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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing January 2023
Snow, poems by Richard W. Halperin
It feels like it is about to snow.
Snow may be what death is like.
How can I know? It would be nice
if it were so. This afternoon, I have
been reading the poems and letters
of Alexander Pope. Good poems –
his; others’ – come from where
everything comes from in
the first place. Then, the letters.
To his friends, especially. To
Jonathan Swift, after the deaths
of Stella and of Pope’s mother,
most especially. He asked Swift
to live with him. He asked if they
could spend their last years together.
My mother should be in this poem,
and now she is. She read to me,
before I could read, Kipling’s
Just So Stories. An Africa and
an Asia which never existed,
which never could exist. Shortly
thereafter, the stories blew away.
But ‘And now, my best beloved’
never blew away. How could it?
The snow begins to fall. It falls
in thick flakes upon the earth.
The Iron Bridge
Hammersmith. Some poems of mine are finished.
Some poems of mine will never be finished.
We were seated, my young friend and I, on a bench
by a gigantic dull-green late nineteenth century
iron bridge, which spans the Thames at a broad
quiet stretch. He had brought me there, I thought,
because I live in Paris, and nothing like this is
in Paris. Or anywhere, really. Massive fluted pillars
with gilded friezes thereon. Support towers with
pointed turrets of an almost aching delicacy.
Various heraldic shields. As with much which
is Victorian on the grand scale, beautiful and ugly
go straight out the window. The river coursed by,
clean or dirty, it didn’t seem important which.
After a few minutes, he began telling me of
a traumatic event in his childhood which only
recently he had begun speaking of to his wife
and to very few others. He took his time.
Every detail, including aftermaths. I was sorry
I heard it. It hit where any child, or adult, is
most vulnerable. A sort of sad Epithalamion, love
was in it somewhere, attempted by a potato head.
When he had finished, we resumed our walk.
He was more integrated than I was, I suppose.
I have lots of loose ends. I thought of all this today,
years later. Why he could best talk on that bench:
the iron bridge. Clouds and birds above it. Traffic
continuing to go forward on it, as traffic does.
Of Arnold Constable’s and Other Things
For Betty A. Reardon
Mrs Roosevelt had her dresses made
at Arnold Constable department store,
and now there is no more Mrs Roosevelt
or Arnold Constable’s or the New York
I lived in – vanished as in the verisimilitude
of a dream. And this is the reality which art
deals with, although art is seldom on
newspaper front pages which afterwards
people line their birdcages with.
I salute the artists’ dressing room –
there they all are, preparing to give us
their music or their paintings or their
books or their performances.
You know their names, the ones whom
you are grateful for along the way.
You know as well the shared jokes
of your generation, your parents
knew theirs, your children have theirs.
I once taught Milton at Roosevelt House.
It had been given over to Hunter College
that was. Criss-crosses. As with the floral prints
which Mrs Roosevelt used to wear.
Magic Mountain 2
I was sitting on the terrace
of a sanatorium in the cold
high air, reading The Magic Mountain,
other patients playing cards.
Reading and cards and cold high air –
mirrors flashing in a mirror.
Mann was no fool, I thought,
cranks and lovers, lovers
and cranks, everything else
a magic trick – look over there! –
I thought of a lovely serious girl –
Jean Simmons in ‘Sanitorium,’
an episode of the Maugham film Trio –
she well-tailored in plaid silk,
in artificial light, other patients
playing cards, she elsewhere,
walking undistracted into
the uncanny with her lover
for the ten minutes which
comprise forever. Maugham
was no fool, I thought,
bad lungs make one think.
I was sitting on the terrace
of a sanatorium, reading The Magic
Mountain, when the greasy cards
which is all the mind is, slipped,
and I saw you, in high-collared black silk,
walking at a distance, the deep red sun
setting behind the mountains,
as far below a wasp
(one could hear it in that air)
carried the day away and ate it.
It is good to begin my life again,
and with every breath it rebegins.
If one loves much, one is forgiven much –
is there a difference between hope
and imagination? – is there a difference
between love and imagination? –
none of these can be bought
at the butcher’s. Where did Schubert
come from? What he left us,
every second, a new beginning.
Imagination, that word, is not mentioned
in the Bible. Nor in Moby Dick.
Like oxygen, it is taken for granted
that we live by it. Imagination
was not mentioned on my marriage licence.
During my marriage, my life rebegan
every second. I did not know it
then. I know it now.
© Richard W. Halperin
Richard W. Halperin holds Irish-U.S. nationality and lives in Paris. Since 2010, he has published four collections via Salmon Poetry, Cliffs of Moher. The most recent is Catch Me While You Have the Light, 2018. In complement, he has published sixteen shorter collections via Lapwing, Belfast. The most recent is A Ballet for Martha. In 2023, Salmon will bring out a Selected & New Poems, which will include poems from both publishers.