Paradelle on Love & Other Poems: Lyn Coffin

lynnLyn Coffin (born November 12, 1943) is an American poet, fiction writer, playwright, translator, non-fiction writer, editor. She has published fiction, poetry and non-fiction in over fifty quarterlies and small magazines, including Catholic Digest and Time magazine. One of her fictions, originally published in the Michigan Quarterly Review appeared in Best American Short Stories 1979, edited by Joyce Carol Oates. Her plays have been performed at theaters in Malaysia, Singapore, Boston, New York (Off Off Broadway), Detroit, Ann Arbor, and Seattle. She has given poetry readings with Nobel Prize winners Joseph Brodsky and Czesław Miłosz, and Philip Levine, among others. She is a member of Washington Poets’ Association and Poets West and Greenwood Poets. Coffin’s latest book is a translation of Shota Rustaveli’s The Knight in the Panther Skin, a 12th-century epic poem from the country of Georgia. Latest updates about Lyn Coffin can be found at her website, One Hand Clapping.


 

ANOTHER COUNTRY

The sun felt hot on our foreheads. A foreign
leader spoke for hours in uncontracted
English on the need to achieve easier
relations—(Beside me, my wife’s smooth,
noncommittal face)—and efforts to relax
tensions. He said his country and our country
were alike. “Alike, hell. His so-called country
is a tribal mess,” I whispered. The foreign
look my wife shot me made it hard to relax.
When I took her white hand, it first contracted
like a scared animal, then lay still and smooth
in my own. It struck me how much easier
unmarried life had been for me. Easier
for her, too. Our marriage was like a country
whose borders had been closed; the terrain was smooth,
but there were bread lines, men who vanished, foreign
soldiers directing traffic, uncontracted
disputes: it was dangerous to relax.
After the speech, my wife managed to relax.
She said her pills and wine made things easier.
As she drank, her pupils contracted
into dark points. “We should leave this country,”
she said on the long drive home. “The more foreign
travel, the better, right?” Her words were slurred-smooth
stones at the bottom of a well. But her smooth
mouth twisted as she spoke. I kissed her. “Relax,”
I said.  She said, “I’m shipping out to foreign
shores.” Such statements didn’t make things easier.
I went night-walking, startled by the country
sounds and smells, heart beating in uncontracted
fear. My return was more than I’d contracted
for, though: she lay still on the sheets, white and smooth.
The nearest hospital was seventy country
miles away: they gave me something to relax…
Her note said she found suicide easier
than life with me, that compromise was foreign

to her nature.  My life’s contracted to one
smooth hope– That heaven is like a foreign
country where people are able to relax.


Paradelle on Love

Once, our hearts were open. We made love.
We made love once our hearts were open.
We turned and embraced in huge, unmade spaces ruined by war.
Unmade, we turned and embraced in huge spaces ruined by war.
Once we turned and embraced open war in huge spaces we made,
our hearts were ruined by unmade love.
Have you vanished from the face of this life?
You have vanished from the face of this life.
Still, I miss belonging to you and longing to have love.
Still, I miss belonging to you to have love and longing.
I have vanished from this life to miss longing,
and still you have the face of love belonging to you.
Our old blind pain did not help us find a way to God.
Our old pain did not help us find a way to blind God.
God could not let us be true to one another.
One God could not let us be true to another.
Let us find another blind God to be true to.
Our old one way pain God did not, could not help us.
Our old way of belonging to blind war turned
our hearts’ spaces to pain. We once embraced love,
and could have vanished from another God,
to find the one true face to help us. You were not open,
God. You did not let be, and have ruined us. And,
still, in this unmade life made huge by longing, I miss love.


The Great River
the first sky-blue-ribbon August afternoon

… my long-ago sisters and my

long-ago self let sleeping dogs and

comic books lie, wriggle back into

still-wet suits like snakes in rewind, then

run outside to see what dad’s up to…

He snaps the heads off three wooden matches,

—these are Cannibalosi— then he burns

two black, and leaves one as is—the noble

Africansi and their pale red-headed chief.

The trick is to get all six matches across

the cracked redwood table dad calls “The Great River,”

on a matchbook boat that holds three or fewer,

without Cannibalosi outnumbering

Africansi. We give up, so Dad shows us, too

quickly for me… Too quickly for me, decades

pass— Dad is dead, I’m divorced. My sisters are

strangers and we’re selling the cottage. We’re

selling the cottage, that’s why I’m there on

a cold winter evening— I drift through rooms

like a hungry ghost. I open drawers to

prove I’m real, So many drawers and all of them

empty, except for the last, a knotty-pine

drawer in the knotty pine bar, where I find

five matches, three headless, two black…  I picture

Dad long ago using the red-headed chief

to light the cottage’s final fire…

and I think myself back to a long-ago August—

a woman returned, I say, Dad, do it more slowly—

my family’s held captive by the Cannibalosi:

let me learn logic for when love stands helpless.


