Poems by Angela Patten
Angela Patten is author of three poetry collections, In Praise of Usefulness (Wind Ridge Books), Reliquaries and Still Listening, both from Salmon Poetry, Ireland, and a prose memoir, High Tea at a Low Table: Stories From An Irish Childhood (Wind Ridge Books). Her work has appeared in literary journals and anthologies, including Poetry Ireland Review, Nimrod International Journal, Crosswinds Poetry Journal, Green Mountains Review, and Birchsong: Poetry Centered in Vermont. In 2016 she received a National Poetry Prize from the Cape Cod Cultural Center for a single poem. She has presented readings at home and abroad, including The Limerick Writers’ Centre, Dingle Bookshop, County Kerry, Word Portland, Maine, The Frost Place, New Hampshire, and at various locations around Vermont. Born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, Angela now lives in Burlington, Vermont. She is a Senior Lecturer in the University of Vermont English Department.
A warm breeze blows through the willows,
rings the wind-chime by the screen door.
I raise my head to see an emerald hummingbird
stop at the coral bells in the herb garden,
then take a turn at the purple heliotrope
like a French perfumer fashioning a fragrance.
Chipmunk comes to nibble sunflower seeds,
pale paws resting on my outstretched fingers.
Bees hang on the whirling butterfly bush,
bending the flowers with their body weight.
A swallowtail settles on a feathery dill stalk
with the dignified etiquette of a courtesan
trained in the arts of music and calligraphy
to orchestrate a leisurely mutual seduction.
“Many young mothers suffer from post-mortem depression.”
Excerpt from a student essay
And you thought death
would be the end of it.
But there is no end
to motherhood and all
its attendant trespasses.
A state you arrive at like
a novice entering the convent,
all pure intention,
At twenty, you never think
about bequeathing sadness
It’s all about perfect teeth,
clear eyes, intelligence.
Adelle Davis and her Nazi
for breeding the Super Race.
For a long time, years perhaps,
you are the breast, perfect
center of the universe,
the home planet.
Then things change. One Sunday
the father dusts off his baseball glove
and it’s all over for you,
girl who can’t catch a ball
to save your life.
What good is it, this constant tweeting,
bleating, weeping in the languages of others
as if it longed to be a different kind of bird?
Perhaps a yellow-bellied sapsucker
whose drumming sounds like stuttering cadence
of a wartime message in Morse Code?
Or a goldfinch warbling in his courting colors?
Or any one of those pitch-perfect passerines,
so self-possessed, so poised at public speaking?
I don’t fit in, the catbird seems to cry.
This series of impressions, this stand-up comedy routine,
these whistles, squeaks and gurgles are not
a territorial device. Neither are they mockery.
A secret: I have never been contented in this costume,
never liked my given song. Hidden in the bushes,
I listen to your myriad inflections, riffs and jingles
like an operatic understudy rehearsing in the wings,
waiting for my cue to join the choir.
Springtime at Starbucks
In the midafternoon gloom
a clatter of girls busy
ignoring each other, thumbs
like butterfly wings fluttering
over the faces of their phones.
Nearby a man sits spellbound
by the eerie radiance
of his laptop screen, fingers
flying over the keyboard,
faint faraway smile curling his lip.
Across the street the trees
are glorious as geishas.
They shake out showers of blossoms
like bridesmaids tipsy after
too many champagne toasts.
I am remembering a night in the Bowery
when we turned a corner and there
was lamplight and merengue music
pouring from the open door of a café,
women in red dresses laughing
and dancing on the sidewalk.
The light was golden,
the women’s dresses were fire,
the music thick as syrup,
and we were dazzled by
the beauty of the unexpected.
We might have missed that moment
had we listened to our friends
who warned us not to walk at night,
two gullible white women
alone together. Call a cab,
keep your heads down, don’t
talk to dark-eyed strangers.
Back at Starbucks the trees
are flirting madly with passersby.
Dance with us, they say,
we’re dressed to the nines.
Help us out, we’re dying up here.
© Angela Patten