Lee Upton, Featured Poet
Featured Poet
Lee Upton
THE IMAGINATION OF FLOWERS

Perennial snow on the mountain,
dragon's blood sedum, fever dew.
They are doing what
their kind do: crying,
Enter me I don't care.
As if the world turns
its lips around them
just as some of us will do
for some others. He's rich,
the man who watches the woman
raking around a plaster chicken. And
the woman, they say, is not quite
right. Making a plaster chicken at home
is all it looks like to him.
In the morning the mist appears about to break
the garden's ornamental bridge
as if someone cannot walk back
that way again.
In the stories of childhood,
those that make us happy,
someone is always caught
for good. She can't go back either.
That's justice: Someone else says
No. The world won't love you enough.
We might believe all this
but there is so much tenderness
in even that woman
raking around a chicken.
When the man slides open the glass
doors, he walks to her. They stand quietly
as if waiting
for a story some flowers might tell
when they are very tired and about
to blow over the lawn.
Some of them believe there is
no snow and that it is a burden
only they can bear to be beautiful.
For others, they do what they can:
The woman's hand is muscular and moving,
and the man, he has, he has
some lovely spotted money he waves
into all that racket
inside the woman's head.


Lee Upton




HOG ROAST

If the town celebrates
his roasting
it's their right. He's their hog.
He's pork now.

His life in the mash has gone sour.
The bad fairy presides
over his crispy feet.
The prodigal has come back

and does not need
such company.
Now the fire licks this one all over.
Now the fire is giving its best

hog massage.
Cornfed hog is sweet.
But sweet as a dog
to the prodigal

he's pork now.
And he cannot know better next time.
He cannot cry to the prodigal:
You, little one, shod

in your doubts,
run along to your gorgeous friends!
He cannot cry:
Let me see your back!

He's pork now.
So we can kiss if we want
his blarney lips.
So we're home,

barely edible,
lonely with the whole town.
No one's lonely in hog heaven.
No one's got cooked feet.


Lee Upton



PITY FOR BLONDES

When your lithe and secret blonde must leave,
what will you do for yourself?
A blonde does what a blonde must do. She walks on paradox.
A blonde wobbles and falters.
Now your blonde lounges,
a mad mink on a fold-out couch.
The things you don't do for one another could fill a book.


Lee Upton



THAT ARM AGAIN

A man holding up his arm in a restaurant,
holding his arm up by the elbow.
This was long ago in a communist country.
The man was rushing between the tables
with his eyes on his arm.
Blood was moving down his forearm
in separate trails. There was blood
on the man's white apron. The man was

winding in and out between tables.
A smaller man ran at his side as if
the injured man were holding a cake that might
at any moment slide off a platter.
And the arm -- the man with the arm
looked like he was thinking:
I must return it.
It appears now that it was never mine.


Lee Upton




YOU MADE ME READ YOU AND I DIDN'T WANT TO DO IT

At first the page was only a furnished room.
You were the one who furnished it.
A red couch gaudy as a party mask.
Crooked shelving.

And then, after a bit,
weather came into the room.
The clouds "skittering,"
you wrote, "like suds."

And so we pronounced your novel
akin to an ancient travel guide
with its fussy certainty about fares,
adequate hotels, local cisterns.

How can't the book
be shy before our eyes?
It's our fault, not the book's.
It was so embarrassed for us.


Lee Upton



OMNISCIENT LOVE

He was in knocking range of my secrets.
He had found kelp there,
he nested in the coral beds.
In a past life he was born
to me as a set of twins.
He was applied to me as a topical ointment.
He was a prescient code,
a secret writing shaped into flesh.
He was the fathomer I never expected,
the pillow talk of the bureaucracy,
the breeze that could carry the world off-course.
It was as if we'd always believed in each other precisely,
and even the clouds agreed,
and the dog and his bone;
every particle of language
jumped like a flea around him. He was
a pirate's nautical exercise
and an argument for the resurrection.
He was in every seed bed
and digression.
He was bending down my angels and breasting
the seas of goldenmost wheat.
To ask for everything and get it
seemed a paltry thing
next to being recognized by him.
A button couldn't pop
but he was there with a net.


Lee Upton



ANCIENT ARTS


Come Down, Dido

Off the pyre.
Forget the man.
Remember your resume.

You should know enough
to step back
from anyone who says Relax.

Three months and you
won't want to sing a song about
him. Two years

and you'll say "Who?"
Not that we ask you
to be sensible. His sail

turns to thread on the sea.
What's his hurry?
Dido, come down.

What a past you've had.
Think about Carthage
and all that.


Cuckold in Three Parts

Pity the husband.
But so too the wife-stealer,
the Paris among us,

and Helen too comical although
cast in a bitter comedy, less bitter
while some of the parties

are suitably young enough. Inevitably,
our sympathies turn,
and even the most curious know enough

to look away from grief's
messenger. Pleasure
is a messenger, not a god.



