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Joanie Mackowski

Here's wildness and art, in right proportion: the wildness is surprise without swagger; the art is graceful and mostly disappearing, and otherwise a little extravagant. As in the case of jugglery (another of Joanie Mackowski's mastered arts), loopiness is nothing without the catch. Dropped clubs, flat cakes, flat notes--where but in poetry is a native gift for clumsiness, sedulously conserved, so praised? Oh never mind. The deeper species of lightness come only with technical command; since art's onset's the curse of self and self-consciousness, the only way out is the long way, learning it. Optometry by Bishop, say, score by Keats, percussion by Donne? A good apprenticeship, wherever she found it. Is there another young poet who sees tidelands, skylines, or weather so sharply? Is there another who can write moving poems in triple meters or trisyllabic rhymes, right under your nose, and you not noticing? Have you ever noticed that oyster is stereo, backwards? Talk about Ostentatious Camouflage (Mackowski's manuscript's working title)! If you don't believe that rats and grackles are more honest than nightingales and zebras, shut your eyes and look, move your lips and listen. You'll love these poems, and wish for more.

--Richard Kenney

Song for Dancing

The lilies are tigers. They wave and roar,
and borne on animated shadows, rare

as quiet, evening ripens like a plum.
If I refuse to dance, maybe I'm blooming,

And I should be going. The sun disappears,
with my wallet and keys, into my purse;

the sky spreads its embers, and icy clouds thaw,
and I won't dare to think: I'll just be thought.

A dozen lovers dance by the sea.
Their dreams arc smoke; their names are XYZ--

they eat fading roses, and they sing low,
they dance with everyone and dance alone;

the awkward world regains its sense of balance
when they twirl beneath the streamers and balloons,

and when the evening hovers near their heads,
they say `goodnight' and don't forget their hats

and hear the whole world tick but never tock.
My body's a pond, dear, and my mind's a duck,

and once a year it flies away, and once
a year it wants and wants and wants and once

upon a time is written on my heels.
You dance in the valley, and I'll dance on the hills.

The Hat of Miss Magee

I saw Miss Magee walking down the road
wearing a hat the size and shape of a Brazil nut.
The clouds hovered, the houses stood,
and I thought Miss Magee looked rather passionate.

The next day, as she walked the mile to church
her hat appeared to be a bulging envelope.
The crickets murmured, `cha cha, cha cha cha'
and Miss Magee waved, smiling and biting her lip.

On Monday I took a stroll around the block
and saw Miss Magee walking over yonder.
Her hat was indecipherable, a black
shape without boundaries, and quite wonderful.

And later I went walking. I saw Miss Magee:
how rakishly she wore each passing hour!
Dragonflies and bats veered gleefully
and Miss Magee shivered in the evening air.

The following afternoon I took a turn
and spotted Miss Magee: strapped onto her head
was Mr. La-La-La, from Out-of-Town.
I didn't wave, for she appeared distracted.

And the other day--you'll never guess whom I saw:
yes, Miss Magee. This time up top she wore
nothing but the state of Massachusetts.
It was charming if just a little small for her.

Early this morning, I walked through the meadow.
The starlings glittered, the chicory bloomed, and I suppose
that more than the world is the hat of Miss Magee,
trembling close about her wild eyebrows.

San Francisco Bay Landscape

The calm Bay overlaps its grays and greens
while a man-long, blood-red flag ingratiates

itself, billowing into the view. Ample
clouds unfurl. Five doves flap pell-mell

up on ascending pendulums, steel-
gray as the distant Bay, startled by

a nosy corgi, and archaic pelicans
fly toward Alcatraz Island (they're such laconic

jail birds, a flying chain gang--) to disappear
one by one, behind a battleship. . . .

what traffic! Barges, floating low
beneath haphazard stacks of containerized cargo,

trail behind them mere filaments of wake
that swell, as our regrets swell, and make a sailboat rock.

The island culls the eye, though, the pupil
of the view, the largely floating pupa

anything might crawl from. Surrounded
by the Bay, its lush shrubs and red-brown turf

curl like a patch of hair. It would slide seaward
through the Golden Gate, but lost the golden key,

as perhaps the island's one-time denizens
forgot the Golden Rule. Is there any Zen

to captivity? Did any iron cell
ever set its inmate free? Pale celery-

colored shoals lap against the island's skirt.
One sees a little of any landscape.

Unusual Cloud Formations

Fish bones and bowlers hang over the mountains,
and people below think, "The world's too mundane."
They dream lavish things. "But nothing's so lovely
as your hand," thinks the dog who's troubled by fleas.

Dreams fall like snow on complacent pillows;
loose bones drift down toward the mountains below.
And each sleeping head carves an enormous valley
in the crust of the pillow, where dark hangs heavily.

Today's clouds look like fish bones and bowlers;
if I don't wash my glasses, my life is a blur.
Fierce light parts the curtains and pools on a table,
but I'm not seeing double; I'm not seeing double.

The sun breaks from a cloud and erases our shadows;
the moon breaks from the earth and slides under
our toenails.
The wind blows so hard that it opens the windows;
one does wonder what one does wonder one does.

Our hearts can be fashioned in all pretty colors,
but the people who lose them want nothing in
A large oak branches out with green branches;
where its soul wanders is anyone's guess.

A child plays a game; she counts up to ten
and sits with her back to the bowler-topped mountains.
The mountains watch time fly south with a heron,
and before the child looks, they turn, and they run.

Some Kind of Blues

This morning the milk went sour, floated like clouds
in the carton. So I poured them down the drain--
so gentle as that, my man's off wandering.

I opened the newspapers and every headline
read, `You will be sad forever'
I lay in a big bed so empty it hovered.

And out the window, the sun shone dull gray
but just because the glass was dirty
I tried to open the window, tried utterly.

Then I went outside to rake some leaves.
So red and gold, they swirled over the ground
like the fire of creation--when a lady walked by,

Originally published in the October/ November 1997 issue of Boston Review

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