ACROSTIC SONNET FOR MY SISTER

Very little, after all is done, needs saying…

In an hour or so, the service will end and we’ll

Return to everydaying– Unpack lonely

Grief and put it away. Only for this brief

Instant we face, with fitful grace, mortality—

Now and here we come together to mourn

In concert the loss of a relation and

Affirm relatedness… For whether or not we

Realize it, we’re born or sworn to family,

And she whose death drew us here knew it clearly–

Mother, grandmother, aunt and sister.  Because

She was the backbone of our tribe, her love was

Always evident, if not easy, which is why

You and I until we die will miss her dearly.


THE LOVE OF HIS SISTER
Black wood strips, wire x’s– Now the old
veranda is a screened in porch. “I’ve never
seen a man so stuck on himself,” his sister
says loudly. “He thinks I’m hot to marry
him… And does he ask himself why anyone
would want him? No. He’s too busy handing out
bachelor medals.” She tucks her long legs up and
turns toward him, locket face flushed. “I’ll never
see him again. I’m like his sister,
he says, and he doesn’t want to marry
his sister… But, hell, why should anyone
listen to this, even a brother fresh out
of the seminary? Tell your big sister–
why not stay here tomorrow, and milk the old
prodigal bit? Why should any man marry
himself to books the way you do?  You’ve never
even been drunk! They’ll think you’re a weak sister,
those boys you’re going to reform. They’ll be out
to get you. A little debauchery and
sex wouldn’t hurt you.” Silence. “Does anyone
else talk so wicked to you? I’ll make you old
before your time.” Silence. “Better to marry
than burn, your Bible says.  So how come you and
I are so hot to the touch?  I should get out
of here, I guess.”  Long silence.  “I’m your sister,
for God’s sake. Those times in the shed, I never
meant to mess us up. I know you know that, and
yet, even now, your eyes are full of the old
reproaches. Christ, the stars are really out
in force tonight…  I almost think anyone
can be happy, even those who don’t marry–
don’t or can’t. God, don’t you smile at anyone
any more? That’s better. Give me the old
razzle-dazzle. Remember Jen? She’d never
seen such a beautiful boy, she said. And
mother got rid of her– Told her to get out.
and Jennie said, It ain’t me, it’s his sister
you need to watch… All these years and I’ve never
forgotten. I saw the way she held you and
kissed you. At first I was shocked that anyone,
any grownup, was like that. I asked how old
she was once. You said, Old enough to marry…
You’d never tell anyone, even your wife, if you marry,
what your older sister–? No, you go ahead.
I’ll lock up, and make sure the lights are out.”


ANNA
A new friend touches her with a touch like snow:
he shows her a locker, hands her the key, but
there’s nothing he can tell her she doesn’t know.
She haunts places where no girl ought to go:
Cells. Cellars. Trailers. A Quonset hut.
A new friend touches her with a touch like snow:
She follows him, feels how keenly winds can blow.
She does all things in the name of love, but
there’s nothing he can tell her she doesn’t know.
Nights pass like parades or freight trains, so
the doors of her mind swing open and shut.
A new friend touches her with a touch like snow:
she lets herself give herself away. Though
after a while, he calls her god knows what,
there’s nothing he can tell her she doesn’t know.
A new friend touches her with a touch like snow.
He shows her a locker, hands her the key, but
there’s nothing he can tell her….  She doesn’t know.

Photographs collected from the Net

About author

Lyn Coffin
Lyn Coffin 1 posts

Lyn Coffin (born November 12, 1943) is an American poet, fiction writer, playwright, translator, non-fiction writer, editor. She has published fiction, poetry and non-fiction in over fifty quarterlies and small magazines, including Catholic Digest and Time magazine. One of her fictions, originally published in the Michigan Quarterly Review appeared in Best American Short Stories 1979, edited by Joyce Carol Oates. Her plays have been performed at theaters in Malaysia, Singapore, Boston, New York (Off Off Broadway), Detroit, Ann Arbor, and Seattle. She has given poetry readings with Nobel Prize winners Joseph Brodsky and Czesław Miłosz, and Philip Levine, among others. She is a member of Washington Poets’ Association and Poets West and Greenwood Poets. Coffin's latest book is a translation of Shota Rustaveli’s The Knight in the Panther Skin, a 12th-century epic poem from the country of Georgia. Latest updates about Lyn Coffin can be found at: http://lyncoffin.com/

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