Maura Stanton’s first book of poetry, Snow On Snow, was selected by Stanley Kunitz for the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award, and published in 1975. She has also published Cries of Swimmers (Utah 1984), Tales of the Supernatural (Godine 1988), Life Among the Trolls (Carnegie Mellon 1998), Glacier Wine (Carngeie Mellon 2002) and Immortal Sofa (University of Illinois 2008). Her poems have appeared in Southwest Review, The Atlantic, Poetry, The New Yorker, Southern Poetry Review, Crab Orchard Review, The Yale Review, Ecotone, The Hudson Review and other magazines and anthologies. Her work has been featured on The Writer’s Almanac and the BBC radio program Words and Music. She lives in Bloomington, Indiana.
IN SANTA BARBARA
A homeless man has spread a table cloth
across the chilly sand next to Stearn’s Wharf.
He’s set the dishes and the flatware down
the way my mother taught me to place them,
fork on the left, knife and spoon to the right.
But instead of dinner we’re invited to lean
over the rail, take aim, and toss our dimes,
add quarters to the pile on the salad plate.
A rare silver dollar gleams on his napkin.
We throw our change. Thumbs up to the one
who hits the water glass, making it ring!
As we stare down at him, nudged by tourists
who mostly speak Norwegian and Russian,
he gestures with the butter knife, lavishing
strokes of air over invisible bread.
More coins ring down onto his dinner plate.
We’ve already stuffed from our own dinner
at a real table with candles and waiters,
and now we’re headed down the wooden wharf
to watch the moon rise over the Pacific,
speaking the awkward English of old friends
who haven’t seen each other in many years–
careful with our topics, friendly but wary.
So much not to mention, or just touch on:
my mother’s stroke, an ailing cat, visits
to the emergency room, a father’s funeral,
betrayal, fear, mortgages, dizziness,
shortness of breath, bad knees. This homeless man’s
an expert at peeling a pantomime orange
so that you almost see the bright rind fall.
Applause. Some dollar bills drift down to him.
We’re skilled, too—joking around, laughing,
able to cover the unspeakable present
with the legerdemain of remember when?
What’s the point of going to those places—
the stone city of Matera, Machu Picchu,
the unlit streets of Stromboli with Van Gogh stars.
People only think I’m bragging if I mention
a week on Maui, or that apartment in Paris,
corner of Cardinal Lemoine and Blvd. St. Germain
where I sipped wine looking down at plane trees
(back home I would have called them sycamores).
They’re not interested, nor do they even care
that I twisted my ankle walking in the Alps
above Crans-Montana, on my way down to view
Rilke’s castle in the vineyards outside Sierre,
and took a train from Istanbul through Thrace.
They’d just as soon hear about Cincinnati
where my car broke down, or my class reunion—
photos of dead classmates on white posterboard—
my mother’s second stroke, the cracked boiler,
the poison ivy climbing up the fence,
stuff that sounds a lot like stuff that happens
to anyone, to you. My urge to babble,
sing, spout—it’s so embarrassing!. It’s just
to prove I’ve had a life that’s more than this one
flickering on the walls of this run-down joint
where everyone is old or over-weight,
and you yawn, playing with your iphone,
as I complain about a new back seizure.
You’ve seen those prickly seedballs on the sidewalk
(because you live in this dull hometown, too!)
that roll under your foot and make you trip?
One’s caught inside my skin on the left side,
all burrs and hooks, sending shooting pain
along my spine—but that’s just what I mean!
Why tell you that? Why can’t I describe
the moon gold color of French wallpaper,
wild waves at La Coruna, Iguassu Falls?
Why must I chatter on about the plumber,
the bitter weather, or hateful parking meters
as I dip my chip into this mild and runny salsa?
THE PHANTOM DOUBLE
Reading poems in translation
Reminds me of dipping noodles out of soup.
They slide off my spoon, just as I purse my lips,
And slip back under the oily broth
Where they shimmer in some new shape
Adopted just for a moment
Until I prod them again, trying to scoop
Something solid. Ah, at last,
Coiled inside the silver hollow,
A tasty one, if I can just lift it up
Before it slips back—no, it’s gone.
Shape-shifters, boneless fellows,
Mocking me with the illusion
Of their perfection back when they hung
On the drying rack in glossy strips
While the pasta-maker dusted off the board.