Issue 12 · 2009



Four Poems


  by Ruth Lepson







She leans forward, her arms on the desk.

She looks like Mick Jagger.

She wears a thick silver necklace.

Black sheen is her hair.

Her earrings are big black dots.

When she smiles her nose turns down.

She wears a black-and-white checked jacket.

She’s thin, and short.

She’s always going to fit in.

She’s always a little different.

She is herself, whoever she is.

An empty water glass is half visible in front of

Her face is sinking.







he called and all

I could give him was some kind of

melancholy justice

an avenue at best

was I looking mainly for pleasure

depriving myself of pleasure

understanding a kind of resolution

of grief

under the pleasure at evening’s end

the bitter dark

and yet again

solemnly I persisted

till I saw the raindrops of late fall

and smiled since life

is surrounded with life

the trees surround the village

what was coming next

took most of a lifetime



*after Lee Hyla’s setting of John Ashbery’s “At North Farm”







after I’ve left

these trees

their insistent green humming

will shine

and all my emotions

will have been

just that









You put a towel over the lampshade and climb
   on me, slowly

play with the zipper of my jeans.


We go downstairs and you fry me a baloney     sandwich,

drink my whiskey.


Olive-skinned, wiry, your hair wild

black and kinky.  I watch you make love to me.




The way you inhale the smoke of a cigarette.

You kiss the back of my neck for a long time.

I pull your hair.

Until dawn—the stars,

the umbrella, the fireplace—

everything the same as you are.




I dreamt I tied you to a tree.  You snapped it in
    half and walked away.




Long after you left I lay on the sofa bed.




We do everything in your studio.

Maroon velveteen sofa.

Candles in glasses.

Wine from styrofoam cups.

Herb tea, dry, crinkles in a purple and yellow

You’re purple and yellow.




I dreamt a green snake climbed through my    stomach, its head entered my throat.


What if your eyes seem sometimes soft?

They go from kindness to blackness in a flash.

What if your cheekbones are craggy?

The next day you were gone.




I looked at the drapery, measured it

with my stick of charcoal.  I drew the top,

the folds at the bottom, connected them,

stepped back, squinted, erased with my finger

places where the shading was too dark.


I think about first impressions, outlines, nuances.




Developing allergies late in life is neurotic,

you say, the other night. I get mad.

Why get mad? you ask. Are you ashamed of your    neuroses?

. . .  Your black eyes and black curls


and your prancing around my bedroom

in my red and gold Chinese jacket—

but I have nightmares after I’m with you.




Just from being around you, I dance in my    livingroom,

go riding in my car very late.




In your eyes I saw the steps of a temple

I wanted to climb.

First leaves of spring, leaves of fall, greenish

I saw salmon swim, flickers of kindness.


When you became wooden what I had seen

in your eyes died.  Even in my dream

you turned yourself into a work of art.

I saw a puppet, wooden on one side,

painted with black and brown stripes,

eyes wide and dyed.


When I woke up, at dawn,

the round orange sun at the window,

it was the day for my dog to die.


And I was peaceful.  But when I called you to

please come over,

you refused.

So I made an animal of snow.




I watch you as you use words, make sentences
just to make them,

break them, make rejection into metaphor, come

over, and I can’t tell if you’re asking to leave or
to stay.

Lately we make love during the day and at night you go away

to make charcoal drawings of the severed heads
of men.





You cross your skinny legs, your wrists are    princely.

I yell, I throw a blanket at you, you catch it,

you roll it up, you put it away, and put your
   hands on my legs

and we’re off again.  I climb on top of you and
   you say,


That is you and I’m in Oxon Hill again with a
   gang of kids,

they’re breaking a window and running away,
   Irish Catholic,

like you, I use my mouth the way I like.

I pour beer on you, too.




I find a note in my bedroom:  “To Ruby,

I owe you one (1) orgasm.  Tony.”




when the sun makes a strobe light

of trees I drive by, at a certain speed—

my mind goes blank




I transcribed an interview

with Philip Guston years ago,

you find it now and read it aloud to me.


You extorted pocket change

from intellectual kids in your high school,

you told me.




Maple trees—paint brushes, spears—

fill the air with rain.

Summer’s wet,

and you’re not even here yet.


I stay in,

something medieval in my dreams.




Your eyes are my mother’s dark eyes,

your eyes are my first love’s, cold blue,

your eyes are my ex-husband’s, hieroglyphs.




black strokes across my body

like Egon Schiele sketches


Aztec cheekbones,

your face a triangle,

a ram’s head


even your handwriting

well proportioned




for a time you paint with tar

but you’re tidy in the way

you get away from every place




I brought roses to your friends.

They were kinder to me than they were to you,

but it took me a while to notice.


After dinner you said,

I haven’t seen the studio for a year,

let’s go back there.

We sat on the steps in the hall.

All I could think of

was how to keep you interested

so I could watch the lines of your face a little    longer.

I didn’t notice that sentence by sentence you
   were dismembering my life.

You went back to Chicago without calling.




I’m a middle-aged woman, I fell in love.

It’s a year later, you call out of the blue

and say, Why don’t you come to Chicago?





Ruth Lepson is poet-in-residence at the New England Conservatory of Music.  Her books of poems are Dreaming in Color (Alice James Books), Morphology, with photographer Rusty Crump (blazeVOX.org), and the volume from which these poems are taken, I Went Looking for You (blazeVOX.org).  Her jazz & poetry group has a CD forthcoming.  She has organized poetry readings for Oxfam America.


E · Poetry Journal