Jane Schwartz

NOTE ABOUT THE POEMS


I love reading poetry. No form of writing is more distilled and concentrated. When people say they can't read or understand poetry, I sometimes suggest that they pull out each sentence and just read them all in order. (Usually poems are written in sentences, no matter what they look like spread out on the page.) If not sentences, then phrases. Then tackle the poem as it appears, knowing at least something about it. Like meeting a stranger: sometimes you feel an instant bond, sometimes you need a few visits before you decide if you want to become friends. And sometimes you take an immediate dislike to each other. It happens. Move on.

Walking Around the World

POSTCARD WITH A JAPANESE STAMP

The girl behind the counter has never been outside the state of Maine;
this is her home. But her sister married a serviceman and is now living
in Japan.
   Would I like to see a postcard with a Japanese stamp?
I nod and sip my coffee.
The kid across the counter grins.
An old man slaps a coin down on the red formica top and looks at me
Before he leaves. They know I am a stranger here.

5:30 in the morning and all these men drive trucks.
I've watched their trucks spin out the roads like spiders trailing silken threads.
   (The girl brings me the postcard.)
I have been everywhere they have been.
My eyes collect the distances.
I've said goodbye in every language in the world.
You can be sure I won't go mad between the walls of diners off the Interstate.
I won't grow fat amidst the stacks of pale blue plates.
I've taken cues from everything that movesólike this crane
On the Japanese postage stamp: caught
In a long flight, nowhere to land.

* * * * *


TAJ MAHAL
(The Taj Mahal was built as a mausoleum by Shah Jahan in the 17th century to house the remains of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to her fourteenth child in eighteen years.)

Marble luminous as the moon
Was quarried for this poem without words:
This simple arch of breast,
This column gently swollen with desire,
These walls of pure and fine-grained stone
As quiet as a hand enclosing
Nothing.

Breathtaking, immovable grief!

This is a round and almost-perfect stillness.
This is a monumental silence, broken only
By the inlaid flowers, whispering
In jade and coral voices:

In the darkness, in the pulsating heat, in the endless rhythms of birth,
   Did she sweat pearls? they ask.
   Did she bleed garnets?
   Did she fever-dream an onyx death?
   Did she scream for the coolness of white marble between her thighs?


* * * * *


ENGELS' MISTRESS

In the City of Long Chimneys he met you.
Manchester, England: 1843.
Beneath the constant clouds he plucked you from the mill
while he was still a stranger.

                           You were no Penelope,
dreaming at the loom. You were one of the stunted, pale
girls; thick palms and sweat-matted hair.

He was a man with clean fingernails.
He'd given pennies to the poor.
Now he could do more.

                  You were the hinge on the door
he opened. You were the wheel on the cart he rode.
Illiterate Irish factory girl, the city
was the only book you read. He studied
all the passages you marked.

     You stayed together twenty years unwed,
but not, I think, unmindful of the ironies.
Even the wife of the man he supported
snubbed you and refused to shake your hand
because it bore no ring. She wouldn't let you step inside her door.

("I am nothing and I should be everything.")

I'm not requesting miracles.
You know it's not the dying that I mind,
from illness or the things that can't be helped.
It's the long death after: the candle eaten by the flame.

I'm only asking why no one remembers your name, Mary Burns.

* * * * *


TODAY, NOTHING HAPPENED

Today, nothing happened.
No one called me, and I
Called no one.
The dust remained in the corner.
The spider slept in her web between
The window and the screen.
The blossoms bobbed on the rose of Sharon
But did not fall.
The red Echinacea did not die.
The redheaded woodpecker
Did not stop knocking on the white pine.
I did not stop missing you, and you
Did not come back.

Today, so much happened.
No one called me, and I
Called no one.
The dust remained in the corner.
The spider slept in her web between
The window and the screen.
The blossoms bobbed on the rose of Sharon
But did not fall.
The red Echinacea did not die.
The redheaded woodpecker
Did not stop knocking on the white pine.
I did not stop missing you, and you
Did not come back.

Selected Works

Biography; Nonfiction; Sports
The definitive portrait of the greatest filly in Thoroughbred racing, and of the people and politics that shaped her brilliant, tragic career.
Fiction
Set in the rooftop world of the Brooklyn pigeon-flyers, where the beauty and freedom of the skies offers a sharp contrast to the narrowness and violence of the streets, Caught is the story of an unusual friendship that develops between a ten-year-old girl and a grown man.
Reference
A user-friendly (sometimes silly, sometimes snarky) basic grammar review for teenagers and adults.
Poems
Here are a few of the poems that I'm collecting into a book.

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