Two Poems

Poetry / B. K. Fischer

:: Inside of an Hour (A Lost Lady) ::

Who knew her own not-youth would become 
a strange and palpable character in the room,

eager as a twist of meadow-grass, or as his lips 
compressed, frowning into the fire—flange,

hatchet, ravine, sleigh—the words that formed
the scaffold of their seductions, discernments,

decay. Her pale triangular cheeks, her many-
colored laugh—it pierced the thickest hide. He

had the look of a man who could bite an iron rod 
in two with the snap of his jaws. Those women, 

whose beauty meant more than it said, was their 
brilliancy fed by something coarse and concealed?

When women began to talk about still feeling 
young, didn’t it mean something had broken?

That’s a man’s question, but she has asked it.
Spring-loaded, a hidden treachery, a trap.

:: Inside of an Hour (Death Comes for the Archbishop) ::

Who knew he’d sleep so soundly on a night like 
this, the landscape strewn with broken tongues 

and singletrees, smashed wheels and splintered 
axles—trifling matters, teasings. Fray. Fray.

Hanging in the portal, over the dry expanse
of sagebrush, mind-forged, a talismanic figure

of his versatile intelligence, a harness, a sign
not of a solitude of atrophy, of negation, 

but of perpetual flowering in the middle of 
his consciousness; none of his former states 

of mind were lost or outgrown. They were all 
within reach of his hand, all comprehensible.


From the writer

:: Account ::

Willa Cather is an unlikely substrate for a poetic Rorschach, but her sinuous prose shows me shapes of fear and intimacy every time. I love the lesser Cather, the not-My-Ántonia, novels which draw me into an immanent metaphysics that might be the only American vision of total comprehension and spirit I am willing to embrace (maybe also Marilynne Robinson’s). If my own death comes with enough warning that I have a chance to pick up a book beforehand, I might open Willa Cather.

When I was a student I had a gig writing study guides, “CliffsNotes” style, and one summer I was asked to write plot summaries and annotated bibliographies for five Cather novels, in a month, for a thousand bucks. I was game. I am, like Elizabeth Bishop’s seal, a believer in total immersion. One effect of that immersion, twenty years on, is that I have fossil bits of Cather all over the place in the sedimentary layers of my thinking. These two poems stir the sediment, gather and rinse off some of those bits, and reconnect them in my own syntax to delineate something like narratives with smudged contours.

Collaging Cather’s language reveals—maybe collaging any quoted material reveals—what my subconscious had for breakfast. A collage is not a lyric, but our habits of lyric reading catch the fragments in a disturbance, like a dusty vortex that catches leaves at the curb. Western wind, you keep blowing those leaves around. Putting together these Cather poems felt like something almost devotional, the great-great-grand-niece of the Puritan practice of divination (or christening) by opening the Bible at random and putting one’s finger down on a spot—accepting the significance of the random as given, as gift. I accepted the result of this experiment in the form of a few short poems of intimate disappointment and regret, crossroads in the big space that Cather’s eye for beauty infuses with ache.


B.K. Fischer is the author of two poetry collections, St. Rage’s Vault and Mutiny Gallery, and a critical study, Museum Mediations: Reframing Ekphrasis in Contemporary American Poetry. Her poems have appeared in The Paris Review, FIELD, Literary MamaWSQ, Ninth Letter, and elsewhereA finalist for the 2014 Balakian Citation from the National Books Critics Circle, she teaches at Columbia University and is a poetry editor at Boston Review.