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Sample Poems by Alexandra van de Kamp


Juxtapositions

—Café Las Tablas, Madrid

Spanish café. Shopping district.
Outside, the buildings blue

in the shade. In here, two waiters
towel-dry cups and saucers

as the TV nature show
zooms in on a Mexican forest.

And this is a poem—
the way we can drink coffee

in clear glasses, its small,
shuffling world in our hands,

while slick orange frogs unroll
their long, spear-like tongues,

or two scorpions, their bodies aglitter,
circle each other,

intent on the kill. How to deal
with the juxtapositions in this world?

That while I’m drinking this coffee,
someone somewhere—


her body still safe in its cave of air—
is walking by the wrong bush

at the wrong time,
or arriving home to find the note

that will change her life?
Newspapers place us

next to what we could be
but are not: the airplane victims

off the Caribbean coast
after the sharks attacked. And here we are,

pinned to the chair’s floral design,
trying to understand how these truncated

arms and chests could have been,
so briefly before, passengers flying,

cocktails in hand, in the blue solidity
of their cushioned chairs.

Two kinds of chairs:
an ocean of possibilities.

But we put the paper down.
We must accept our lives—

the particular gleam of the floor’s
parquet shine, the exact tilt of the sun

as it cuts our bodies into dark and light.
We can’t mourn for long

what we are not. But we can pause
beside the television’s hurricane coverage,

with houses’ roofs tumbling
like flimsy, metallic weeds

across the background’s urgent green,
long enough to know that each day

we are next to something
we can’t fully love or understand,

like the woman crying to herself
all alone on the bus, or the tree’s

dark green tangle of leaves
shimmering above our heads,

as if it could translate for us
one part of the wind. In this life

the body is tucked inside
what is larger than itself:

the doll-blue stare of the omnivorous sky;
beneath our feet, little stars of darkness

weaving themselves through the grass’s plot,
while in a movie theater, the reel runs

and all is darkness as our eyes adjust
to what flickers in front of us.


The Rainiest May in the Twentieth Century

—Chinchón, Spain

For weeks, we dreamed ourselves
through each day—the corners of tables,
the intimate shapes of our hands
no longer enough
to jar us fully awake. In the kitchen,
the counters gave off their glittery stare,
but like any bottle or chair, we were rained upon
by the falling air—the rain touching
and touching us to its damp hair.

They say the dead keep growing
their hair and nails, their own kind of weather
wrapping around them, tethering them
more fervently to the earth
because of the persistence
of what surrounds them. And so,
we felt our own sleep deepen,
our bodies grow mute as stones
in a gray-green soil—reluctant to move
through such a thick, viscous world.

In the end, every window slurred our view—
the panes swelled by a slow-motion current.
My husband’s body wavered, a fluid heaviness
moving towards me, and all the doors creaked
like old buoys out at sea. Even birds refused to sing—
too stunned, like us, with a certain quiet,
unable to commit to any one specific thing.

In this weather, there was no forgetting
where we were, no pushing off
from the present moment. For a time,
we were quieted, like figures
in a landscape painting who show us
they see the mountains in the distance
by the way their bodies are poised,
ready to listen.


Mailbox

Painted black, blue or red, an object that rejects
the weather, it stands, silent-hooded sentinel, at the edge
of a road, while clouds conjure up their tenuous parades of
purples, greens, and grays. Still point in each day’s Turner
painting, a mailbox is something the world dances itself
around. Like a flamingo wading on one leg, it is a pet,
a child’s crayon-smeared shape leashed to the end of the
drive. There are too many centers to a life: our bodies,
our beds, the window’s petulant glance. Meanwhile,
the mailbox waits, pressing itself into its one place—
a mouth we put our hands into, a little closet on a stilt,
a pillow of darkness we lay the pages of our life briefly
upon, an outstretched hollow arm.