Three Poems
by Nyla Matuk

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Evidence of Love

A hard mauve cigarette case, Fabergé,
now leans against the back of a display
at the Metropolitan Museum of Art,
its embossed gold belt
catching the light. The tiny
cursive message –
To Arthur E. Bradshaw, a man / Who radiates
happiness and charm / Emanuel Snowman, 1935” –
was meant to remind Arthur E. he had an egg cream
at the repertory cinema once, and that it was
a film about Panama. Emanuel Snowman
preferred ice-cream bars. And Arthur said
he loved the way Emanuel wore
a gold belt at the fattest part of his torso,
he remembered.
Arthur loved the belted torso, and Emanuel loved
the belt around the cigarette case, which, when
you swivelled it around to look at its back,
you’d see Emanuel’s small message to Arthur.
The message was always there, for
Arthur to look at every time he took a cigarette
out of the case, which was often enough,
when Emanuel wasn’t there.

 

Stranger

on the Ethan-Allen Express near Cold Spring, N.Y.

A wail in a minor key along the Hudson Valley shore.
This train calls to familiars. A pond of swans
under a red maple consults in the folds
of its bishopric. I thought of an evening two Junes ago.
The first of the group of schoolgirls on the sidewalk
started to run. The others started to run behind her,
in their party dresses, all yelling, “Don’t run! Don’t run!”
laughing and looking like they were having
the time of their lives. I noticed one girl
near the back of the group, laughing and yelling
after them, a bit taller, darker, swept up in it
for no other reason than itself. Lost now too,
sitting in 14B in pashmina and dark glasses,
I might as well be the Smyrna merchant.
I’ve never been good at small talk;
besides which, we’ll be in New York in about an hour.
Later that night, I remembered the way she laughed
as she ran, and in the morning, her face
was the first thing I saw when I woke. It seems now
she’d shown me what had come to me once
and was now gone. Travelling from Montréal over a month ago,
I can’t believe they let a stranger into this country.
They didn’t admit the Syrian poet scheduled
to lecture at NYU two days before. I small-talked
the Homeland Security officer about his upcoming trip
to Guelph, Ontario, where his wife’s from.
Love, another poet once claimed,
could show us from a vase’s broken pieces
what’s been lost, and what I understood was
that the vase, if put back together,
becomes an unbroken thing we believe
we might lose again, and so we do.
But I don’t stick to the facts –
what if I wrote lines that took nothing
but the shape of my thoughts?
No irritable reaching for an old story,
no derailed, hanger-on lurk.
A rail bridge connects the old playground
to the abandoned car lot – I say that knowing
I don’t have to hand anyone even one more idea on this,
and exactly nobody would be asked to relate,
to say nothing of the woman’s fitted wool coat on the seat opposite,
symbol of my fragility or mortality.
Is that poetic license? It’s not something I need to know,
this man says, then gets up to get coffee.
The sky is now a diluted pistachio green over the Hudson.
They call it stranger’s weather.
I rather think I did ask, a poem about the river asked.
I asked too — not about a better view;
about someone entirely different, about what remains
after the broken vase is no longer a recognizable vessel.

November 2014

Some lines in “Stranger” are adapted from a poem by Derek Walcott

 

I Declared My Ethnicity

About the boxing kangaroo, there can be no doubt.
With gloves, on a stage, they made a man of it
and outperformed those wondrous catalogues:
all the colours, all the birds, all the seashells,
all the words in the novel Clarissa.
Tense developments during some performances. As characters
fly up and down the stairwell, gowns flutter and fall.
Add details to set a scene: a filigreed banister,
a large potted palm; the thrilling notes coming out of
that rare breed of grand piano.

My origin story involves merchants plying
between ports of call across the Mediterranean,
one more arousing than the next. I looked into a mirror
and saw the Portuguese girl. I declared
my ethnicity on my latest biographical note, only
to reap what I so forthrightly did sow.
Do I look artificial in this mask, I ask.
You’d mention it in the 1970s, and they’d say terrorist.
You’d mention it in the 1980s, and they’d say terrorist.
You’d mention it any old time and they’d assume

a portion of white where there was none. You mentioned it in 2014
and they said, “but are you Muslim?” Whether by logic
or by fantasy. So instead, I decided to watch miniature TV
and mind the shop: small Mick Jagger, small Aretha Franklin;
small Barney Miller, small Flip Wilson. Knowing all this as a kid,
it was as if orders of world magnitude were getting
down to fighting weight, becoming poems of the cult of personality:
my kitchen is your kitchen, type of thing;
but enough about me, what do you think of me, type of thing.
How about giving those gardenias sighing in a nearby

vase an opportunity to speak up? Then again, they’re so white,
they aren’t all that troubled. But there is comfort in flowers.
We’ll always have flowers, tragedies, timelines, mainstream
media, and those large, eavesdropping porch moths.
We’ll have a heaven for flowers, almost as important
as their ever-dying scents. And in what remains, in the dry-down,
I will say, “what a beautiful falsetto.”

—From CNQ 96, (Summer 2016)

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