Poetry by Lyn Lifshin

CHINESE CAFÉ-UNCHAINED MELODY

I think of Joni, remembering
back in the old home town,
in some back seat, her green
check dress wrinkling a
long time as things inside
unchained were saying yes,
yes. And she did. I think
of her remembering
how she chose a name
for the girl she couldn’t keep.
Does she think of her
blue eyes I wonder, so many
years later. Is some part
of her still a child with a child
pretending. She wanted
green, so often wears
green, is some how part of
her still, sad and sorry.
Unchained, unchained,
hungering so for a long time
for your touch, a touch

 

CACTUS TREE

“raw and direct, what in
her life is really happening.”
I read this of a new young
star. Someone says she
makes you feel like she’s
your best friend, that she’s
gone thru hell and come
out as a beauty, her
losses honed into words
that touch you. Of course
she reminds me of Joni
pulling from the pain
of those men who called
her from the harbor,
kissed her with their
freedom, what
shimmers like light
thru stained glass. How
she transforms the
blackness, holes in the
air, the ache. I think
of her making jewels
from those who
climbed mountains,
calling out her name,
leaving their stain,
of her stalking images
of dreams flying with sea
gulls and sand castles,
worlds they can’t share.
Sand castles crumble.
From what isn’t said
she spins magic,
words that hold you,
will be enough to
keep you as long as
you long to

 

MICHAEL FROM THE MOUNTAINS

I think of her
wanting to retreat,
stop touring. I
imagine her exhaustion,
think of Edna St
Vincent Millay feeling
like a hooker
going to read. Who
doesn’t get sick of
tour? “Which is the real”
they howl? What’s
true? Who’s the
man in the lyrics and
did he do what
you wrote he did? I
think of 30 men sure they
were the one in a
certain poem about none
of them. Who would
not want to escape, have
someone wake you
up with sweets
and roses, take you
out in the rain
in a yellow slicker? Who
doesn’t want cats
running when you turn
the key? A sun in
the painting
that smiles?

 

OUT OF THE CITY AND DOWN TO THE SEA SIDE

with her dulcimers, her
songs. Writing at night.
Once she could write
anywhere. Once she
was invisible as blown
seeds. Once she could
write on sand, under
cypress. Once no one
cared “who’s that
about.” Sometimes
she’d write something
down and think “Oh
I like how the words
sound but it doesn’t
say anything.” Some
times friends come and
listen to her sing. If
they love her songs, it’s
better than drugs
or gin. Sometimes she
felt like a hippie goddess
rocking rhythms while
they’re waiting
with candles in the
window. Sometimes
what she’s feeling
is not anything a poet
can sing

 

DON JUAN’S RECKLESS DAUGHTER

hitching into mystery,
jiving in the mountains.
I think of her dancing
to an old juke box, a
gold snake on her wrist,
old ghosts, lips of
serpents who love the
whiskey bars. I imagine
the wind in her blondeness
on the prairie. I think of
her restless in honky
tonks, in lace. I think of
those shadows that
feel like touching,
of shadows that feel
like skin. Now all she
wants since she can’t
have you is for you
to shiver, put her on your
danger list

 

NOTHING CAN BE DONE

I think of Joni, no longer the
waif with perfect skin,
frozen lake eyes. I think of
her remembering when
her words hit high on
Billboard, the covers of
Rolling Stone. Young babes,
who isn’t wild for them?
They don’t even know. I
think of Joni writing
how the heart is a lonely
gun, maybe alone before a
mirror, skin not the skin
it was, hair more gray
than blonde. Men she held
like milkweed dust.
Too many women feel
it’s too late to start again
but even when nothing can be
done, Joni makes a
song of it

 

ELECTRICITY

It was when the power
went down and then his
wild electricity. It
was the night
Challenger flared and
flamed, turned ash
as so much did. But
that’s another story.
Upstate N.Y, iced trees
crashed wires. Even
by noon it kept
getting colder. Cherry
wood burning scented
my long red hair, scorched
an old boyfriend’s
warm up clothes. He’s
dead now and the one just
starting a circuit to
my heart. The shuttle
news played a
blues riff into darkness.
The astronauts’ hair,
dust in the stars. I was
under more quilts, the
cat near the fire
as ice crystals formed
in the toilet and that
all night talk radio voice
held me thru coldness
as it would when he
was more than
electricity on air.
It all went back to that
night. It was the way
Joni Mitchell would have
remembered some
thing like this

 

HIERA

I think or her riding,
going across country,
too much in the
rear view mirror
and what of the girl
she left behind.
The cold shells,
the cold lips of lovers.
Reckless daughter days.
Brakes as slit guitar
strings. Writing
mostly traveling
in a car, a journey to
seek refuge, wild
for what seemed
dangerous or
wrong to dissolve.
The faster she went,
her foot on the
gas the more lips
and fingers blurred.
She was hot to leave
the petty wars–
who wouldn’t lunge
from damaging
lovers, sit in
some café so shell
shock love vanishes.
When I left the
man camping out in
the trees, the ex
con women died for,
I wanted to return
to myself too.
I was that ballroom
girl, snow in me
feathering like
bolts of lace.
Stiil, sitting in the
Boulder station, I
wanted to believe I was
glad to be
on my own

 

WHEN I LOSE THE ENVELOPE OF WHAT MATTERS

those Black Sparrow postcards,
then the card from Bill Press.
How he showed my Black
Sparrow books on cable
TV and I knew I had the
publisher of my dreams,
for a bit. You can’t hold anything
long. The love notes from men
who wrote poem after poem
about me after an hour over coffee.
The one who cared for the hunt
and always, because he had
not caught me, longed to take me
down. Poems, good ones, lost
now. In some landfill, or archives
by mistake. For months, the house,
chaos, but this envelope, safe in a
file with less exciting things
that mattered. But then, like for the
moment we had that seemed
right, seemed they could be, just
space from what’s truly gone

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About Lyn Lifshin

A former Ray’s Road Review contributor, Lyn Lifshin has written more than 125 books and edited four anthologies of women writers. Her poems have appeared in most poetry and literary magazines in the U.S.A, and her work has been included in virtually every major anthology of recent writing by women. She has given more than 700 readings across the U.S.A. and has appeared at Dartmouth and Skidmore colleges, Cornell University, the Shakespeare Library, Whitney Museum, and Huntington Library. Lyn Lifshin has also taught poetry and prose writing for many years at universities, colleges and high schools, and has been Poet in Residence at the University of Rochester, Antioch, and Colorado Mountain College. Winner of numerous awards including the Jack Kerouac Award for her book Kiss The Skin Off, Lyn is the subject of the documentary film Lyn Lifshin: Not Made of Glass. For her absolute dedication to the small presses which first published her, and for managing to survive on her own apart from any major publishing house or academic institution, Lifshin has earned the distinction “Queen of the Small Presses.” She has been praised by Robert Frost, Ken Kesey and Richard Eberhart, and Ed Sanders has seen her as “a modern Emily Dickinson.” Her website can be found at http://www.lynlifshin.com/.