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Charlotte Mandel


Charlotte Mandel is the author of six books of poetry, the most recent, a collection, SIGHT LINES. She has published two poem-novellas which re-vision biblical women--THE LIFE OF MARY (foreword by Sandra M. Gilbert) and THE MARRIAGES OF JACOB. Other titles are KEEPING HIM ALIVE, a father-daughter sequence; DOLL, a long poem; and A DISC OF CLEAR WATER. She coordinated the Eileen W. Barnes Award, a nationwide contest to publish first books by women over 40, and edited the anthology, SATURDAY’S WOMEN, co-edited by Maxine Silverman and Rachel Hadas. She has received two fellowships in poetry from New Jersey State Council on the Arts and was named Open Voices Winner by The Writer’s Voice in New York City. She has been a Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation Fellow at Yaddo, and received the Woman of Achievement in the Arts Award from New Jersey Business and Professional Women. She has also published short fiction and literary essays. A project grant from the Alumni Association of Montclair State University supported her research on the role of cinema in the life and work of poet H. D. (Hilda Doolittle). She currently teaches poetry writing at Barnard College Center for Research on Women.

[Sample poems are from SIGHT LINES (MidMarch Arts Press, 300 Riverside Dr. New York City 10025)--except where indicated.
Copyright © Charlotte Mandel, 1981-1999.]


The kitchen's electric clock mimes the rasp of
breadknife honed on an oval stone rod.
This was my mother's stone,
black rubbing to gray, worn
like cheekbones on an elongated blind
face through all the working
years of her life.
Women are always working their hands--
the knitting lacing hands probing
like freshets of water for place
carving handholds for energy, motion
sounding the birth of faces. Women have always
flowed upon stone,
persistences of their bodies like knives
made of water carving as they
are sharpened, oblique blades
cutting the twelve striations of wheel
into channels
that rock may breathe
sun coming alive
chips of light
skipping water
surface to surface
skinning the earth

--for Oklahoma City, April 19, 1995

Soot swirls across the cities. At half mast,
limp stripes stroke the poles, stars blink smoke-dried tears
for Baylie, her doll-limbs of bloodied silk
spilling drops like a breast too full of milk.
Mouth on the insuck of a scream, her bier
grimed rescuer’s arm, her dirge deafening blast.
Spring. The maple like a cheer leader shakes
clusters of yellow papery fringe, fresh
beginnings of pods--light propeller wings
children pinch onto noses, march and sing,
chins tilted. Squirrels go drunk on green flesh,
juice-filled kernels. Lawns quiver under rakes.

Street chase: tricycles firing pistol caps.
On screen: Roll call Flowers Teddy bears Taps.



Combing the alley, I hunched
my shoulders and crimped my mouth,
took small steps too slow
for streetside dealings
in baseball cards and cellophane bags
of marbles. Winners riffled
stacks of phototickets or knuckled
glass immies fast as bullets

but I was a collector of tinfoil, one
in a straggle of loners, hunter-gatherers
picking empty packs of cigarettes and gum.
Our goal to peel the metal liner intact,
spread the leaf
easy as a tongue over a globe of ice cream
upon the enlarging nugget, a labor
of weeks and months
for the diameter
of an eye.

Utmost size was infinity--a word
I'd been taught to mean
there was no end ever
to more. The ball existed, matter
of nothing but itself, an integrity.

Inside ourselves were uncontrollable
organs lined with waving cilia,
shapes like swollen squids were
crushing our food, permeating
our skins with indelible scent.

The war came sniffing.
Somewhere within the long guns,
my crinkled tin leaf
could spring a thousand triggers,
flare red rocket barrage in the dawn's
early light. Swift
uniformed children set to the gleaning
of wrappers fallen in the streets.

Before my uncles sailed or flew across oceans,
they patted me on the shoulder,
saved for me

empty packs fragrant
with bits of tobacco.
It was for their sake, they said,
I hunted camels luckies old golds.
The ball given form by the fingers
and palms of my hands
batted itself off to ring the war's end
as the whistling world

shattered indivisibles.
Brand new particles
sifted through the sieves
of our skins,
buffing the old parts of bodies aglow,
live metallic air
collecting the luster at will.

[In SIGHT LINES, first appeared RIVER STYX]


It's five minutes to twelve and the sun
glares in our faces--quite a phenomenon,
he says, to see the windows full of light
and everyone going about--at midnight!
The clock plays second fiddle to his brain.
An hour's nap and he begins the day again,
washes, changes his shirt, and expects
his breakfast on the table. He respects
my worn explaining as a kind of busy
work, shrugs with courtesy. He is dizzy
with the earth's rotation spinning away
twenty-four to the dozen, each brief new day
a clone to the last. Like a match burning
meridians, he strikes his shadow's turn.



Given clear horizon, the erratic
lenses of my eyes follow a slow blue
crescent of darkness ascending. Steepness
of the meadow slope dissolves in earth's
shadow -- tonight rotates into view.

Edges lose power. Cataracts shatter
the naked geometry of the moon
into brushstrokes of luminous scribble.
Sure of my field as any blade of grass,
I take no care. Breathing is sight re-tuned:

September odors of earth after rain
reveal roots alive with tilling motion.
It is not the bird I see, talons fast
within a weave of scrub twigs, but its dart
into flight--scrim of leaf in commotion,

skin's prickle--as though a night spider's first
thread has been cast as far as it may go.
I lift my face to tracking calls of crows,
to keys of black wings releasing tumblers
beyond our web of sky. Not a wing stumbles.


--To A. S.

"Paris is gr-ray!" the consonant growls
from your throat. Across Virginia meadow
you stride into feral explosions of color --
watercolor brush on blue-lined
stenographer pad recording secrets
that summer's toiling green overwashed--
color that crackles, no longer to be sipped.
Root, core and branch done with growing at last.

Your notebook fills ...reds... yellows... mauves
Sunlight ignites, sifts through
the two of us. Nimbly over the dawn your plane
will carry this spark of our meeting.
And parting, you tear out a page -- fragrance
in a square of paint -- breeze
in the tatter of a spiral bound edge --

The forest blazes on my desk... consoling
as the trills of wild birds who call
time and place to one another
and do not know that a listener
born singing out of tune
finds harmony a cappella
line by page.

[Sample poems are from SIGHT LINES except where indicated.

Copyright © Charlotte Mandel, 1981-1999.]

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