Laura Glenn’s book of poems I Can’t Say I’m Lost was published by FootHills, and her chapbook When the Ice Melts was published by Finishing Line Press. Her poems have appeared in many journals, including The Antioch Review, Boulevard, Cortland Review, Epoch, Green Mountains Review, Hotel Amerika, Massachusetts Review, Pedestal, Poet Lore, Poetry, Smartish Pace, and Rattapallax, as well as in anthologies. She has completed work on another full-length book of poems, and is working on a chapbook of pandemic-related poems. Also a visual artist, she lives in Ithaca, NY, where she works as a freelance copy editor.
Please visit Laura Glenn’s website: www.lauraglennpoetandartist.com
On my first flight a wing caught fire—
like Icarus, though the plane didn’t fall to earth;
my father, by my side, calmed me.
Unlike Icarus, I’m still here, though my father is gone.
When he was alive he seemed unnerved
by my fear of heights, yet
I must have gotten his love
of travel. I like low flights, where
I can look out
and see: above me, feathery clouds
sculpt into statues that reconfigure.
Below me, swimming pools
in hues of aqua―greens and blues―
like tins of paints I can dip
a brush into. Water
shimmers, shivers. Rivers
twist, pulse, like veins in my wrist.
A leaf-shaped islet drifts
First appeared in Vallum
Long ago, I was asked if I could live
during any age
which would it be? Renaissance
sprung to mind, but I was young.
Imagine, a cloistered Renaissance woman
looking at the world through a window,
while the world viewed her,
as if in a painting, framed.
Yesterday, while taking a vaporetto
to a museum, I photoed
a woman, at her window
unshuttered but still
planted, leaning toward sunlight.
It’s morning; I fling open the shutters: see past
like neatly whelmed-over plant pots,
and a windowsill planter where thyme flowers.
Laundry sways on a line;
my braid sways, too―long enough
for a ledge mouse to climb.
Beneath my third-story window
people stream across
a tiny bridge
where murmur blends with burble.
An oarsman dips and pulls
against the current―his wooden boat glides
between brick walls,
then disappears under the bridge,
ferrying today’s bread.
Water divides the city the bridges connect:
to my left, a fruit stand
in front of a small bookstore;
part of the city I haven’t explored yet, to my right.
If I walk farther than the eye can see,
I’ll find more
water-stained buildings with pointy arched windows
~ and their watery reflections ~
some housing portraits of women,
framed by windows, their hair bejeweled―
not undone by the wind like mine has become.
I’ll scoff at rabid tourism,
yet everywhere stalls of scarves
will beckon me to choose.
I look down at the stream of people, and fancy
I’m like none of them,
though soon I’m one of them, crossing
another small bridge.
First appeared in StepAway Magazine and in When the Ice Melts
The summers I turned thirteen, then fourteen,
and went to Camp Birchwood, once a season we’d pile in
a bus to nearby Scarpelli’s for sensational grinders on Italian rolls,
with eggplant or meatballs, perhaps melty peppers,
just enough sauce and parmesan.
Still growing, I ate with abandon.
Now November, and in Rome, after hours of walking,
I taxi to the Maxxi, a Hadid building
far from the ancient center. Arriving famished, I go straight
to the café, ask for the vegetable panino and cappuccino.
Credit card machine down, I hand the brusque cashier
a five-euro bill and some coins.
What makes the whole-grain panino so special? The layers
of thinly sliced vegetables on roll meld into flavors from my youth.
Overwhelmed with sensory delight in what I’d given up
on tasting again, and too rapt in reminiscence
to open the panino and examine its contents,
I devour it like a book.
The sandwich doesn’t open
a Proustean floodgate—just the memory of reading Proust
and the palpable reminder of the grinder.
If it seems inapt to compare it to a scalloped madeleine,
I’d read that Proust’s dipping of the cake
was based on a rough rusk of bread.
In the exhibit, El Anatsui’s mantle of bottle caps
shimmers like gold. I leave the museum content.
There’s no tabacchi near the trolley to buy tickets.
A woman hands me a spare, refuses money;
in an accent advises me to watch my purse.
A college student overhears where I’m going, tells me I’ll never get there
alone. Together we trolley and take two buses, walking in between.
I learn of her studies, her country boyfriend’s animals, the garbage problem
in Rome’s outskirts, its terrible transportation.
Reaching into a bag, she offers me a meringue—
literally flat as a pancake; I nibble on her first effort.
One hour later, at my stop, I say without her I would have been lost.
Back at the Airbnb, I tell Nan about my day.
While cleaning my pocketbook of crumpled receipts and rumpled maps,
I spot a 5 euro bill. What happened to the 50 euro Nan had lent me?
I empty everything, check my pockets, where all I find
are the crumbled remains of the coin-shaped meringue.
I must have mistaken the 50 for a 5, a blunder I can scarcely afford.
That economico vegetable panino suddenly turns
into a 57 US dollar stravaganza.
Once I stop cursing silently and distance myself
from the loss, I sigh and remember
the taste of the grinder
I never dreamed I’d rediscover.
