In the third in a series showcasing important contemporary poets, Granta.com publishes three poems by Katha Pollitt, whose debut collection, Antarctic Traveller, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry. Her new collection, The Mind-Body Problem, in which the poems below appear, is published by Random House in June.
Worse than the boils and sores
and the stench and the terrible flies
was the nattering: Think.
You must have done something.
Things happen for a reason.
What goes around.
His life swept off in a whirlwind of camels and children!
Still, he knew enough to shut up
when his skin cleared pink as a baby’s
and overnight lambs blanketed the burnt fields.
People even said he looked taller
in his fine new robes: You see?
When one door closes, two doors open.
Nobody wanted to hear
about the rain or its father
or leviathan slicing the deeps
at the black edge of the world
under the cold blue light of the Pleiades.
The new sons were strong and didn’t ask difficult questions,
the new daughters beautiful, with glass-green eyes.
No one left to call me Penelope,
mourned the old countess, on being informed of the death
of her last childhood friend. Did she sit long
in the drafty hall, thinking, That’s it then,
nobody left but hangers-on and flunkeys,
why go on? Death can’t help but look friendly
when all your friends live there, while more and more
each day’s like a smoky party
where the music hurts and strangers insist that they know you
till you blink and smile and fade into the wall
and stare at your drink and take a book off the shelf
and close your eyes for a minute and suddenly
everyone you came in with has gone
and people are doing strange things in the corners.
No wonder you look at your watch
and say to no one in particular
If you don’t mind, I think I’ll go home now.
It’s what you don’t hear
that says struggle
as in wrath and wrack
and wrong and wrench and wrangle.
The noiseless wriggle
of a hooked worm
might be a shiver of pleasure
not a slow writhing
on a scythe from nowhere.
So too the seeming leisure
of a girl alone in her blue
bedroom late at night
who stares at the bitten
end of her pen
and wonders how to write
so that what she writes