May 1998

Gregory Djanikian


R.T. Smith

R.T. Smith
  Muffy Bolding
  John Kinsella
  Richard Foerster
  A.F. Moritz
  Miriam Levine
  Louis Armand
  David Shevin
  Stellasue Lee
  Adrian C. Louis
  David Sutherland
  Gregory Djanikian
  Paolo M. Bottigelli

J.M. Spalding
  R.T. Smith

William Heath

Douglas Thornsjo

Gregory Djanikian Gregory Djanikian directs the undergraduate creative writing program at University of Pennsylvania, where he also teaches poetry workshops. He is the author of three collections of poetry, The Man in the Middle, Falling Deeply into America, and About Distance, all from Carnegie-Mellon. His new collection, Years Later, will appear with Carnegie-Mellon in 2000.  His work has appeared in Poetry, American Scholar, Antioch Review, and Poet Lore.

Years Later    Read Along with the Author

There's a tree he remembers
in whose branches
are many rooms
hidden by the leaves.

If he finds it, which may be soon,
he might have to call from below
for someone to set down a ladder.

He thinks he knows who lives there,
all his old lovers, even his wife
he hasn't seen for a while,
one happy family.

How long has he been gone?
How far into the desert could he have walked
in his bare feet and without a hat?

Now in the distance he sees
a shimmering of green, he hears
the sound of water in the leaves.

"Sweethearts," he coos,
putting his hand on the trunk.

But the tree is shaking violently.
All around him, small birds
are falling out of it,
singing off key.



Neither Here Nor There    Read Along with the Author

It is where you think you've been heading,
though you're never quite certain
if you've already arrived.

But here you are at the marketplace,
asking directions to the town hall--
you'd like to update your records,
your passport photo, marital status--
though you're not sure what declarations
are required now, and don't you detect
a quiet civility in everyone?

You think you hear the sound of water
though you're not sure
if it's only a memory of it:
were all the fountains dismantled years ago,
or just hours before you came?

And the dust swirling around your shoes,
the newsstands with their empty bins:
how easy to be the stranger
without expectation.

The sun has been at 2 o'clock
all afternoon, the one cloud in the sky
small, inauspicious.

Now in the town square,
a clatter of hammers:
you see the gallows being built,
the noose expertly tied.

And someone in a hood
walking beside you now,
either executioner,
or thief about to be hanged,
leading, or being led.



The Man Who Was Always Sad    Read Along with the Author

After he had ordered
the breakfast sausages
on the first day of his honeymoon,
his wife had excused herself,
inexplicably struck
by how odd and unendurable
her life had become.


His dog with double vision:
it would run to meet him at the gate,
though always it seemed to prefer
his second, illusive self.


hung over him
like a cloud.
And when he spoke,
so many flowers
about to fall
off their stems.


His sadness was an artifact,
people always coming up
and wanting to touch it,
though, once, when he wrote
a compendium of his life,
it put him in too much
good humor.


At the piano bar:
all the diminished chords
sliding to his side of the table,
all the peanut shells
collecting around his shoes.

When he smiled, everyone
knew the machinery involved,
so many ropes to adjust,
so many gears and pulleys.

Once, on the third day of a fast,
he began seeing visions,
wolves lapping at the throat
of an angel, a woman in flames
calling to him from a lake,
and not even the desire
to be the throat, to be the flame.


How many words had the grass
taught him as a child
which he had forgotten!


The wind kept
rattling the door
of his house,
but he was startled
only by the sound
of another door
closing quietly
somewhere else.



Fable    Read Along with the Author

A man was singing from a scaffolding,
How can I begin to bear her love?

The traffic below was slowing down
women were smiling, thinking of themselves
in the song, all the men were trying
to come up with a song of their own.

The police were putting up cordons,
fire brigades were hooking up their ladders.

When she longs for me
I feel a migration in my blood,
he was singing, his hands on his heart.

Such a magnetic disturbance
on all the radar screens, helicopters
circling above him, skywriters
advertising Eau d'Amour.

Then the explosion of applause
when he had finished, some people yelling More!
and others writing down all the words.

By the time he had climbed down,
people had been singing the song
through the streets, pleased
to hear their own voices.

Already, tourists had begun converging
on the city in large groups, each one
with a dictionary and the latest maps.

Later, no one knew where the song had come from.
Some said the sky, others remembered a book.



Waiting for Her Again    Read Along with the Author

She has been late so many times
the word by itself
has lost its meaning,
the undertone of accusation
you have always counted on.

When you say she is late
you might as well say
"She is of medium height,"
that lack of resonance.

Now you are standing on a corner
looking at your watch and thinking
of gradations of lateness,
very late, incalculably late,
which, far from giving you a sense
of sanctimony, are making you nervous.

She clicks toward you then
in her red shoes,
red, you think, the color
of blood, of choler.

All right, you say, tell me of the upheavals,
the circus wagons upended, the lemurs
overruning your house, maybe all the buttons
of your skirts snipped off.

"I must be late," she says,
without shame or sense of history.

If there were pigs on a leash
grunting across the street, or a man
in a carrot suit singing "O My Papa,"
you could point to them, you could say,
"That's just what it is, madness, madness!"

But there's nothing really
except her smile taking you easily in
and her hand brushing back her hair
as if to say "C'mon," and steering you again
toward that emporium of wishes
just beyond every next corner,

where you'll be late in arriving
as often as you wish.



Gregory Djanikian: Poetry
Copyright 1999 The Cortland Review Issue ThreeThe Cortland Review