Susan Aizenberg


So many lost afternoons, why
remember this one:

tiny bells strung on white laces,
shoes with burnt-orange

saddles, bright April sun? A walk
beside a tall boy, his corduroy

jacket, marsh reeds bending
in the wind? Soft spring air—

April—that mid-day light
beside the reedy marsh, you

in your corduroy jacket,
me with bells
on my new saddle shoes—

Why remember this?

Why remember noon sun, a boy
in a jacket, a girl with bells

on her shoes—April sun,
reedy marsh, the boy, the girl—

of all the walks, why this one?
Silvery notes of the bells,

green smell of the marsh, a boy’s
light jacket—those bells

singing in the wind. The girl,
the boy, that April sun.

only here. only now
      —Lucille Clifton

First think of a love story, a scene
in a ‘40s black and white film, strings
lush as perfume in the background.
We’re in London, the nineteenth century.
Close-up on a woman’s profile
framed by the small oval window
of a posh carriage, her fine-boned face
troubled through the etched glass.
The actress has dark hair, dark eyes.
She wears a satin dress, high-necked
and ruffled. She stares, but at what
we can’t see. It’s night, it’s raining,
long rivulets gush down the wrought-iron
streetlamps, their lights blurred haloes.
She’s waiting for someone she loves,
but she’s not sure he’ll come.
The camera pulls back and now
we see it’s his house she’s watching,
that she’s afraid to approach
and knock. He’s played by a sober
Errol Flynn, or perhaps a young
Leslie Howard—slender, almost
female, a sensitive aristocrat, kind
to his inferiors and the help.
If he’s married, he’s tried to be good,
but his wife is of course terrible,
a shrew, or else she’s sad and sickly,
clinging, her illness her own fault,
something she uses to hold him.
We’ve seen this movie before.
Voice over: we hear her thoughts—
only here. only now—as she remembers
how he whispered those words to her
in a moonlit garden, or on a wind-
swept moor. Her voice is melodious
and low, as befits her carriage and dress,
the charming, darkened brownstones,
the sorrowful, sentimental rain.

Susan Aizenberg is the author of Quiet City (BkMk 2015) and Muse (Crab Orchard 2002).  Her most recent book is First Light, a limited edition, letterpress chapbook with original linocuts by Kevin Bowman. (Gibraltar Editions 2020). Her poems and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in many journals and anthologies, among them Plume, On the SeawallBlackbirdNorth American ReviewPrairie Schooner, Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry, and Bosque. Her awards include the VCU Levis Reading Prize and the Nebraska Book Award for Poetry. Aizenberg lives in Iowa City and teaches in the Iowa Summer Writing Festival.

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Winter 2021