Live Encounters Poetry & Writing, Volume One, December 2020.
Sandra Yannone published her debut collection Boats for Women with Salmon Poetry in 2019 and will publish The Glass Studio in 2022. Her poems and reviews have appeared in numerous print and online journals including Ploughshares, Poetry Ireland Review, The Blue Nib, Live Encounters, Prairie Schooner, and Lambda Literary Review. She currently hosts Cultivating Voices LIVE Poetry on Facebook on Sundays. Visit her at www.sandrayannone.com.
Degrees of Isolation in Philipsburg
after Richard Hugo
At the entrance to the Philipsburg Cemetery,
the worn-down signs read All Ground Flowers
and Trinkets must be removed ten days
after Memorial Day and Please
No Dogs Allowed this sun-soaked April
afternoon. More people inhabit the ground here
than downtown where the World’s Greatest
Candy Store has closed until further notice.
Granted, those among the well-groomed
graves are aged, all under chalky grass, some
since early last century, so Richard Hugo knew best
when he wrote in 1973: Isn’t this defeat?
So accurate, the church bell simply seems
a pure announcement: ring
and no one comes? I stare at the lone, shut-in
librarian through the library’s glass-paned door.
The books heave their sighs alongside her.
Everything and nothing now in this world is overdue.
In Philipsburg, the sun keeps breaking
through the intermittent grey. Hugo knew this
because he stood here once writing
all the populated desolation down, but today
there’s few here to notice except the despondent
bar owner keeping his social distance, grumbling
to a patron-turned-friend about the Governor
and his stay-at-home order. The barkeep’s built
a decent business at convincing people
not to drink at home alone — now that’s in jeopardy.
At least Sherry’s Pies is still selling
homemade pastries and biscuits and gravy
for take-out, although no one is biting today.
With nothing open except the big sky above us,
we might as well head back to Missoula, leave Philipsburg
alone, but if I die here in Montana, far, far
from my hometown Atlantic’s blue swells, please
bury me here in Philipsburg with plenty of trinkets.
Tonight we stand ceremonial
on the front porch, give
our addresses to no one
but the January sky turned low
and each other, a crowd of two
gesturing toward a way to move
the future forward, the aging,
glass globe overhead
washing its subdued light
through the roots
of our historied hair. Poised
with that shouldered weight,
I consider asking her
for one dance to turn
this modest concrete slab
into a dizzying ballroom
if for only a moment
of swoon. But this night
concurs it is the speeches
I come for – both orator
and audience. No bunting.
No brass. No tuxedos. No press.
Just the vast, small space
love always occupies
when my feet trip over
the air, a rhetoric
for the ageless.
And she, still shadowed
in that makeshift
spotlight as we look out
across the lawn
and the black velvet
with her fist that luck
has nothing to do
with what we pledge
alone to our country
out here in the middle
of this alternative night,
where now I can’t remember
the stars, if they are here
bearing witness, except I feel
down my neck, mistake
this January chill,
my breath pooling
toward her, as if wanting
to resemble some kind of warmth.
The coyotes begin to heckle
some kind of approval.
And so I’ll remember tonight
like politicians say they mean
on our cavernous tongues,
before one of us
dares to inaugurate
eternity in the ballroom
of the other woman’s mouth.
I possessed two hands that longed once to hold
her let this elusive white space on the page
be the body’s stand in be the irrefutable
place of conclusive vanishing the morning’s
search party follows always the blizzard’s blinding
white out the body frozen under flakes of ice
without swallowing is just another form
of drowning the body flawless as it performs double
time and it’s here in the snow’s shackling
drift that she told me in so few words
so many times where I could find her and so
it’s for reckoning I plead for the restless chance that
the rescuers will break their way through this snow globe
avalanche for the sake of my reckless snow-bound hands.
© Sandra Yannone