From the Notebooks of Anne Verveine

By Rosanna Warren b. 1953 Rosanna Warren
I.

When his dogs leapt on Actaeon, he   
cried (did he cry out?)—He flung

his arm to command, they tore his hand   
from the wrist stump, tore

guts from his belly through the tunic, ripped   
the cry from his throat.

That’s how we know a god, when the facts   
leap at the tenderest innards, and we know

the god is what we can’t change. You
stood over me as I woke, I opened my eyes, I saw

that I’d seen and that it was too   
late: the seeing

of you in the doorway with weak electric light
fanning behind you in the hall, and my room and narrow pallet steeped in shadow

were what I couldn’t change, and distantly   
I wanted you, and, as distantly,

I heard the dogs, baying.


    II.

And yet the fountain spends itself, and it is   
in the clear

light of its losing that we seem   
to take delight:

you dipped your hand in its running braid   
to sprinkle my forehead, my lips.

Garden deities observed us: three nymphs
with moss staining their haunches, a pug-nosed faun.

The wound in water closed
perfectly around your gesture, erasing it,

so that only the glimmer, swiftly   
drying, on my face recalled

our interruption
of the faultless, cold, passionate, perpetual

idea of the stream’s descent—
which, unlike ours, would always be renewed.


    III.

I kissed a flame, what did I expect.

Those days, you painted in fire. Tangerine, gold:   
one would have had to be a pilgrim to walk   
through that wall of molten glass.

And purification
could be conceived, if not   
attained, only after many years,

in autumn, in a fire greater than yours,
though menstrual blood still tinged the threshold
and our ex-votos were sordid—scraps of blistered flesh

taped to kitsch prayer cards—and neither of us knew   
the object of this exercise, except   
having, inadvertently, each of us, burned

we recognized the smell
of wood smoke, the slow swirl
flakes of wood ash make in heavy air;

and we were ready, each in a private way, to make   
the gifts the season required.   
Mine was the scene

of my young self in your arms,
eyes in your eyes, clutched in the effort
to give each other away—when I glimpsed

behind your pleasure, fear; behind   
fear, anger; and knew   
in a bolt some gifts

conceal a greater gift.
I have kept it. Now I am ready to give it back   
into darker flame

in this season of goldenrod, the ardent weed,   
and Queen Anne’s lace in its mantilla of ash.   
And yet, how lumpishly, how stupidly I stand.

How much that is human will never burn.


    IV.

And if you should answer?
I listened, years before I knew you, to the whine
of wind through the high stony pastures above my childhood village;

I breathed lavender and thyme and burned my bare legs   
on nettles, scraped them on thistles, and rubbed   
the sore skin till it reddened all the more. When we

walked the uplands together, you burned your hand
and I kissed the crimsoning nettle-rash. “We are the Lords of need,”
you said Hafiz said,

and I believed you, and we were.
In the rugs of your country, carmine is crushed   
from insects, cochineal; saffron gold

is boiled from crocus stamens; and indigo
of heaven and fountain pools is soaked, hours upon hours,   
from indigo leaves. “Like the angel Harut,”

you said, “We are in the calamity of love-desire.”
The angel is chained by neck and knees, head down, in the pit of Babel
for falling in love. Your carpets

told a different story: scarlet and saffron   
blush as in Paradise, and God reveals himself
in wine, flame, tulips, and the light in a mortal eye.

All night you held me, sleepless, on my childhood cot in the stone house;
all night the wind seethed through crags and twisted olive trees,   
high on the scents of thyme and goat droppings. “All night,”

Hafiz sang, “I hope the breeze of dawn will cherish the lovers.”   
But the breeze of dawn is the angel of death.   
You are in your far landscape now, I am in mine:

the wind complains and I can’t understand the words.   
And if you should answer?   
You, ten years away, in a different wind.

“We are in the calamity,” Hafiz sang. “But tell the tale   
of the minstrel and of wine, and leave time alone. Time   
is a mystery no skill will solve.” We should

thread words like pearls, you said, and the grateful sky   
would scatter the Pleiades upon us   
though we couldn’t see, and that was long ago.


    V.

The carpet is not a story. It is a place,   
garden of crisscrossed pathways, labyrinth,   
fountain, pool, and stream.

As though the fabric had ripped at the vanishing point   
at the top of the street
of ashen façades and slate-sloped roofs, you stepped

through the gap, out of your own world.   
I had already lost my world.   
We met in a torn design

which we tore further, pulling the tall warp,
thread wrapped tightly around our fingers until it bit the flesh   
and the rue de Lille unravelled.

I know about design: it’s my job,
arranging other people’s letters in star charts
that phosphoresce in the dark between the closed covers of books.

You knew about design from the holes   
blown through your country.
We spoke in a language of no country on earth.

You moved slowly, in shadow, teaching the shadows   
to echo my name. You ripped my shirt at the neck.   
Was it The Beloved I held, holding you?

Down the middle of the carpet the river
weaves a thousand gray glimmers into the deeper green.   
The river knows about mourning; that’s its job.

How many years has it practiced? With such fleet fingers. A man   
woke me at dawn this morning, sobbing and cursing in the street,   
reeling from sidewalk to gutter and back again.

On my long gray street, the rue de Lille, where I still live.

NOTES: Anne Verveine is an imaginary French poet. She was born in 1965 in the village of Magagnosc in the Alpes Maritimes, and attended the lycée in Grasse. She never studied at a university. She lived obscurely in Paris, avoiding literary society and working as a typographer and designer for a small publisher of art books. She published a few poems in provincial journals, but no book of her own work. She was last seen hitchhiking in Uzbekistan in August 2000; is presumed kidnapped or dead.
Anne Verveine’s sister found these poems in notebooks in the poet’s small apartment in Paris after her disappearance. I translate them.

Rosanna Warren, “From the Notebooks of Anne Verveine” from Departure. Copyright © 2003 by Rosanna Warren. Reprinted with the permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. This selection may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Source: Departure (W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2003)

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Poet Rosanna Warren b. 1953

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Religion, Love, Youth, Travels & Journeys, Poetry & Poets, Nature, Painting & Sculpture, Trees & Flowers, Living, Relationships, Activities, Arts & Sciences

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Biography

Rosanna Warren was born in Fairfield, Connecticut to a pair of writers: Robert Penn Warren, a major poet and novelist, and Eleanor Clark, a prize-winning author of criticism, fiction, and travel books. A professor of comparative literature at Boston University, editor, and literary translator, she has published four books of poetry. Her work, which ranges between the rhapsodic and cerebral, shows a deep and abiding interest in . . .

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SUBJECT Religion, Love, Youth, Travels & Journeys, Poetry & Poets, Nature, Painting & Sculpture, Trees & Flowers, Living, Relationships, Activities, Arts & Sciences

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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