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, FIELDLit­er­ary MamaWSQNinth 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.