Poems of the Week – Alissa Valles



In the North (Westerbork)

Winter came and went, spreading its iron grain;
the earth the color of ash, trees the color of bone.

In an interval between wars, spring and summer
passed, color advertisements for another country.

At a place where trains departed every Tuesday
a stick probes the exhausted mouth of morning;

the North shaves and washes in its cold mirror,
a wakeful child in a house deserted by the elders.

In icy furrows a thin wind is rubbing its face raw.
On a branch an oriole is punishing its one vowel.



From a plush seat in this restaurant
I see it grinning at me like a dandy,
its smooth surface distracting nicely
from the low direction of its thoughts.

As I am talking blandly to my party
it lies between us, a great authority,
an officer in plain clothes, a loose
prosthesis, toy of a tyrannical child.

It has the cunning of a desperado.
Sister, put a chair against the door.
It has the style and charm of a spy.
Waiter, did you see that man arrive?

Hold it not like a gear shift, or a pen.
Hold it so that it doesn’t cast a shadow.
Before they carry out a steaming lamb
I’ve got a taste of metal in my mouth.


Relics of Cluny

Petrified cross;
a child points:
papa il est laid

indulgences sell;
an image stirs
in a letter’s walls

A white hand grows
in a field of rabbits,
Mantegna’s garden

But no agony here
No, there’s nothing
on sin’s menu for her

the weight of a beast’s
hoof in her lap
gold standard of virtue

The lion has nothing
to do – she holds
the banner herself

Outside French girls
sit under cumulus
clouds of irony

an old Algerian
polishes a pair
of doll’s shoes

an old woman
sits down nearby
asks for a cigarette

she smokes it
holding my hand
fondles the warning

a man in a suit
books a cremation
on a mobile phone

the head waiter
weighs evidence,
sits in judgment


* all poems from Orphan Fire, Four Way Books, 2008.

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