American Solitude

By Grace Schulman b. 1935 Grace Schulman

“The cure for loneliness is solitude.”
—Marianne Moore

Hopper never painted this, but here   
on a snaky path his vision lingers:

three white tombs, robots with glassed-in faces   
and meters for eyes, grim mouths, flat noses,

lean forward on a platform, like strangers   
with identical frowns scanning a blur,

far off, that might be their train.
Gas tanks broken for decades face Parson’s

smithy, planked shut now. Both relics must stay.   
The pumps have roots in gas pools, and the smithy

stores memories of hammers forging scythes   
to cut spartina grass for dry salt hay.

The tanks have the remove of local clammers   
who sink buckets and stand, never in pairs,

but one and one and one, blank-eyed, alone,   
more serene than lonely. Today a woman

rakes in the shallows, then bends to receive   
last rays in shimmering water, her long shadow

knifing the bay. She slides into her truck
to watch the sky flame over sand flats, a hawk’s

wind arabesque, an island risen, brown   
Atlantis, at low tide; she probes the shoreline

and beyond grassy dunes for where the land   
might slope off into night. Hers is no common

emptiness, but a vaster silence filled   
with terns’ cries, an abundant solitude.

Nearby, the three dry gas pumps, worn   
survivors of clam-digging generations,

are luminous, and have an exile’s grandeur   
that says: In perfect solitude, there’s fire.

One day I approached the vessels
and wanted to drive on, the road ablaze

with dogwood in full bloom, but the contraptions   
outdazzled the road’s white, even outshone

a bleached shirt flapping alone
on a laundry line, arms pointed down.

High noon. Three urns, ironic in their outcast   
dignity—as though, like some pine chests,

they might be prized in disuse—cast rays,
spun leaf—covered numbers, clanked, then wheezed

and stopped again. Shadows cut the road   
before I drove off into the dark woods.

Grace Schulman, “American Solitude” from Days of Wonder: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2002 by Grace Schulman. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved, www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com.

Source: Days of Wonder: New and Selected Poems (2002)

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Poet Grace Schulman b. 1935

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 Grace  Schulman

Biography

Poet and editor Grace Schulman was born in 1935 in New York City, studying at Bard College, American University, and New York University, where she earned her PhD. She is distinguished professor of English at Baruch College, CUNY, and served as the poetry editor of the Nation from 1972 to 2006. She also directed the 92nd Street Y Poetry Center from 1973 to 1985. She has published six collections of poetry, including Days of . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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