Geometry and Other Poems

Alice Friman




Mono-buttocked in a girdle,

& brassiered into cones—their satin

sister act pointy under wraps—we were

more than Euclidian globes & conicals

or the buzzy triangle we struggled

not to think about.  If we were

two-faced & all angles toward

matrimony as we were accused,

let me assure you, we were obtuse.

To us, men were problems to be

solved & corrected not the answers

at the back of the book.

                                       And how we

loved our books, clutched them

to our cardigans: Keats, Tolstoy,

Thomas Wolfe, Dostoevsky, anyone

with compass or T-square enough

to take the full measure of what

we were: Faust, not Gretchen.  Socrates

defining wisdom in the marketplace

not Xanthippe at home pounding out

the phyllo for the baklava.  We were told

The Trojan Women was man, his suffering,

& we swallowed it, for didn’t we, too,

switch genders for sense & sanity,

laying claim to Ahab’s search for truth

in a book of seas, or the phantom itself

hurtling beyond definition?

                      Of those

who held up the mirror showing us

a jumble of geometry, laying us out

in garish polygons & tortured trapezoids—

we argued the merits of modern art,

turned away & paid the price.

                                                 We wore

our hair-shirts starched & suffered

our virtue gladly.  In short, we were afraid.

In love with love, we strained

at the forbidden line.  If coerced,

cajoled, or back-seat outmaneuvered,

the next day brought roses, brought Sorry,

it won’t happen again.

                                      Was it to our credit,

agreeing to believe the unbelievable?

Were we right to take the high road,

to play the game we couldn’t win?

The satin was cut & measured before

we filled our cups, & the only formula

to solve for was the axiom behind the veil:

complement, make the incongruous,

congruous.  The threatening acute, right. 



Silent Movie

             Bernheim Forest


One afternoon of rain and suddenly

creeks rise, babbling in the forest—

back-up singers for the silence.

A missed cue.  It’s November now,

the trees, bare.  A light piano of chirp

and scurry is more than enough.  Trees

make eloquent speech just by how

they stand or lean in graceful habit.

Or in the case of the sycamore, gleam

like polished marble in the sun.


The towering beech, the naked poplar

speak the language of lips and the moss

that covers them.  If the trees sleep now

in this storage locker of the cold,

if they seem aloof and alien strange,

it doesn’t mean that beneath the bark,

or underground where roots tangle

and hold, they’ve forgotten their promise

of smolder and juice.  Look at them.

Valentino looked like that—waiting, still.



The Rope

     from Picasso’s Boy Leading a Horse

                         The William S. Paley Collection


A naked boy

leads a blue horse

across a desert.

The horse, wild.

The curve of her neck

proclaims it.  The boy,

the cork color of the sand,

the horse, a chiaroscuro

of the sky.  Each figure

locked in the outline

that summoned it

out of the surrounding



The boy faces front

gentling the horse

on a rope that isn’t there.

It used to be there.  The horse  

feels it around her neck.                                   

The boy holds the other end                             

in his hand.  He does not pull.                           

He loves this filly.  She has                               

a girl’s eyes.  Her forelock,

her mane, a wash of blue

rising—a dawn color

untouched from the first

pure swath.  The boy

has big feet, solid feet.

He knows where he’s going.

The horse prances, back hooves

nothing but a blur of joy.

They have been together

a long time, coming

for a long time.  When

they find you, they will walk

through the walls of your house

and change everything.  You too

may be sacrificed.


Alice Friman is the author of seven collections of poetry, most recently Zoo (Arkansas, 1999), winner of the Ezra Pound Poetry Award from Truman State University and the Sheila Margaret Motton Prize from the New England Poetry Club, and Inverted Fire (BkMk, 1997, rpt. 1998).  An eighth book, The Book of the Rotten Daughter, is forthcoming from BkMk Press in 2006.  Her poems appear in Poetry, The Georgia Review, Boulevard, The Southern Review, The Gettysburg Review, and Shenandoah, which awarded Ms. Friman the 2002 James Boatwright III Prize for Poetry.  She has received fellowships from the Indiana Arts Commission and the Arts Council of Indianapolis and has been awarded residencies at many colonies including MacDowell and Yaddo. She was named Writer in Residence at Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest in 2003-04.    She has won three prizes from Poetry Society of America and in 2001-02 was named to the Georgia Poetry Circuit.  Professor Emerita at the University of Indianapolis, Ms. Friman now lives in Milledgeville, Georgia, where she is Instructor of Creative Writing and Poetry, and poetry editor of Arts & Letters.  You can find out more about her at



    "Geometry" was originally published in New Letters.
    "Silent Movie" was originally published in The Georgia Review.

    "The Rope" was originally published in Shenandoah.


Photo by Robert Kalman.


Previous  Home  Table of Contents  Next


Poems Copyright © 2006 Alice Friman. All rights reserved.

Photo Copyright © 2006 Robert Kalman. All rights reserved.