Work from the dean of Maryland's poets

March 31, 1996

Josephine Boylan Jacobsen, the doyenne of Maryland poets, has lived most of her life in Baltimore, and from 1971 to 1973 served as poetry consultant to the Library of Congress, a position that now carries with it the title of American Poet Laureate. Last month, the American Poetry Society presented to her its highest honor, the William Carlos Williams Prize. The most recent of her many books is "In the Crevice of Time: New and Collected Poems" (Johns Hopkins University Press. 224 pages. $29.95). These poems are reprinted with permission from that volume.

Gentle Reader

Late in the night when I should be asleep

under the city stars in a small room

I read a poet. A poet: not

a versifier. Not a hot-shot

ethic-monger, laying about

him; not a diary of lying

about in cruel cruel beds, crying.

A poet, dangerous and steep.

O God, it peels me, juices me like a press;

this poetry drinks me, eats me, gut and marrow

until I exist in its jester's sorrow,

until my juices feed a savage sight

that runs along the lines, bright

as beasts' eyes. The rubble splays to dust:

city, book, bed, leaving my ears lust

saying like Molly, yes, yes, yes O yes.

Next Summer

Catalogues of seeds flood him

in the churlish gray city weather.

Preposterous gardens, wildly catholic:

anemone, nasturtium, marigold;

roses (white red yellow) bud, uncoil,

loosen to enormous bloom. A trellis

thickens with Heavenly Blue morning

glories, black-hearted poppies burst

their furry stems, sweet alyssum snows

the border. Generous "to a fault"

are Hardy, Lavish, Profligate with Bloom,

Effortless. February's paradise.

Now, house gone for good, and garden with it,

he drops their gorgeous prophecies unopened

into trash. Not the first garden lost,

he tells himself. But all the thousand flowers

that thrust and widened from his fingers

have changed the earth, the air: bloom, stir,

invisible, busy calling their trampling bees.

The Terrible Naive

sleepwalk, feed

birdseed to kittens, dislike arithmetic of

courtesy;

omnipotently shrewd

will whistle

in mirrors; will wrestle,

but only after

securely lashing

your wrists with

their tough

vulnerability;

execute ambushes

with unloaded guns, but when

they cry

"I die! I die!"

the dark flood

is your

blood.

The Thing about Crows

is, they are hoarse.

When you are hoarse, and shout,

you sound either desperate or ominous.

The crows are not desperate.

I say they are not desperate, but one flapped

desperately, dive-bombed this side, that,

by something tiny, with blue murder

and fury on its side.

It's a gentle day. Foliage shifts

gently in the air, and the buds on roses

puff out, and clouds maneuver and part

and meld in a gentle silence.

Now a crow goes heavily by, pounding

the air. Crows gather, gather, to shout

in their autumnal voices, hoarsely,

at the vulnerable spring.

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