Geometry and Other Poems
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?
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.
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.
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.
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 alicefriman.com.
"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.
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Poems Copyright © 2006 Alice Friman. All rights reserved.
Photo Copyright © 2006 Robert Kalman. All rights reserved.