Two Poems



Illustration by Anna Bak-Kvapil


Henry Hudson

Wood is a masculine substance.
Witness the Arts and Crafts movement,
the men at the helm of it.
Witness, for that matter, this room:
Oak floor, oak walls, oaken ceiling.
The air-conditioning grate ersatz oak.
The slats of the ceiling fan oak veneer.
The table I write on, particleboard
with no pretense to oak, oak’s sad cousin.
And the craftsman-style light fixtures, triangles,
right angles, dreamed up in the minds of geometers.
What does geometry illuminate?
I’m the sad cousin of a mind.

The Arts and Crafts men were reacting
against Victorian furbelows, the ornaments of empire,
or, as they might have said, civilization.
Still, this room is only the sad cousin of nature.
It has its smoke alarm, its watercooler,
its green exit sign (a threat, not an invitation),
its lectern, its monumental fireplace of unpolished granite,
its coffeemaker. Out the west-facing window
I see, flat and small as a playing card,
the platinum slice of river, and beyond,
the wiry cliffs of the Palisades. The sun is setting,
pronounces Henry Hudson, eternally facing west,
bobbling on the deck of the Halve Maen.


A Collection

A scarlet tin star bursts its compartment
in the display case.

One Buddha coexists
with a brass Egyptian cat.

Another is dwarfed by a brass-capped test tube
which might be a soul-body metaphor.

No collection can keep honest
without a pocket watch.

How flexibly the several thick white hairs
lean in their compartment.

From the collector’s head
or a cats face? An ivory skull,

an ivory skull, an ivory skull, an ivory skull—
they’d make nice earrings.

A tanned rose, once fresh.
Oh, there are two pocket watches.

A possible third bends its sheen
away from the curious and backs into the gloom.


Kathleen Ossip is the author of July, The Do-Over, and The Cold War.