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Poetry

Spring Letter

By Carl Dennis

With the warmer days the shops on Elmwood

Stay open later, still busy long after sundown.

It looks like the neighborhood's coming back.

Gone are the boarded storefronts that you interpreted,

When you lived here, as an emblem of your private recession,

Your ship of state becalmed in the doldrums,
Your guiding stars obscured by fog. Now the cut-rate drugstore
Where you stocked your arsenal against migraine
Is an Asian emporium. Aisles of onyx, silk, and brass,
Of reed baskets so carefully woven and so inexpensive
Every house could have one, one work of art,
Though doubtless you'd refuse, brooding instead
On the weavers, their low wages and long hours,
The fruit of their labor stolen by middlemen.
Tomorrow I too may worry like that, but for now
I'm focusing on a mood of calm, a spirit of acceptance,
Loyal to my plan to keep my moods distinct
And do each justice, one by one.
The people in line for ice cream at the Sweet Tooth
Could be my aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews.
What ritual is more ancient or more peaceable?
Here are the old ones rewarding themselves
For making it to old age. Here are the children
Stunned into silence by the ten-foot list of flavors
From Mud Pie to Milky Way, a cosmic plenty.
And those neither young nor old, should they be loyal
To their favorite flavor or risk a new one?
It's a balmy night in western New York, in May,
Under the lights of Elmwood, which are too bright
For the stars to be visible as they pour down on my head
Their endless starry virtues. Nothing confines me.
Why you felt our town closing in, why here
You could never become whoever you wished to be,
Isn't easy to understand, but I'm trying.
Tomorrow I may ask myself again if my staying
Is a sign of greater enlightenment or smaller ambition.
But this evening, pausing by the window of Elmwood Liquors,
I want to applaud the prize-winning upstate Vouvray,
The equal of its kind in Europe, the sign says.
No time for a glass on your search
As you steer under stars too far to be friendly
Toward the island where True Beauty, the Princess,
Languishes as a prisoner. I can see you at the tiller
Squinting through spume, hoping your charts are accurate,
Hoping she can guess you're on your way.

Copyright 2004 by Carl Dennis.

CARL DENNIS, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and UB Distinguished professor emeritus, will read from his work at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Center for Inquiry, 1310 Sweet Home Road in Amherst. This poem is from his "New and Selected Poems, 1974-2004" (Penguin Books) and is reprinted with the permission of Penguin.

***

Aristoteli

By Perry S. Nicholas

When Ari lost his mind that summer
on the southernmost point of Crete,
I think I lost mine too, buried it
in that tiny village to keep him company.

Preserved in raki, Greek moonshine,
while the meltemi winds spun across the Mediterranean
down towards northern Africa, we believed
we could walk on water, but we were young.
And we were wrong.

That last day we argued about something silly,
backgammon or his watery rice pudding,
I can't quite remember. Earlier he patiently
taught me how to move, make my favorite dessert
from scratch, tender lessons lost on youth.

Then the sea swallowed Ari that summer night
on the southernmost point of our world.
I had no idea how I would ever finish the game,
savor another bowl of sweet rizogalo, or how
the winds could even consider spinning after that.

PERRY S. NICHOLAS will read from his work at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Center for Inquiry, 1310 Sweet Home Road in Amherst. He is an award-winning professor of English at Erie Community College-North and the author of two chapbooks of poems: "Stars That Cover You" and "Rooms of the Atrium."

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