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 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.



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.



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.



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?



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.