of Virgil one autumn in Georgia,
dogwood muscadine on a sky blue as blue paper.
What remains in my head now? Only a cry
of "Creusa!" "Creusa!" A name like my memory
sucked into stone holes, catacomb streets
of a sacked town, red lacquer of dogwood leaves.

Catcalls of Greeks after loot and women.
A Trojan remnant one woman short and Aeneas 
risking father and son for his wife. Fire burnishes
bronze. Trash burns, red and black of the winedark
leaves. Trash, trash. And whatever the hand
moves to in panic. Flesh, voice, the enduring

habit, broken, betrayed in echo: "Creusa!" "Creusa!"
wind sport, distorted, unanswered, consonant leaves
sucked into holes of an endless alley. Boats
grind pebbles. At their oars the survivors
sing their first song of exile. Dawn over marshes,
wound open, a catastrophe of disturbed birds.

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