May 2000

Terri Witek


Terri Witek Terri Witek has published poems in Poetry, The Antioch Review, The New Republic, The Threepenny Review, and other journals. She has also published a book about the way Robert Lowell revised poems: Robert Lowell and Life Studies: Revising the Self (University of Missouri Press, 1993). She teaches at Stetson University where she heads the Tim Sullivan Endowment for Writing Program. 

Guest Room with Snow Dome     Click to hear in real audio

Anything but a good night's sleep
is what you get when you live in a snow dome
like this Jesus and Mary. Teamed divers who keep
tallying their air and the distance from home,
they pray for dim days and a sudden tsunami
to heave their sphere with its heavenly people
back where it came from. When you're so becalmed,
anything but a good night's sleep
seems like diversion. So they lever matched hearts: these leap
from their chests tipped with little jeweled crowns
and beat, or try to. A breathless idea re-shaped
is what you get when you live in a snow dome,
so if love has the lungs for an airtight room
it must be here, where the inhabitants appear both steeped
and stable. Yet any twosome can come undone
like this Jesus and Mary. Teamed divers who keep
an eye cocked for beasts, they try not to weep—
the other might panic—and finger their gemstone
hearts as if these are the gauges that keep them breathing,
tallying their air and the distance from home.
They don't expect to get there, really. They're alone,
wedged into a room that offers itself as complete
and useless, though cool as a fallen moon
in our palms. We'll tip it twice, sweep
all to sleep. Go home. Good night.



Eustace and the Stag     Click to hear in real audio

     "St. Eustace"
     Albrecht Durer c.1500-01
            for Mark Jarman

A man drives out to get ice cream, giving in to his dog,
who fills the Chevy's backseat. Flat roads, balmy air—
they could be going anywhere so he goes too,
the thrumming engine slides into the muscles
of a horse as his dog lopes ahead, still without barking,
and the road steepens. The air is like clabber, the edge
of everything deepens. He rides away from Trajan's troops,
which he's led for a decade, from his wife and tall children,
from his name, Placidus of Rome, which suggests a temper
he's unsure he possesses. Ahead, the saplings fold
into smooth skeins of surface. He loves how his hat,
the brim rolled and pulled low, cleaves to his forehead,
how it tilts whole groves of trees first darker then lighter.
His horse breathes with the climb. Where the distance
narrows and curls, his dog splinters into a litter
of dun-colored whippets and he too feels a shifting
inside of his skin—it must be thinking that does this
(he thinks) and then the path frees a stag, the hunt
is a hunt, the dogs glide howlessly forward
into brambly underbrush as each cantering step
interlaces with trees. We'll run forever, he thinks,
and with this the scene darkens. Are the reins snarled
in a cloud? For here everything stops: the trees
have veered into clearing, his dogs are already reclined
there and resting—they offer a trinity of calm
expressions: right profile, left profile, long-snouted frontal.
He dismounts. Bold as if he'd been bronzed,
the horse eyes him directly: "Who are you, Placidus?"
Or it's the stag who finally speaks; he's posed
in a stand of thin saplings, a crucifix rises
between his ears like a more rigorous antler
as Placidus steps into Saint Eustace and kneels,
martyrdom shaping the distance like a windowless castle.
The stag murmurs on—or perhaps it's the little man
on the cross who declaims with a flea-sized mouth.
Persuasion falls like a freshet. At last the saint
returns to his life, flexing change within him
like a bent souvenir. At home, just beyond
the porch light's arc, fledglings warm the trees
in indistinct bundles. The breedless dog races first
up the steps. Where the man sways at the edge
of dark air, the hour folds itself into a sweetness
he follows lightly into a thought of his wife
already curled in a city-state of sheets, her mouth
extravagant with remonstrance, with welcome.




Terri Witek: Poetry
Copyright � 2000 The Cortland Review Issue 11The Cortland Review