The Empty Streets
In De Chirico’s Italian Piazza with Empty Pedestal,
no one’s in sight.
Even the statue has fled.
Now cities are deserted as his paintings.
It’s hard to believe just months ago
I walked through bustling piazzas,
beginning to feel at home
in now-ravaged Italy.
People play music and sing from balconies—
like statues of angels buttressed by hope—
but they can’t meet, not even for funerals.
It’s not so different in New York City,
where loved ones also die alone,
and mass graves recall ancient plagues.
On my last visit, my friend and I
sipped turmeric lattes in an installation-art café.
Now we talk on Zoom
side by side in square compartments;
what a boon to see her safe in her apartment.
The train in De Chirico’s painting looks stopped; disintegrating,
colorless pennants fly in the wind.
The empty pedestal brings to mind
toppled Confederate monuments.
Though in the dreamlike, melancholy painting,
the statue of abandoned Ariadne
de Chirico painted again and again
has given up sulking and broken away
from her base, escaping
the Spanish flu, or maybe the plague
of fascism—the artist suffered through
both at different times; today the two coincide.
Is the clock on the station a reminder
of timelessness—that this will pass?
Or a reminder of a different kind
of timelessness—that plagues and fascism recur?
It’s not a question
of liking the painting or not.
Desolate, with flat arcades: it isn’t a pretty picture.
As part of a series of paintings of abandoned cities,
eeriness spreads beyond the canvas,
just as emptiness now spreads
from street to street, state to state, country to country.
The sky in Italian Piazza is Veronese green.
(Veronese survived another plague, painting with dazzling colors.)
There’s an acrid tinge to that verdancy, almost
the promise of spring. I try to convince myself
the future will once again hold multitudes,
though it’s hard to see—then hard to believe
the astounding reversal,
that our empty streets are suddenly packed:
protests over a murder, a racist police act,
have spread from street to street, state to state, country to country,
and fill me with both hope for change,
and dread that the virus will rebound.
Between a Rock and a Soft Space
I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.
Vague figures materialize
from cumulus clouds;
but never fully form,
like Michelangelo’s unfinished
statues of slaves.
The muscular clouds writhe:
They cannot break away,
even in airy softness.
Elated, in the clouds,
I think of the artist
who didn’t carve enough
to free all of his figures.
Now his Unfinished Statues
are imprisoned in modernity.
One statue shoulders the rock
he’s partially carved from.
Another, nearly unearthed,
seems too worn to move.
Their faces, if there at all, look effaced.
Chisel marks—hairs—appear on their legs.
Down the hall from them,
smooth David of Goliath proportions
They look older than David,
yet stuck in blocks
that some describe as wombs,
some as tombs.
Flying over the Mediterranean,
the plane passes through a cloud
like a hatchling
nosing through albumin.
I’m not afraid of flying.
I’m scared of being
enslaved to survival.
How many times can I escape?
The clouds will regroup,
abandon the project,
dissipate, turn to rain,
First appeared in Indian River Review and When the Ice Melts
On Terra Firma
In the photo Dad emerges from a hole
in a terra-cotta sculpture on Casa Mila’s rooftop,
reminding me of rebirth. A few years later
Patty also sends me one of the same place; she’s poised
next to abstract terra-cotta “chimneys,” as if beside friends.
Decades pass and it’s my turn—I’m in Barcelona taking in as many
Gaudí buildings as possible: steeping myself in liquid glass
colors and concrete undulations against the geometries of tiles and parquet.
Now it’s time for the sculptured rooftop. Midway up
I can’t take another step: I glimpse the fenced-in edge leading to waves
of clouds against blue sky ~ the unfirm firmament ~ and peer
toward fearless tourists exclaiming, snapping photos.
How absurd, because it’s not that steep, but I can’t stop
the mal de mer in my knees, and my feet refuse to walk me there.
Taken aback: Am I not my father’s daughter?
less adventuresome than Patty?
different from who I thought I was?
Halfway up the stairs—stuck in a dire moment—
I poke my camera through the chain-link fence
Gaudí would have detested and take an unaesthetic photo
of mushroom-like sculptures against a vertiginous sky.
Part of the ugly fence appears in the picture; I’ll keep that snapshot
of a terrible moment with no me in it,
ironically, to make light of that failure.
The next day at Guell Park—slowly wheeling by
deliberately smashed plates Gaudí rearranged in novel patterns,
I feel elevated, walking the terra-firma path past papery
violet and mango bougainvilleas, past fruited trees busy with mice,
then coiled and cobbled pillars, circling uphill while green parrots
chatter from the canopy of plane trees—accompany
a gypsy-fusion band’s controlled frenzy—the woman on electric
violin buzzing the air. Performing on a plateau, midsong,
a long-haired musician rises
from his box-drum—stomps out flamenco.
When the concert ends I wend back to the whimsical mosaics—
broken and beautifully put together—elated
past all traces of self-pity.
Poetry in this post: © Laura Glenn
Published with the permission of Laura Glenn