Some Internal Rhyme for You Heathens

Don’t take it personally, Gentle Readers. A good friend of mine refers to both her two large cats and her college students as the “little beasts.” It’s a term of endearment. Enjoy the poem.


Nightview from the Beanstalk, with Moon



Up here, night clouds move like an ocean breaking

against the beanstalk, rolling into charcoal

horizonless shore as if racing to discover new worlds,

ferocious and green. But there are no new worlds

left to discover. There is no green; only heavy midnight

blue indistinguishable from eternity. Without moonlight,

this foliage is primal, reaching out. Jack says,

Navigate by touch as salmon do, heaving themselves straight

upriver, up waterfalls, up to invisible sky. It is easy to see,

here in the dark, how explorers of old could

convince themselves of destiny, cousin to destination,

of a magnet star calling to the magnet in the breast.

Quest is kin to conquest. Scaling these leaves, helmed

ghosts cry out in seven romance languages, Devil

take the hindmost! and flail their way into the surf

of sinuous vines. Like them, I navigate by clutching.

The shadows between my fingers chime

in recognition. No new worlds. No, now

we colonize each other’s bodies, plant flags

between each other’s eyes. Look at Jack. Unlike most

men, who brag of the last woman laid, he brags

of the last giant killed, lectures long into evening

how the storytellers got it wrong: he never chopped down

the beanstalk, he merely greased its leaves. Effective

enough. I stall his rehearsed glory, resume our dark climb.

Another hour, Jack calls back to me. Until the top? No,

until the moon. He laughs at the way it sounds, as if light

were a place one could climb to, or gloom were a path

to a door. The clouds roll in with a hush like high tide,

leaving their moisture to lick my face, muting my voice.

In the dark, every whisper is loud, every motion

endless. The tangled boughs bend and sway beneath me

like so much black lace. I pry my fingers open, pick

my way blindly upward, always upward, among vines

slicked by cloud, scrambled by breeze. Jack murmurs,

We could drown in all this wet air, these beans

the hue of stone weighing us down. I am glad I can’t see

the ground, justified in asking to climb here at night.

The last boundary, Jack says, lies above us,

in cumulus cliffs of lapis and glacial white

bigger than anybody’s fear of falling. Close your eyes.

What does verdancy mean now? What does height

signify? If beans tremble, but the night wraps

so close you cannot see them, do they fear?

Jack’s right about the beans. Their cool grey

leather strands hang like bits of bone: malleable

and waiting to be fleshed and shoved toward

birth. A terrifying change, that fall into chill

unknown, caught by too many dry hands, ferried into

this netherworld new life of pangs and urges,

blown into a crêche filled with straw and destiny–

that word again, whose syllables encompass end

together with beginning, doom with estimated

time of arrival. If I mapped this altitude, with its

webbed stems and stone lessons, if I charted these blue

fathoms where owls glide, curious as dolphins,

along the prow of this beanstalk, could I soon navigate

through cloudwracked straits to Jack, to a hidden country,

guided by owls as dolphins once were known to guide

ships past reefs, stars past the dark side of the moon?



The white tiger moon crouches, tensed, then lacerates

the clouds and peels them back to reveal a new

beanstalk: both compass rose for a map, and waterfall

of black marble illuminated by blossoms like perfumed

gloves, phosphorescent and casting their own light

on my face, on Jack’s, on village and valley below.

The beanstalk spills from this incalculable height, spills in

ribbons of black ink that pool and trickle into boundaries,

lakes and vales, mountains and rolling roads, the soft

spread of forest–all drawn to scale, all shining like velvet

under moonlight. Soft laughter trails up to us

from the satisfied magician and his dry milkcow, no more

than stick figures in the corner below, near thatched

cottages strangling among the beanstalk’s tangled roots.

Perspective lies. From a distance, waterfalls appear

to pour upward the way the eye climbs from bottom

to shadowy top in the Chinese painting of this night.

From where the magician stands, I am not following

but chasing Jack, tracing his path through a garden

of moonbrightened blooms, up one side of this scroll.

The tiger moon rolls down the hill of clouds, gathering

white, only her eyes still bronze and reflecting our ascent,

her whiskers hoarding starlight, her musty breath

foregoing Confucian Analects to whisper, “Catch him,

catch him,” in the cold breeze. Daylight women have

chased Jack on land, to dig for his gold and fawn

over his beans in the hollows of tawny dunes. I follow

without such haste. Like him, I am an entrepreneur

of thinner atmospheres. I lure him as altitude does,

sew silver behind the clouds, knowing I will reap it again

before dawn, before its white heat scorches our hands to

flinders, tempts us to turn back from this endurance

climb in a vertical jungle gone wild, whose malachite

webs, only dimly seen, stir me until I could weep

from unspent passion, from the feminine ascendant and

racing in pale light. Nightingale song fills the leaves, says Jack.

But I am the silent roaring gale of this night, and my

fireflies flicker and cicadas chirr like the finger cymbals of

a dancer whose limbs twine and untwine as this

beanstalk does around Jack, even in the slightest of winds.



Spilecki, Susan. “Nightview from the Beanstalk,” Sow’s Ear Poetry Review 8 (Fall 1998): 3.

Elevating Experience avec Tous Les Mots Justes

I just had half a discussion about why we read poetry and I am thinking at the same time about why I write poetry. I think during the Teenage Angst Years, I wrote for the same reasons a lot of kids write: to Express My Inner Turmoil. This is not a bad reason for writing, and if you can also make money off it (which some novelists and pop singers do manage to do), that’s even better.

Sometimes I write to experiment with sound, as I did when I wrote a dozen poems about Jack of the Beanstalk with tons of internal rhyme to get a bit more of a constant rhythm going, or when I wrote twice that many about flamenco, using staccato short lines to try to convey the percussion’s feeling.

Sometimes I write to tell stories, as I do when I unpack what I think is going on in a Japanese woodblock. Sometimes I write to take a story that already is out there—Jack of the B, Xena Warrior Princess, the Wright brothers—and go deeper into it, looking at it from a few sides.

But sometimes it seems just a matter of elevating experience, giving dignity to our joys and sorrows as Marge Piercy might say, through finding all the exactly right words to make Truth happen.