Word Poetry




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Sample Poems by Rhoda Janzen

Inhabited D

Leaf from a twelfth-century sacramentary. The inhabited initial, which contains an illustrative scene or figure, was derived from the Byzantine interest in narrative.
--The J. Paul Getty Museum

Like a decorous swimmer you test
the world outside your D. Is language
then so easy to bear? Your D shells

your narrow shoulders, poised for retreat
in case the sentence into which you
have maneuvered is tiresome or dangerous.

How do you design your view, with its illuminare
so deucedly gold? That tendril of filigree
tickling your hat? A sacramentary denizen,

devotee of diffidence, must commence some praise
of Christ, your neighbor in the word. Or is
your interior too fretted with script,

damask drapes, damson drawing room?
You men of letters remind me it's time
to pay my calls, to entertain, to correspond

devoutly with those whose residence you recall.
Careful, piccolino: the nobleman with heavy
plume and shadowed chin would love to invite

you out, himself in. Then where you would be--
homeless? Damnified, or keeping house
with Lord of Arguments, who seeks, I hear,

a D for personal definition? What is
your mission, if you must depart? At least
lock up. Your domestic D is half a world

of comfort and could attract difficulty.
Perhaps you venture out simply to return
to depth as some in recent centuries

shore pages in foam, the waves' declension
dreams, dreaming, dreamt, where no traveler
speaks our salt. Desiccate, unlettered land.

Why I'm Right for the Job

Folding underwear in symmetrical
squares of three, blackblackblack,
thongthongthong, strikes a heartnote
of ease. From early childhood I trained
in pews that I'd lemon oiled the day

before. I stiffened Sunday mornings,
with my washboard spine (hands folding
silence into sunshine while the sermon
looped like a cumbersome bee.) I
rearranged nothing, drew no squiggles

on no bulletin, did not accost the tiny
cups for grape juice. Face like a hush,
interior licked by flame, I remained, yet
was consumed, a burning bush. Consider
as well my fashion years. The braided

chutes of youth had come undone, huge,
accidentally spectacular: pure cold flume
that took me to the banquet of the world.
Still my greatest pleasure was holding
still for photographers. Rotate your chin

ten degrees to the left, do not move, do
not move, hold it, freeze it, hold that
mouth. Oh, prayer!--I can pray without
moving a muscle. I can stare any god
right out of the room. Budge me, and I

will loose a glacier that cuts inchmeal
through your centuries. Heaviness
is mine to command. I am the mother
of frozen monoliths, spook-white,
inexorable, and still in my Sunday clothes.

Why I Am Not an Insect

I tell you solemnly, that I have many times tried to become an insect
--Dostoyevsky, Notes from the Underground

At sleep's threshold, threadlike
antennae silver the skin, probing

knowledge like a stickiness. The light
lace of a wing fans an exposed

shoulder; the dull bulk emits
a sigh. The insect considers

this a triumph. Who knows how
many times its pale green torque

will skim off for another pleasurable
landing? Here a plump earlobe

invites a message heard in sleep:
one hand brushes the bare breast

strayed above blankets, strangely
cooled until it is otherworldly,

marmoreal, the temperature of shale
in the shade. The body casts and

retrieves its lunar thorax, heaving
dumb slumber, too huge to know

that its members have been stranded
in the night air. The breast slopes

under the insect's touch, heat long
gone, a forgotten figure made

of snow that lists gradually earth-
ward, mute in ignorance and ice.

Deceitful beyond All Cure

Snug as a swim-cap, the cat on your head avers,
Idling would stall any engine but mine.
Risk is to fear what worship is to shrine,
replies the beaded naval ornament. The cat purrs,
etcetera, in the direction of the beads. Form
follows function! say the beads (green, idyllic).
The blanket interrupts the cat with warm acrylic:
Detachment, of course, protects the charm
of anagnorisis. The paw on your lobe's pure
as a square or a post-it note: funeral at eight,
wake at six, dead at forty-four. Where's the wait:
the heart, you say, is deceitful beyond all cure.
A trench coat parts the blinds like legs--goddamn,
it's only daylight getting hard for one more ma'am.


How We Unlove Our Heroes

Consider how we unlove our heroes.
We fall in love with Wagner. And then dense
as Nietzsche, we wait gloved in an immense
drawing room, concentrating on our prose.
Naturally faith flourishes like fiction.
One of Cosima's chickens rustles in,
dressed absurdly in a crinoline,
twittering to set the cracked addiction.
Clucks breezy as a hostess dropping hints.
You know how you try not to read ahead,
but how the last word is already read?
It's like the dawn, all vicious innocence--
and implicated by the very word
that crashes like a high-toned Wagner chord.