February 2001

Joanna Smith Rakoff


Joanna Smith Rakoff graduated from Columbia University's M.F.A. program. Her poetry has appeared most recently in Inkwell, and is forthcoming in The Gettsyburg Review and Jacket. She lives in New York with her husband, poet Evan Smith Rakoff.
D.H. Lawrence on Staten Island    Click to hear in real audio

It happened too early, that fire, for you,
hater of mornings, of infancies,
of stiff cries in the coffee hour. That's what they
say, isn't it? Visions arrive with coffee,
with huge oozy slices of cherry pie
and brisk American highway
smiles: clean, cool, suburban as a swimming pool.

This was a closed room, though. All that air—no—
oxygen trapped in that hopeful kitchen,
like so many dishes in the sink, fanning the flames,
urging them to dance from stove to sleeve,
from sleeve to skin, broad medallions
sliding down her arms like change from a purse.
A beginner's kitchen, that's what they say, yes,

Homunculus? In a small apartment not so far
from the mythological good side of town,
where a split-level awaits his promotion,
her scarification, the softness of your bones.

You follow psychology, the closed corridors
of your mind, occasional readings in journals,
minutely structured essays. You disallow
a dreaming back; Yeats was a man after all and
overly concerned with his own spirituality—
"At the end he was an automaton.
And what about Maud Gonne?"

What about, Homunculus? Dreams remain—no—
commence in the here and now.
"It's Chinese torture," you say, "these
sessions, discussions with a third party."
Drowning babies, death by fire, leave it
in the dark, the closed room in which medallions
dance and congeal into hard white flesh.

"Good food, hot coffee, alcohol that tastes like candy—
That's what we need." Each day a condominium,
tastefully decorated—one room leading directly
into another, no stairs, no hallways, no Victoriana.

No stifled cries in some perceived eternal evening.



Joanna Smith Rakoff: Poetry
Copyright � 2000 The Cortland Review Issue 15The Cortland Review