Four Poems by Joy Katz












































































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Women Must Put Off Their Rich Apparel

Women must put off their rich apparel;
at midday they must disrobe.

Apart from men are the folds of sleep,
daylight's frank remarks: the skin

of the eye, softening, softening.
Women must put on plainness,

the sweet set of the mouth's line;
the body must surface, the light,

the muscled indifference of deer.
A woman must let love recede,

the carved-out ribs sleep,
the vessel marked in bird lines

empty, as the sea empties her.
Say the sea, sound of leaves, the old

devotion, the call and response.
Reeds, caves, shoulders of cypress,

the woman who at this moment
does not need the world.


Some Rain

Freud saw his first patient on a gray morning in Vienna;
cobblestones glistened feebly.
And it was pouring as Pollock dragged red onto Full Fathom Five.
Patty Hearst's face was grainy and soft, on closed-circuit,
as if we were watching her through a wet screen door,
but Socrates, as he died, looked sharply into the distance.
Early evening. Water coursed the gutters.
Remember the morning after, when Benjamin Franklin
did nothing in particular?
And how light loved the wipers on the bus to Selma?
Showers ruffled the Potomac as the burglars
were led over the Watergate lawn;
you could hear horses plashing as Galileo upended his telescope
to peer at the enormous, hairy legs of a housefly.
Watson, come here, I need you. Drops clung to the railings,
ran over the roof in thin streams.
In a soaking mist, the Lusitania gently sank;
bicycles stood in the rain as the students left Tiananmen Square.
The Lindbergh baby vanished through a wet, streaked window.
A few pale-green leaves were stuck to it.
Jane Eyre came back to find Rochester fumbling in a storm,
the yard full of fallen branches.
The tulip market crashed during a terrible downpour,
but oxen grazed patiently at Lascaux, not minding.
If, as Hitler was declared chancellor, the crowd opened its umbrellas,
people stood barefoot in the mud sometimes at Birkenau.
The banality of evil, Hannah Arendt wrote, crushed out her cigarette,
and got up to shut the windows.
As Marie Curie set out a small, glowing dish of radium
with her poisoned fingers, a line of storms was moving east;
faintly it thundered while my grandparents listened,
for the first time, to a phonograph.
Lewis Carroll wrote Alice onto the riverbank
while he floated downstream. The first drops were falling;
it was cool and still as the morning Alaric sacked Rome
or the one
it was JuneDickinson looked out at the grass
and said
something. What? Now that was some rain.


A Visit to Seattle

Leaves falling in mild air, November. Black-eyed Susans gone
except for their dead centers
a cloud of small entrances
into night. The corner of a lake, and afternoon light ending;
deep water spreading to indigo.
The distance between you is the floor of a room
that is empty, and terribly bright.


Gloved hellos: the bed against an outside wall that's always cold,
making love with harbor lights outside. Harbor lights?
He asks have you ever been with a stranger
and you, thinking not until this moment


Sudden lightness as his weight lifts from bed. Your sleep
has been as shallow as the sound of dresser drawers opening.
Coffee, too ubiquitous to reassure, in a kitchen
with open shelves
every thing revealed. Earthenware,
blue and brown glaze, is a heaviness in your hands
belonging to this house.


He says, driving, I love all this boat stuff meaning the pilings,
houseboats, boatyards with the long barges, gangways.
You think of kayaking alone into the Sound,
the scale of your body against ships' hulls, the way
you might pass over the surface between them
like a delicate insect.


He is washing windows outside. Inside,
streams of water seem to cling to your reflected face
and the sun cuts your arms in hard shapes.
Sheets that smelled like skin, torn from the bed,
hang like clean bandages on the line.



Together in a Small Room (1975)

All afternoon the "gestapo" called us upstairs to their demon bedrooms
and asked us why they should let us live.
They were our youth group leaders, a couple in their twenties.
I couldn't imagine being twenty, it was
like a room so far upstairs I couldn't see it.
They meant to teach us about the camps, they crowded us
together in a small room, but I was full of desire to live
which meant knowing something to say to the boy
beside me on the sofa. I loved him
like we were family to each other. I couldn't even get to that place.
Pretty soon I was sent off to be killed
with the others on the back porch

Just what we need, a Jewish doctor, our leaders said
of the most useful thing I could think of, to be:
something I could imagine because I knew the steps, saw the way.


JOY KATZ's book, fabulae, won the 2001 CRAB ORCHARD AWARD IN POETRY (Southern Illinois University Press 2002).  She held a Wallace Stegner Fellowship in Creative Writing at Stanford University and Nadya Aisenberg Fellowship at the MacDowell Colony.   She has taught literature and writing at Stanford and at Washington University in St. Louis, where she received her M.F.A.  Her poems have appeared in numerous journals including The Antioch Review, Chelsea, Fence, Southwest Review, and LIT.   She was trained in industrial design and works in Manhattan as a graphic designer, editor, and writer.

The above four poems are taken from Katz's new book, fabulae.

"Women Must Put Off Their Rich Apparel" first appeared in Pleiades.  "Some Rain" first appeared in Boomerang.