Issue #71

Summer 2019

Two Prose Poems

by Dan Gutstein

Sonnet No. 1 (for Clarice Lispector)

A young woman walked against the traffic, downhill, the breezy orbit of her scarf—the swept springs—unconcealing her, a sonorous swerve, ringlets brunette, varnished at street corners in the dipping light of eye contact. The many dress heels to pavement, the minutes and halves of a percussion compass would offer a bliss-erratic as bright as the tours of flickers, but for the directional mechanism of depletions in reverse. Those drab-dressed, vents whipping or other exodus, the day flattening. Three months later plus an hour, the weather had returned to seasonal: granular tableau above the river's widening, husk yellow.

She repaired, at the river, to the gradations of a hill, clean grass and dusty crown overlooking an eddy revolving with one styrofoam cup. Trees across the water in woolens. The sky lofted towards the coordinates of digital transmission. To receive alloys, the subfrigid metals of static, the needle electric in the ear, despair, of the listener.

An air traffic pattern was changing, a rope of departures growling at the dimming detonation of the west. "I would shrink from attackers," she may have thought. The young woman would turn away from the laugh of a bottle-thrower breaking, perhaps, on a vacant basketball court. An open palm, she concluded, is not always grasping for a handout, but a device that measures risk. The skeptic. The skeptic.


Sonnet No. 2 (for Clarice Lispector)

The young woman's whereabouts involve snow: seeds and dots weltering in halos of oily water at her shoelaces, which go boot-over-boot down the embankment to lengths of wintering scrub. "Garvey's Ghost"—the bitter sweet percussion—starts on her earbuds. Her red hair clipped and chipped. The railroad tracks offer a north-south corridor between shallow wood where the wind can scour the poor footing of coarse ballast, culvert quiet and quiet akimbo. She had walked, once, through the pre-lightning metals, the stackable shoulders of a buckled housing distant, until she had lain down in a cemetery, long enough to be missing. A group of firefighters in t-shirts, heavy pants, and suspenders had discovered her, fetal, amid the irrational angles of the headstones. They had carried her (it only took one) (at a time) through a bright precipitate, and among the elevations and lift, she caught the slanted medallion of a fuselage in blue-gray suspension. Trumpet, the train drives through the wake of its own trumpet, the heralding, itself, always irrelevant.

There is little time to spread her arms in benediction as the locomotive—speeding, bright, juiced by catenary power—illuminates the regret of her body, organized forward in recognition of terror. Thirty minutes later, the train brakes, shrill, to a clatter, before the incongruity of a brief reversal, the passengers wakening to a small station, quiet akimbo. Abbey Lincoln had been guiding the musicians with the swells of her wordless voice, and the young woman must've deduced, "No, it's good to be cold, it's good to be cold," before the engine's number, 900 series, screamed beyond the glint of her good, cold, living eyesight. The conductor will fumble but save his coffee, the train will move, people will move, and isn't that why she had protested in the first place, as the song clanged in her earbuds? Portraits will always decorate the hollows of a living room. They will always decorate fewer hours of dusty light.

Author Bio


Dan Gutstein is the author of two collections of writing, non/fiction and Bloodcoal & Honey, as well as individual pieces that have appeared in more than 100 publications, including Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, TriQuarterly, American Scholar, and Best American Poetry. In addition to writing pursuits, he is also co-producer of a forthcoming documentary that focuses on the traditional tune "Li'l Liza Jane" and vocalist for the punk-jazz band Joy on Fire.