A poetry collection – by Anne Whitehouse

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Traveling twelve miles from Bessemer to Birmingham,

my grandparents visited us on Sunday afternoons,

sitting stiffly side by side with my parents,

until I led Grandma by the hand to my room.

The door closed, we snuggled on my bed.


I nestled in the circle of her arms,

my small hands stroking her wrinkled skin,

investigating her swollen knuckles,

the ridges of her fingernails and toenails,

the way one toe curved over another.


On her lap, my book of fairy tales.

Too young to read, I leafed through the pages,

recognizing stories by their illustrations—

Rumpelstiltskin, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty.


Though I didn’t know how to read,

it seemed we read the stories together

for I almost knew them by heart,

could guess when to turn the page,

and helped her when she stumbled on a word.


Her funny accent twisted the vowels.

Almost sixty years later I remember

how I laughed at her pronunciation

with fervent four-year-old wisdom,

“It’s not ‘goyl,’ Grandma, it’s girl!”


Now I’ve become the old lady, playing

with my great-niece on a Sunday afternoon,

in her room, away from all the grown-ups,

with her quicksilver thoughts, her gentle touch,

a bridge across the years to my lost self.




I        The Old Jetty

The old jetty was removed

because it was rickety.

That was its charm, the way

it was curved and warped and bent

so it seemed to stretch to infinity.


I loved following its meandering

in pink-and-blue dawns

when the sun rose slowly,

and the sky was a tapestry of clouds

under trumpet bursts of light.


II       Snowfall

Somewhere on my property

I buried time—

by which I mean I lost my watch.

It slipped off my wrist

into the snowdrifts.


I was all over,

scrambling up the hill,

picking my way

between barberry and privet,

as a swirling snowfall

camouflaged my landmarks.


In the quiet aftermath,

I watched purple and blue clouds

roll over the landscape,

and the sun appear between

the barred shadows of bare trees,

casting a honey glow over the snow.



III     Olive Trees

Ancient olives, carefully cultivated

in terraces and groves, gnarled gray trunks

split by age and twisted by heat,

their fruit yielding oil, not juice,

delicate leaves pale green and silvery.


No two are alike in a grove of thousand.

Their indwelling spirits

outlive human generations.



IV      A Clasp Across the Generations

How I love to hear

in one poet that I love

the echo of another long ago,

the perpetual flow of music

through the souls of great artists,

their deep insights into the past.



I didn’t see it coming

when I walked slam bang

into an immense web

anchored to trees

along the path.


Jumping sideways

I narrowly avoided

the black, hairy spider.


A posse of red-nosed flies

with black-and white-striped wings–

how did they get into the house?



An exhibition is not

the conclusion to a project,

but the opening to a conversation.

It is the context that matters

as much as the objects themselves,

connections made for the first time

or revived from the well of forgetfulness.


How to design a curve

using only straight lines

so even a novice can build it.



Once a Cooper’s Hawk settled

outside the first-floor window

at the back of our Manhattan apartment,

perched on the wrought-iron bars

of an empty air conditioner cage.


In the cold, high realms of the air

it had traveled a great distance

and from afar with piercing vision

had spied our cage and courtyard,

one protected space within another.

It felt safe enough to rest surrounded

by high walls, like being

at the bottom of a well of air.


The hawk was so tired it didn’t care

that we were inches away,

separated only by a pane of glass.

Its head swiveled all around,

facing backwards on its neck,

and with its beak it ruffled

its neck feathers and tucked its head

under its wing and was fast asleep

while fierce-looking talons

gripped the bars of the cage.


It was a Friday evening, and the peace

of Shabbat was falling like a veil,

shadowing the world as the hawk slept.

Not wanting to disturb its rest,

I left the room dark as I set the table

next to the window and lit the candles,

softly singing the blessing,

shielding my eyes in prayer.


My husband and daughter and I

blessed the wine and the bread

and quietly ate our dinner by candlelight.

Twice the hawk woke and stared at us.

Its black pupils rimmed in gold

pierced me with inexpressible wildness,

as fierce and strange as God’s angel.


Like a sheet of mica clouding its gaze,

the hawk’s inner eyelid slid from front to back,

and again its head rotated, and it bent

its beak under its wing and slept and woke

and slept again. I woke in the night

and it was still there, a dark form

immobile against the darkness.

In the morning it was gone.


Anne Whitehouse is the author of six poetry collections, most recently Meteor Shower (Dos Madres Press, 2016), as well as a novel, Fall Love. Recent honors include 2016 Songs of Eretz Poetry Prize, 2016 Common Good Books’ Poems of Gratitude Contest, 2016 RhymeOn! Poetry Prize, and 2015 Nazim Hikmet Poetry Award.

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