Recently Robert S. Pawlowski published a wonderful collection of poems called Dreams Are Not in Season. I ran into this book online and then one of our poetry editors, Angela Ball, a former student of Pawlowski’s, gave me a copy. I was struck by how serious, contemplative, evocative, beautifully written, how contained these works were.
They spoke quietly but powerfully about the way we live now, about what it is to live at all, while reminding us at every turn how precious the language is when arranged with masterful grace and intention.
THE PERFECT VILLAGE
.….….……The most beautiful is the
.….….……Object which does not exist.
The perfect village is the one
Your memory arranges; a blue sky
And bright sun come into view,
And being French, a park
By the sea appears, too,
While small barques meander
Local streams near by. But most
Necessary is silence, silence so
Elegant the village streets open,
All lined with pear limbs white,
Forsythia gold, and odors of rose.
When you leave your small hotel,
Lovers remain in their rooms,
Shades drawn; and you see
The streets have emptied, all shops
Closed, display windows blank
Of all but you, leaving you alone
The possibilities of sky and water.
But no need to hurry. Concerts
Are scheduled in the park;
All arrangements made for you;
And you listen until no note
Sounds, and turning, you see
The colors go and beauty grow.
The Polish pianist has finished.
His waltz resolves slowly
To stop. No one changes
The record. The young couple
At the window hold their peace
In green silence, heavily bent
By the late dimming light.
Here is the furthest place away
From Sunday afternoon, from deep
Northern lakes frozen blue,
From the yellow dance floors
Of Warsaw hotels. Here
The tepid coastal air
Throbs the view and daily
Thunder, heat, and rain
Signal amphibian motion,
Everywhere sleekly glinting.
This is creation’s bowl,
This Tampa, Mobile, Galveston
Is quietly, wildly young,
Stranger to chill sleep,
To stiff dying. The full
Rivers mirror local death
Only, one that is oily,
Is flaccid, is no way
National news. Death here
Is languor, a last explorer,
Tired of duty, even bored
By the constant notes rising,
Rising, and the foolish dancing
Away from home in mid-week.
No bright gem or blue shaped sea,
Just fire running under white
Bottoms of slow chugging boats
Shipping people to sea. Nodding,
Nodding, the passengers count
The waves flaring up and down
Each other’s eyes. In this light
They cannot read the black hands
Of clocks, and each hour becomes
Arrival, but they’ve come nowhere,
Have nothing to write home
To curious, anxious friends, relatives.
Now they must make up something
To tell, anything, even mention
The deep bronze ringing bells
Buoyed in the last island harbor
Announcing departure, that illusion
Of sound, falling like ashes, drifting
Down, down into the grand mirror
The late sun makes of the sea
We once knew bright, a gem, blue.
SO FAR NORTH
The loon cries flutter up from the lake
And grip the cold October Minnesota air
High above the lakeside rocks; slowly
The sun bleeds itself completely out
Of the world’s red sky and water, leaving
Everything black but the ring of dock
Lights just going on around the lake,
Each without the bug spume of summer
To sway below it like a wasp’s nest
Or dim Chinese lantern. Here and there
A few men and women lean darkly against
The dock rails in seasonal postures,
Collars up and hands in pockets, until
The cold drives them into their cottages
Huddling behind the shore. Inside
The thick smells of kerosene, summer
Must, fried fish, and raw pine drift
Through the rooms and flicker the memories
Of these men and women clutching sweaters,
Dealing cards, and murmuring to each other
As they consider what to make of their lives
Now that it is fall so far north as this.
UPON A JIG-SAW PUZZLE MADE FROM
A PHOTO OF THE POET JOHN ASHBERY
TAKEN WHILE HE STANDS READING A
This larger YOU can, of course, come apart
If not held carefully or not laid correctly down–
But see! You are a man of parts, distinctly.
Piece by piece lying before us you stand
Constructing a text; or perhaps the once
Fashionable prefix ‘de-’ has sent you searching
For a missing piece; the blue flower, perhaps?
In any case, without question, this not quite
Knowable picture-puzzled you, jig-sawed together
Or apart, text or self, a construct, ultimately
Blank on one side; the other fully colored;
But still, still, Sir, ready to break, to scatter
The all-possible postures the text demands.
What I now see beautiful,
Her slender hand, what of it
Then, at the later time,
When only bone to bone
Remains, linked in white
Memory? Then will be nothing
Left to become, having been,
So how can beauty change
At all? Will lamplight
Tint her porcelain fingers
As she turns the dim pages
Of yesterday’s news? Will
Then her lovely bones recall
A warm persistent light, inky
Dispatches, or the comic figures
Who balloon so earnestly
Their joys and disasters,
The same ones she herself knew
Well enough to hold gently
But firmly in the lonely faith
Of reading words which change
Not, cannot change
The beauty of demise?
THE LONG GEESE
Seeking the meaning of earlier visits
Or simply knowing summer is too cold
And winter too hot, the long geese
Honk north each spring to Canada.
They move evenly to where they go
And the land below remains unchanged:
Kansas, Nebraska, Dakota, Dakota.
It is only middle ground to pass over
And each stroke or stop makes
Goose history while their red eyes
Preoccupy the white they look from.
We always go to the river
Before a storm, hand in hand
To the water. Singly
We enter; and force, warm,
Firm, breaks across our sides
Until covered, submerged,
Underwater, we rest
In motion, flowing without
Earth or sky for bearing,
Only movement, only time.
Later we rise together
To another bank and stand.
No stars, no voices,
Nothing meets us,
Only you near my hand
In violent light, violent sound
In the old world we know.
Château de la Napoule, Cdte d’Azur, 1990
You place the camera carefully on the windowsill,
Facing east across the bay; set auto-exposure-
Focus and lock it. Then each morning,
Six-thirty exactly, you click the shutter
And advance one frame until the roll is full.
Developed, you tack the photos to your wall,
A calendar in its order of being. You study
Each print, the sequence, then the whole: small
Boats anchored; shored castle ruins; cloudy poses,
Their blue disappearances, snow white returns;
Lines of shadow and gleam; and the colors-tin, gold,
Dust, salt, rope, steel, pearl-always in place.
The world has been outside you at this hour
For twenty-four days, has perhaps always been;
And you move the pictures to change their order,
Rearranging until you notice slight new shades
And those days weather changed fully to heavy
Light or dark. As you study further, early morning
Scents rise slowly about you, then settle within you:
Trees, tobacco, spice, fruit, hay, musk. Sky-lit,
These odors bring back the dead family, friends,
Lovers, and ancients you knew in other places;
And hours of pastis, wodka, vin, and marc take you
Nowhere else. You’re stuck here with these ghosts
Now who arrange and rearrange your life as though
Mere memory were entranced in the film’s dawning grain.
So much has become the same, year after year, you despair;
But look! In one photo one gull-not white but dove-gray-
Near a corner of the beach? Like you, has something else
Come here, to you, only once and alone? You study
The photos again; you rearrange them, and study and study.
Robert Pawlowski, a native Minnesotan, lives in Florida with his wife Margaret. Their two sons live and work in Texas and Florida. After military service in Germany, Pawlowski taught in colleges and universities in Minnesota, Colorado, Mississippi, Texas, and Florida. Dreams Are Not In Season, from which this selection is drawn, comprises poems recently written as well as poems selected from Ceremonies for Today, published in Ireland in 1972; The Seven Sacraments, published in the United States in 1982; and Journeys and Burials, published in Canada in 1988.