After Night Hawks. Hopper. 1942. #2

Why Night Hawks,
dropped down for the kill
as if on surveillance missions,
instead of Night Owls, 1942?
The yellow wedge of  light,
jutting, ships prow, toward
a future-- as if there were one
for these civilians lost
in greenish isolation
in this New York late-
night diner.

The “strumpet” –or so she must be
since she is wearing red-- sits,
lost in contemplation of how
she ended up in this dive anyway;
and the depressed stranger alongside,
morose over his cigarettes so
late at night, ponders the same.

There is another--isn’t there always?—
a “third man,” watching with
equal parts of suspicion and envy
from the far edge of the painting,
concealed as is usual,
half in darkness, his
bulbous right ear cocked &

What are they all doing there, seeking
refuge while the war goes on?
You might almost say they are
refugees—from history—
from themselves, from night, their
fear apparent beneath nonchalance.
I’ve lived with a World War Two
veteran myself:  his war, stoic &
compulsory, always present in our lives
like the neighborhood cat
pressing against  us in the shadows.

Back then the light was a
blazing streak of bold yellow,
the torch that defined each
scene, half-lived, since 1942.
Beyond the liberty ships lay
darkness & mine fields,
and the idealistic sailors fished
the others from the water:
their freighted upturned bodies
like stone carvings of bishops
laid on their own tombs,
riding to shore.
Tonight the optimistic
counterman proffers coffee.
He is young blond, hopeful
as if his service mattered:
the hero we have been
waiting for;  listening, helpful;
leans forward, an Angel with promises,
gold hair, white coat & jaunty hat.
His coffee machines are gleaming:
he doesn’t even smoke, he is so pure.

All in this diner, with its decorative
sign Phillies viewed from outside
as from heaven, are frozen
before their perhaps
untarnished destinies.
The color “blood,” its sharp
metallic smear, is yet to
appear in this picture. In
Edward Hopper’s painting,
Night Hawks 1942,  the man
with his back to us, waiting, half-
lit, has already figured this out.

KATHLEEN SPIVAK is the author of Moments of Past Happiness (Earthwinds Editions fall 2007); The Beds We Lie In  (Scarecrow 1986), nominated for a Pulitzer Prize; The Honeymoon  (Graywolf 1986); Swimmer in the Spreading Dawn (Applewood 1981); The Jane Poems (Doubleday 1973); Flying Inland (Doubleday 1971); Robert Lowell, A Personal Memoir; and a novel, Unspeakable Things, the latter two with an agent.  Kathleen writes and teaches in Boston and Paris. An international writing coach, she directs the Advanced Writing Workshop, an intensive training program for professional writers. 

She has been Visiting Professor of American Literature/Creative Writing  in France (one semester) since 1990/91. She has held posts at the University of Paris VII-VIII, the University of Tours, the University of Versailles, and at the Ecole Superieure (Polytechnique). She was also a Fulbright Professor in Creative Writing, France .She reads and performs in theatres. She also writes song cycles and longer pieces which have been performed worldwide.  A recent song cycle, Shining, set to music by Eva Kendrick,was performed in Cambridge(Longy), in Providence , New York, and Los Angeles. Published in over 300 magazines and anthologies, some of her work has been translated into French. Most recent work can be seen in the Massachusetts Review and the Virginia Quarterly, among others. Other publications include the New Yorker, Ploughshares, The Atlantic Monthly, Poetry, The Paris Review, The Kenyon Review, Agni, New Letters, etc.

A student and friend of poet Robert Lowell, Ms. Spivack  has written about the poets of his time, notably Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Elizabeth Bishop and others, with a focus on how they approached their work. She has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts; Massachusetts Artists Foundation; Bunting Institute; Howard Foundation; Massachusetts Council for the Arts and Humanities; is a Discovery winner, recenty won two International Solas awards,  and  has held residencies at Yaddo, MacDowell, Ragdale,  Byrdcliffe, Karolyi, and the American Academy in Rome. She also teaches at Santa Fe, Aspen, International Womens Writing Guild, Skidmore and other programs throughout the United States as well as abroad.