Monday, January 26, 2015

#156: Two Poems by Jody Bolz


~This poem was published previously in Prairie Schooner (2013).

Always before, light gathered
where I stood
as if each thing mattered.

Now it won’t, the moment
a collapsed box
whose doll-like tenants

scatter on the ground,
thrown riders,
like the dead I found

ten years ago:
a mother and her son.
Nothing to be done.

No way to stop the film loop
my brain replays,
mastering each image

as it darkens from the center
like the wooden floor
they lay on.

Race from that house—
run into the summer street,
scream for help—

Run away a thousand times
and still
the scene follows.

I hardly knew her,
but this much I could tell:
she finished her book             
and her boy and herself.
People say
she took him with her

as if any mother would—
but where were they going
without their blood?


~ This poem was previously published in North American Review (2010).


The acquaintance, a poet, did come by that afternoon.
 Her apparent role was to discover the bodies.
                             —The Washington Post

Spot-lit on a stage,
the magician lifts a book,
ruffles its pages,
flips it to display the back
and sets it
in an empty crate.

Footlights flicker.
One gloved hand
glides over the open box,
Voila!  The book is gone,
and in its place,

glinting like mirror shards:
a pair of kitchen knives.
The high boots pivot.
The black cape swirls
below a tall silk hat.
The magician

swerves stage left,
bends to place both knives
under the table—
(table? was it there before?)
and squares them
on the rug.

A blue light sweeps
the curtain’s edge,
where a tiny figure
blinks against the glare.
How calm he is—how young—
how cheerfully he runs                                                             

into the magician’s arms.
“I’ll need another volunteer.”                                                  
The voice is low,
a whisper that expands
to fill the darkened hall.
I don’t raise my hand,

but still, I’m chosen.
My pulse slams in my throat
as I climb onto the stage,
where the magician
lifts the child to show
he’s not a trick of light.

I turn to the audience:
“He’s real,” I say,
but the theater’s empty—
and somewhere in the distance,
an alarm begins to wail.
The spotlight dims,

trapping the three of us
inside an airless shadow-box.
Is this a rehearsal? Is it a dream?
I watch the boy lie down
while the magician plucks a pen
and pages from the air,

signs the last one carefully,
and looks at me.
Off comes the top-hat
in a fall of blue-black hair—
off comes the cloak!
It’s a woman standing there.
She kneels
beside the child
in her simple summer dress,
drops a glove
and strokes his face.
Is this the last illusion?                                                           

What’s she holding
in the other hand?
It floats in an arc over her head—
I can’t stop it, I’m not there—
and with a keening flash,
they disappear.



These two poems, a lyric and a dream narrative, revisit an experience I tried for years to escape rather than explore. In 2003, I was first on the scene of a murder-suicide. If I’d arrived at the site by chance, it would have been hard enough to get past what I saw—but I’d been summoned there.
          That summer morning, once I’d gone to work, a new friend left a message on my answering machine at home. She asked me to come over and let myself into the house where she was staying with her two-year-old son. She said she knew I had a key (she was house-sitting for close friends of mine) and that she was “having a bit of an emergency.”  When I retrieved the message in the afternoon, I called her number several times—no answer. Puzzled and increasingly concerned, I drove to the house.
          Her car with its baby seat was parked out front. I ran up the steps, rang the bell and knocked. I called at the windows. Then, I let myself in.  
          It took seconds to see and days to believe what had happened. At first I thought a murderer had been there, that some maniac had broken in and done this. But then—why was the door locked, the alarm set and wailing? Why had she called and asked me to come?
          In the aftermath of the event, people said and wrote (referring to the child’s death) that she couldn’t bear to leave her boy behind, and so “she took him with her.”  How were they imagining the scene? 
          I’m not sure what insight poetry can offer in the face of such a loss, but it mattered to me—it matters to me—to expose that one well-meaning lie. These poems ask: Where did she take him? How did she make him disappear?  



Jody Bolz was born in Washington, DC, and attended Cornell University, where she studied with A.R. Ammons. After receiving her MFA, she worked as a writer and editor for two national conservation organizations (The Wilderness Society and then The Nature Conservancy) and taught creative writing for more than 20 years at George Washington University. Her poems have appeared widely in such magazines as The American Scholar, Indiana Review, North American Review, Ploughshares, Poetry East, Prairie Schooner, and the Women's Review of Books—and in many literary anthologies. Among her honors are a Rona Jaffe Foundation writer’s award and an individual artist's grant from the Maryland State Arts Council. She edits the journal Poet Lore, founded in 1889, and is the author of A Lesson in Narrative Time (Gihon Books, 2004) and the novella-in-verse Shadow Play (Turning Point, 2014).

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