“There’s movement in [Paula] Bohince’s poems, but it’s gradual and subtle — an eye passing like Ken Burns’s camera over a still image, discovering new details,” writes Eric McHenry in today’s New York Times Book Review:
The nouns pile up like snow while the reader waits for a verb that will never arrive…Even in narrative passages, Bohince lets participles do the work of predicates: “In the single room of a bathtub, humming ‘Love / Me Tender’ to hear a sullen human / voice. Then after, / fainting in slow motion to the tile.”
“Bohince is a poet of fragments — not the scraps of history and literature that Eliot shored against his ruins, but ordinary sentence fragments,” writes McHenry. “‘April Blizzard’ begins, ‘Over humiliated fields, the blossoming / dogwood, stopped stalks / of daffodils, frills frozen, chagrin over everything . . .’ ‘The Peacock,’ about a depressed father who seems destined to leave his young family, mixes sentences and fragments to painterly effect.”
The Children doesn’t daze you with verbal pyrotechnics, but instead, subtly sneaks up on you like a prelude by Debussy, slowly revealing both beauty and sorrow.
As dreams feather the pillow and make bearable
the day, so this figure
hauls his gorgeous body through
the yard’s depression. By the children
plumbing the anthill as a mechanic does for oil,
holding up the stick to sunlight.
Their play is serious business.
Their father has tired of his wife, of them.
He therefore lies down
in a room made his by grease and pain
and speechlessness. He lies down on his carpet
at midday, the television bright
and silent. What glossy plumage to envy
with the peahen near, and the peachicks near—
The day is finding its Brueghel moment—
wine and sapphire and verdigris. His black hair
with sunlight on it.
A miracle. Something to recall
as beautiful, in the future. As the sewer was
in summer. Little childhood river.
Snowy River Visions
Stiffened with age, the heart
breaks its crochet, white threads
A hand is never so gentle
as this: what webs the woods, fleshes
branches I never noticed.
In eerie light, I hear
the river’s dummy, the highway,
against the silent black reel. Frame
by frame, its zest increases.
What waffles the screen,
the fir, boulder, but not the river.
Skiffs of ice, sailboats
on the Hudson when we sailed over
on the Tappan Zee, in summer.
The sadness of leaving.
Pouring out still-fresh milk, avalanche
against the white sink.
May Swenson’s Love Poems
damp in the mail, from the Eyes
of the Owl Bookstore.
Do I prefer the blizzard, or
its facsimile? The hour of the storm
or the wind-blown coda?
His voice answering the telephone,
breathless from shoveling,
Sheets boiled with lavender, the hard bed.
Handmade eye pillow filled with Great Northerns.
Cactus to the ceiling, orange corsages.
No embarrassment, a calm
that is the opposite of ambition, I think.
Mind like a diary unlocked on the dresser, pages lifting in breeze.
Like those vivid flowers.
Amethyst on a chain: external heart.
Heirlooms in a shallow basket I can look at
without regret, or regard and weep, kneeling, beside.
A water glass, my eyeglasses, arms open
in a waiting embrace. Sleeping on my husband’s chest,
his undershirt dryer-warm, arresting as a cloud
in a black-and-white photograph.
Mechanical Horse with Girl and Bees
Something sweet on the bridle.
So the bees have no choice,
drawn from industrial hives, culled into day, to this store
called Gabriel’s. I saw them
from my bench by the automatic doors,
liked the look of that horse and its wide painted eyes,
picket teeth and chipped body.
Liked imagining it born in some long-closed factory, its mold
cracked open, the ride unadorned
as an Easter chocolate,
then taken and painted by women
with gray ponytails and glasses, horsehair brushes,
gullied tail and mane
made white, uplifted hooves
blackened and lacquered,
delivered and bolted
here, so the kid can come in her spring coat
and climb on: kicking its sides,
feeding it quarters.
So it rocks, and so she can sing an invented song to her
horse. For these minutes,
The bees, somehow sensing
a temporary queen, idling, then levitating, crowning
the two heads, and me wanting nothing
but my fingers in the cavities
of the horse’s ears,
tented as they were, to feel the dust there, and in
its nostrils, painted red,
wanting the bees,
unlike batteries, never to stop,
golden mobile over the flickering—
a girl and her horse,
their rocking and my watching, scrim of garbage
skidding against the electric doors
the minutes like bees, dying off, dull buzz
of the motor beneath, secret
song gummy and breathless, and the horse, going broke,
slowing its to and fro,
to and fro…
About Paula Bohince
Paula Bohince is the author of two poetry collections, both from Sarabande Books: The Children (2012) and Incident at the Edge of Bayonet Woods (2008). Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The TLS, Poetry, Granta, Slate, The Nation, and The Yale Review. She was the 2012 Dartmouth Poet in Residence at The Frost Place, the 2010-2011 Amy Lowell Poetry Travelling Scholar, a 2009 Fellow of the NEA, the 2008 Amy Clampitt Resident Fellow, and a 2007 “Discovery”/The Nation Award recipient. She was twice a resident at the MacDowell Colony. She has taught at New York University, where she received an MFA, the New School, and elsewhere, and she served as the inaugural Summer Poet in Residence at the University of Mississippi. She lives in Pennsylvania.
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All poems © Paula Bohince. These poems appear in Paula’s book The Children from Sarabande Books © 2012. All rights reserved. These poems were reprinted with permission from the author.