Charlotte Mandel has published eight books of poetry, the most recent, Life Work from David Robert Books. Previous titles include Rock Vein Sky and Sight Lines from Midmarch Arts Press, and two poem-novellas of feminist biblical revision—The Life of Mary, with foreword by Sandra M. Gilbert, and The Marriages of Jacob. Her verse play, The Gardener’s Wife appears on Verse Wisconsin, with audio. She founded and coordinated the Eileen W. Barnes Award to publish a first book by a woman over forty, and edited Saturday’s Women, co-edited by Rachel Hadas and Maxine Silverman. Her awards include the New Jersey Poets Prize, two fellowships in poetry from New Jersey State Council on the Arts, residencies at art colonies including a Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation fellowship at Yaddo.
An independent scholar, she has published a series of essays on the role of cinema in the life and work of H. D., as well as studies of Muriel Rukeyser, May Sarton, and Hayden Carruth. She recently retired from teaching poetry writing at Barnard College Center for Research on Women.
For Montclair Art Museum she has twice presented “A Poet Speaks to Art”, reading her poems in response to works of art with images of the art projected on screen. Forthcoming is a collaborative book, Through a Garden Gate, poems in response to stunning images of a garden created and photographed by Vincent Covello. The project is also available as a reading with slide visuals. Visit her at www.charlottemandel.com.
Here are three poems by Charlotte Mandel:
Where I Live Now
Tall Janet’s cane sounds a jangle of keys
Melvin keeps time to a thud as he seizes
the wooden handle of his, rubber-tipped, sorely
needed on carpet or linoleum floor.
A third leg evolves for many here.
Zigzagged by Peter, motorized, who steers
with childhood memory of rides, back-to-back
cars going bump/whizz/crash on crazy tracks.
“You walk so fast!” Who, me? Speed, as they say
is relative. Each life soap opera played
commercial-free. No reaching eighty-plus
without a house a child a husband lost.
Voices alter, rasp, quaver in the throat.
Talk drives the oars of our humming lifeboat.
In Life Work, poems by Charlotte Mandel, David Robert Books, 2013.
Great-Grandchild To Be
Little seed of flesh, harboring secrets,
suspended from a warm cord
busy with nutritious traffic
a woman’s blood eager to supply
the sweet and salt you choose
to take, absorb into human drive.
A hidden map designs you—does any
gene of mine arrow you towards a goal?
Novice, yet already a talented arbiter
able to settle arguments of contrast—
shading demands for blue eyes or brown
to hazel, textures of hair—kinky or straight
to wave. What harmonic notes
shall you open to our ears? Will you
teach us how to restore a desert
to long-lost garden? All professions
past and present await your brain
to re-order, transform into future.
And gender a matter of arithmetic—
the sum of your x’s and y’s.
Oh, connections were at the ready:
a swelling rose-colored dot
came searching for its one
evaluated lively mate.
Dear marvel, you convince me
that I have a marker in time,
that some element
of my vanished ashes
shall blend into untraveled
infinities of the cosmos.
Below the dunes, a seagull—white bosom
fluffed clean in the breeze, one
webbed foot reversed,
thrown by last night’s turbulence
too crippled for takeoff run
to climb the air.
Next morning he’s west a quarter mile
past the stillwater inlet
where white herons wade fastidious legs.
He likely limped, flapped onto
a current of wind, landed hard.
Feathers matted like the fur of an old cat
too arthritic to lick herself clean.
Hunkered down immobile but for
twistings of his neck
daring unleashed dogs. Next day
in the same spot, breast
coated with grit of surf’s
night-long tidal wash.
Seeing us he swivels his neck back
between folded wings, as if to roost.
I remember floating on the raft of a gurney
on billows of waning anesthesia
and wish him
journey with half-closed eyes
to blue sky amnesia.
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