Inherited Epic

That one could mimic it
that the crest snarls the sheets
and these flail marks
soak in acid, pages
turning to dust like moths
under the wrist.
A dull wheat
and freight overtaken.
How not to admire them,
aged and showing it,
thin lungs
putting the breath to us.


About the Greeks Bearing Gifts

We had ourselves to thank first--
our capacity for celebration, for
forgetfulness, for metaphor.

Things were not what they were.
Even the blind eye of the dog
turned into an oiled pearl and an island.

Whereas the Greeks hardly got
rid of their scent. Go ahead, blame us.
Our relief was foolhardy and certain.

But then, we were fertile in fools.
We hardly recognized ourselves
in the light of their gift.

To us it seems stupid
only in retrospect.
As if any people would abandon their art.


Lee Upton



EARLY EFFORT

Your drawings with their steep cliffs
resemble neck tendons.

You made hundreds of attempts
in ascent and descent,

your hand climbing the mountain to a high city
that resolves as mist

and then as drizzle,
as if you made a graph of art

as a discipline: How to learn
to be adept, even at disappointment.


Lee Upton



ITHACA IS NOT EASY TO IMPRESS

They had the first microbrewery in the state. Nothing was going over big
on them. An entire family reared out of their graves and the townspeople
chased them down with pitchforks, demanding the dead stay dead. When
Chopin performed a nocturne in their town no one was about to give up
shooting ducks, even if the ducks were wooden. And when a villain came to
town, a murderer in exile, the most they cared about was the annual drive
for voter registration. But the great thing, the terrific thing, the
reason why I'm loyal to my town, is that you can get away with annihilating
every one of your own houseguests, the layabouts who do nothing but annoy
your wife, and no one calls the sheriff, although there might be some talk
about it occasionally for a minute or almost at the microbrewery.


Lee Upton


The Imagination of Flowers
Hog Roast
Pity for Blondes
That Arm Again
You Made Me Read You and I Didn't Want to Do It
Omniscient Love
Ancient Arts
Come Down, Dido
Cuckold in Three Parts
Inherited Epic
About the Greeks Bearing Gifts
Early Effort
Ithaca Is Not Easy to Impress
Soitenly
Hamlet's Habit
Interview with Lee Upton
Editor's Note: "The Imagination of Flowers," "Hog Roast," and "Pity for Blondes" are from the book No Mercy (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1989). "That Arm Again" is from the book Civilian Histories (University of Georgia Press, 2000). "You Made Me Read You and I Didn't Want to Do It" previously appeared in The New Republic. "Omniscient Love" first appeared in American Poetry Review.  "Ancient Arts" was first published in The Harvard Review.  "Soitenly" and "Hamlet's Habit" appeared in the Winter 2002 issue of The Adirondack Review. "Early Effort" and "Ithaca is Not Easy to Impress" make their debuts in The Adirondack Review.
LEE UPTON's fourth book of poetry, Civilian Histories, appeared in 2000 from the University of Georgia Press.  Her third book of literary criticism, The Muse of Abandonment, was published by Bucknell University Press.  Her poetry has appeared in recent months in the New Republic, the American Poetry Review, and the Denver Quarterly, and is forthcoming in The Atlantic Monthly and The Harvard Review. This is her second appearance in The Adirondack Review.
SOITENLY

That I find Larry sexual is not something I would until now be likely to
confess.
Larry looks as bedeviled as an ambassador or a man with a mortgage.
His eyes want to spring out of his skull,
his hair rises perpetually on end.  There's no lull
for Larry.  He's well-meaning husband material,
losing every pie fight, dipping low on an aerial,
spitting chicken feathers.  Even when he's happy
he looks harried, even when there are dames on his lap.
The gods in heaven confess they make mistakes.
Larry takes it hard.  Slapstick.
Everybody says: that's just life, speeded up,
eating the shell of the oyster,
continuing on to the napkin, the plate (it gets worse, sir),
being doused in liquid cement, sat on by a horse.

While Curly is, of course, everybody's favorite,
and Mo is scary,
I mean truly frightening even,
unlike Larry,
a man you can count on never to relax.
Larry who makes worry a picnic with fire ants,
followed by a hike with bears.
Curly gets all the good lines and swears:
Soitenly, soitenly, soitenly.
What's certain for Larry?
Quiet, desperate uncertainty,
that's Larry's.  Which is what I like about Larry.
As well as
the suspicion that frightening him would be exceedingly pleasant.


Lee Upton




HAMLET'S HABIT

Liegeman to the Dane--
eruptions, draughts of Rhenish.
The yakker one row back,
obsessed with his father,
talks over the plot and thinks
he knows what's coming.
He intercedes, he reverses the acts.
"You are as good as a chorus, my lord."
Consciousness is a boor.
It always has something to say.


Lee Upton
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Photo: Theodora Ziolkowski