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Sample Poems by Nancy Esposito

Chemical Examination

--Primo Levi (1919-1987)

We have left the landing, have closed
our doors; sit behind them
like betrayed lovers, counting
out what we misinterpreted, mis-
translated, what we failed to love,
how we loved without letting go.

January First

And I woke up and got up
into a day I recognized and a year
I didn't, the snow on the houses,
on the Fells I passed until I came
to the ice-white page of quarry
through the pencil woods to the ocean
writing itself in longhand, erasing,
tracing in the rock the month and day
of my birth, the brief and annual neology
of so ancient a scribe.

At the cliff edge I
gazed down upon wintered eiders
breaking the surface, their slurred moans
not breathing a word of what lay beneath.

--after Octavio Paz

A Student of Physics

Last night I looked in the mirror, saw
scaffolding crawling skyward from
the cobble of old Rome, each
sagging structure repentant
of the allure below, saw Newton's law
reconstructing the human face.

Vertigo, according to Kundera, is compelled
by desire to rather than fear of
plummeting toward emptiness, which
Floyd Collins must have intuited
on that crystalline Kentucky morning,
January 1925, when his longing
for unspoiled mineral light poured itself
down a shaft toward the illusion of cave.
By a mistake of judgment and rock (the comic shape of leg
of lamb), he jammed his foot. After backhoes and
hoists and sandwiches and bets and day after day,
they got to him, late, a stalagmite
of skeleton jutting toward light.

From the Namib Desert where nothing hides
and the heat licks white the bones
of stragglers, you write that your love
tiene mierda, egoismo, tacos, tripas, y mala hostia,
ranged against the arid sky as though it were
Vermont, the aurora borealis over my head,
the solid shape of color before
it is attracted toward me in free fall.

This language will not do for dizziness,
nose dive, or the probability formula for randomness,
synonym to all our passions. Love, for instance, isn't
a transitive verb but the relative antecedent
into which I fall, were I compelled to, freely
as into the bioluminescence of pirodinium bahamense
flicking on and off in the Caribbean dark.


Sentimental, you'll say, and you'll say,
throw it away. And I'm sure I will in a change of heart
when I'm believing that what is is what is
useful, a mobile phone at an outdoor table
of a Mexican restaurant in Dallas, the weather channel.

Soon, no doubt, I'll think of my life as Chartres, the way
troughs of water tossed through the aisles purified
the aftermath of pilgrimage. But indulge me
in this false god, my Baal. After all, we never
come at the world head on, unmediated.

Fill it two-thirds, hold the lid, he'd said, press
the button for . . . three decades later
I can't recall the seconds to the perfect grind, only
that I'd counted aloud. When I stopped,
he'd died, the two events crushed together
as though on a time line drawn
and colored in by an artless child.

If it is the case that memory turns granular,
sequence burst into crystals as the mind's
gravity recedes, that several years of daily cups
of cappuccino in the Peacock Caffe have blended
into a single lesson in grinding coffee in an illegal loft
on W. 18th St., that I often wake near dawn surfeited
by ancient, cracked idolatries or, if I let myself
off, by the guilt the old bequeath to the young, the I
to the myself--either these or a pleasant aphasia,
which is its own kind of dying--let a broken
coffee grinder fix me to this earth.


A letter from Angola, antsy and irascible, fear exhausted
into boredom awful as the dust. Nothing I don't expect:
automobiles on bone wheels bumping over pocked roads
littered with bodies. Bodies stepping over bodies. Bodies alive
but illiterate, listless. Muscle for the land. But the land gone
over to desert death, even bone powdered into sand
immensity. Nothing that doesn't die here, it
goes on, showers, lights, telephones, airplanes.
The food plagued, flies frozen to oranges in clouds
of refrigerated air. Imagination resists
the architecture of such palatial ruin.

All that comes to mind is the raccoon, the one,
I'm positive, who ate half-moons into the tomatoes
the summer before. On the April day
I'm talking about I saw her first from above,
a distance not distant enough to make her movements
the slow motion they were. I slipped
into her territory, the sun icing her back
as she stutter-stepped once, twice, again, again
over the concrete guard in the condominium parking lot.
She hadn't caught my scent or she had perhaps
but ceded ground to my inconsequence. Her mineral claws,
her muscle turned on the enemy overtaking her. She tossed
her belly and tail across the guard and into the shadow
of tires. The rabid palsy battled across the starched fur
shimmering like a pyrite vein. Once in all this
she lifted her outlaw face toward mine.

I'll call it compassion, my haste to phone, though I'd bet
it's the knee jerk to a chaos always threatening
purchase. When the Rescue woman came to collar and cage
her, destroy her, my uselessness knotted me, I recall,
into abstractions. I returned to the house, saying
horrible and horrible and beautiful and beautiful,
the chant of the soul in the utter animal in me.