Charlotte Innes is a British-born poet and writer now living Los Angeles. Two collections of her poetry have been published by Finishing Line Press: Licking the Serpent (2011) and Reading Ruskin in Los Angeles (2009). Charlotte’s poetry has also appeared in The Best American Spiritual Writing 2006 (Houghton Mifflin) and other anthologies; and various journals, including The Hudson Review, The Sewanee Review, Connotation Press and Think Journal. She has also written about books and the arts for many publications, including the Los Angeles Times and The Nation. Currently, she is writer-in-residence at Pilgrim School, Los Angeles.
Charlotte spent her childhood vacations camping around Europe, especially in Mediterranean countries, with her family. As an adult, she has spent time in Greece, Italy, Israel, Egypt, and Turkey. She is half-Jewish (her father was a refugee from Nazi Germany), she says; and in one of her poems, In Los Angeles, she notes that she feels a deep connection with the Mediterranean climate, as if it were something genetically imprinted.
Of her poems in Licking the Serpent, the poet David Mason has written: “Everywhere it’s her ability to turn and return phrases, her way of renewing experience in words, her stance both English and American that remind me of the best work by Sylvia Plath. These are daring works from a brilliant poet.”
The sofa is his wheelhouse now.
He sails through storm-tossed trees, windows
curving round him like a ship’s prow, waves
of street sounds—sirens,
children screaming, rap—buffeted
by Furies so incensed, dying
is not an option.
to spindle-thin dragonfly
skating insect-infested ponds,
he mates occasionally yet knows loss,
as if lashed to the mast again,
called by some credo he’s renounced.
Or a face he knew once.
old and sleepless,
he burns for an imagined life,
flays himself for it,
as good men do,
for uncommitted crimes.
A Fox in the Ruins
When you were a younger man in Greece,
you lost your way one afternoon,
and fell asleep amid some ruins.
You woke to a fox that stared at you,
you said, and thoughts that made you sad.
For us, no ruins to sleep amongst,
just hotel rooms, a pebble beach,
and towels that smelt of sweat and sun.
The ruins were in our heads. We read
Greek poetry and wrote, then climbed
the hill beyond the town and found
a church, and hanging from a tree,
a chandelier, fresh-painted gold,
as if for us, as if the sky
were a ballroom’s high blue dome—the top
of a water tank, our dance floor.
Remember how we whirled about
among the olives, shouting and laughing?
I can almost see you now. Your eyes
are bright. And you’re running like a fox.
Glaciers, snow-capped peaks,
mountain ranges, deep divides
rise from my creased sheets,
a noiseless white world
that levels everything
this bright afternoon.
My room’s a shelter
from June heat, from bleached out grey
beach pebbles, pale foam,
the skittery flight
and sad piping of swallows,
white clouds gathering.
-at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Wrenched from deep inside a metamorphic mass,
carved and sliced, its bumps and troughs smoothed artfully into
archipelagos of pits and pocks and patterns of leaves
and ancient creatures, a million deaths pressed inside
a wall the living brush their hands against—and here,
inside this tiny block I’ve bought that I shift from hand
to hand, weighing the years, and how the days pass.
In Los Angeles
It is something, in whatever place, whatever quiet retreat,
to have made oneself master of a single lizard.
—from Juvenal’s Third Satire
When I was young, the sun-
cracked earth I loved
seemed to echo some
ancestral spot. I dreamed
a Roman villa, beyond
the city, with courtyard,
colonnades, and a garden
sweet with sage and thyme,
lizards slow with heat.
Here, in this city,
I have no plot.
Lizards skitter by me
on sidewalks, the lavender
I planted on my street’s
divider, stolen. Here,
my desert forebears
seem more present,
nomads crossing the years
to England where I began,
a rope of DNA
around the world, almost
unbroken. Here, though jasmine
and the night embrace,
and black-eyed susans spring
from cracks, their unexpected
beauty’s simply that—
as present and as absent as
a friend you’ve parted from,
keep searching for
in dreams that split your heart.
First published in Licking the Serpent (Finishing Line Press, 2011).
Poetry in this post: © Charlotte Innes
Published with the permission of Charlotte Innes