Poems from the Published Works of Gail Peck

The Visionary

                                                                after Ernst Barlach, relief,

                                                                Hamburg Memorial, 1931  

 

A woman in profile looking

not at us but to the future,

her daughter’s head against

her breast.  Their dresses

press together, and they wear

no shoes.  There is nowhere to go.

 

What she sees now

isn’t the hunger of the first war,

women in line for bread while

husbands, fathers fight in the trenches.

 

She sees bombs that will fall

on Hamburg.  Streets and canals

on fire, people who’ve fallen asleep

from the fumes, others stumbling

over charred corpses, and there’s

that boy in the distance behind

his mother whose clothes

have caught fire.  He’s smothering

the flames with his hands.

                                                            Nimrod, 2008






Fountain with Six Children

 

                                                                after Robert Capa, photograph,

                                                                Stalingrad, 1947    

 

Ghostly, these marble children

on a pedestal, holding hands,

circling an alligator whose jaws

I can’t see.  They must have

been singing a song when bombs

fell.  Stairways leading nowhere

in the background.  How

did this fountain remain intact,

this large funny frog

with eyes atop its head

looking straight at me,

other frogs spaced

an equal distance apart?

If I knew Russian I would sing,

and these children would kick

up their heels and dance.

There’s only a trickle of water left,

so the frogs can’t jump

in, and nowhere for my

wishful coin to sink.  A woman

sits on a park bench facing

the fountain.  She wears a scarf

in the August heat, and is waiting

for her barefooted daughter,

the one dancing in the swirling skirt.

 

                                                            Persimmon Tree, 2009

 



Russian Beggarwoman II

 

                                                                after Ernst Barlach, bronze sculpture

 

She sits with one arm extended, hand cupped

for whatever might be placed there.

Her covered head rests on her skirt.

She curves into beauty not defined by her face

we can’t see—graceful fingers that in a different life

might play the piano, flute.  She is the essence

of silence, but must have sat on a busy street,

brown shoes and black passing by.

Did she get used to being ignored?

During the hours rung by bells

did she think of a child to feed?  I, too,

might have spurned this woman in the flesh,

forgetting my grandmother who once knocked

on doors in the countryside where she lived—

houses left unpainted with wood stacked on porches—

asking for food not for herself but my mother

whose boots were held together with safety pins.

Someone filled a shoebox full, enough

for them both, and they sat on the cold ground

and divided the bread, the meat, the sweetness of cake.

  

                                                            Ekphrasis, 2008



Nightfall in the Camp

 

 

 

A blessing and a curse

for those who slept so close

together because of space

and warmth.  Forbidden to huddle near

the one inadequate stove.

But the cold was easy compared

to dreams where there’s only present,

and food abundant—look at the table

set with candles, fine silver holding

sweetmeats, cakes.  Oh, dreams

were the worst is what they said,

the constant talk of food—

a rat in the stomach gnawing,

a rat that can’t escape.  Bring day

and labor, slip into those too big

shoes stuffed with paper.  Take your bowl

you don’t lose sight of—no spoon—

to stand in line.  The dreams that made you whole

vanish with falling snow that covers

earth, and somewhere beyond

the roofs of houses where children slowly wake.

 

                                                            Interpoezia, 2012



New Poems

Postcard of Provence

 

                                                                                after van Gogh, 1888

 

The farmhouse and the fields are the same shade

of wheat, yet the door and windows of the house

are blue.  Red flowers grow along a brick wall

 

that curves away from the stark white pathway,

and to the left a lone figure with his back to us.

My friend who’s lost her husband sent this card,

 

and wrote in handwriting smaller than van Gogh’s,

How sad I am.  We cannot know this man’s life,

what he’s walking toward or away from, his occupation,

 

only that a ghostly sky meets a field of lavender,

that one tree has bloomed purple behind haystacks. 

He could be a widower, carrying his loneliness

 

with every step, no one to hear I’m home, vases empty,

and work still to be done—threshing of wheat,

shaking the olive trees until they let go their bitter fruit.

 

                                                            Nimrod, forthcoming

                                                            (semi-finalsit for the

                                                            Pablo Neruda Prize)         



Water Lilies, 1907 (unfinished)

 

                                                                                after Monet

 

To have your subject

     to return to again and again.

Why this one

 

     unfinished 

 

when you destroyed many.

     This was before the pond flooded,

plants ripped loose.

 

     Those willows draping

 

their reflection over water

     purple and blue—they

are not here,

 

     not one blossom, nothing

 

yet in bloom, but something

     worth saving so that we

might see stirrings of

 

     desire in the barest season. 

 

                                                            Iodine, 2011

 

 

 

 

 

          

Weeping Willow

 

                                                                                after Monet, 1918-1919

 

Whatever your sorrow is

     is yours alone.

          Tall lithe figure   

    

swaying darkness, what

     have the years

          brought except     

 

silver among green leaves   

     trailing the bank.

          You can’t turn away.

          

You stand rooted

     in faith that rain      

          will come, wash

          

away debris, that the sun

      will glint through

          what wind hasn’t

  

severed.  Part of me

     longs to enter

          your canopy,

    

lie beneath your shade,

     but the ground

          is damp and grass

          

won’t grow there.    

     View from my window—

           my black-shuttered house.

 

                                                            Iodine, 2011

          



Still Life with Bottles

                                  for my husband

 

                                                                                after Monet, 1859

 

 

Come sit, share the bread with me, spread it with butter, there on the pewter dish.  Pour the wine—we won’t need the carafe of water, but maybe later the apricot brandy the sun is hitting now, spreading its shadow across the table.  Bring cheese, and there are apples in the kitchen in a basket.  Red wine is your favorite, earthy tannins that preserve.  I want to tell you of the new sadness, how the heart can fold like a flower at sunset.  You, who’ve lived with me so long, having studied my face, desired good things for me—lift the bottle and pour, then my lips will taste like yours.  Don’t worry about the white cloth if anything spills, it will wash.  This knife isn’t sharp, just tear the baguette—bread made to last only a day.  Now I can tell you, while all is quiet, the walls surrounding us, making us  close in this small space. 

 

                                                            Yemassee, 2011