Robert S. Pawlowski

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.
.….….….….….……Zbignew Herbert

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.

 

GULF COAST

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.

 

OCEANIC

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.

 

UPONJIG-SAW PUZZLE MADE FROM
PHOTO OF THE POET JOHN ASHBERY
TAKEN WHILE HE STANDS READING A
MANUSCRIPT

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.

 

MARGARET READING

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.

 

RIVER

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.

 

STUDY

        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.