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Sample Poems by Charlotte Mandel

Time Field

The telephone ring that wakes me

a dream? or were you
lifting the receiver

to a hotel wakeup call
three thousand miles away?

Listen, in bed before you left
as we turned toward each other
like gates closing for the night,

my hand on your chest, half-asleep

I stood at a bus stop reading signs
printed in an unknown alphabet

and you startled cried out
"Where are you going?"

I sat up.
Lampost light seeped in as always
through the window blinds.
You slept.

Which of us is mapmaker,
time-setter to our coupled lives?

A chart of blue lines superimposes
spaces traveled out of body.

Life Work
Interior: painting by Edouard Vuillard
Muted, she disappears into background,
her dress a match in color and silence
to the wallpaper. Public words earn pained
downturns of parental mouths. Her defense
rests on camouflage, inner ear listening
for a train approaching town, slackening
speed, its unmistakeable warning whistle
by which she calculates, keeping track
counting numbers of engines crossing east
or west, tapping a foot to syncopate
her college beat-set out for either coast-
jack-out-of-box, life hers to orchestrate.
Red duffle packed, she'll mount the wheels alone.
No sense waiting for some prince to telephone.


No prince, he calls from his college pay phone
at Sunday low rate. It isn't that they've
class news or gossip: subtleties of tone
report sweet, sour, ironic, fun. They crave
the heat of touch, use syllables to span
cold air. The wire opens trails where feelings flow
like steam from summer meadow after rain.
Contralto/tenor banter-quid-pro-quo
pattern for the future-pre-marriage play
disputing favorites-Jean Gabin
for her, Hedy for him. A chance to say
anything, nothing eases fear of joining.
Another's frown or smile cannot distract
the sensory self day-dreaming love acts.


The sensory self day-dreaming love acts
with movie stars or neighbors will not break
promises of licensed social contract.
Unwritten rules work like fences. To slake
thirsts, close the bedroom door while children sleep.
Marriage their roof-tree, no leaks in rafters.
He drives to work, gives up smoking; she keeps
the kids clean, vaccinated. A letter
invites him to a Far East war. He tosses
it out. And a second. A third cries: "Greetings!"
Lottery lands him in the live oak mosses
of Virginia, practice swamp. Defeating
an enemy can't relax today's wars.
Jet smoke arrows the blue, asking: What for?


Jet smoke arrows the blue sky, twin for-
mation, dissipates over barbed wire:
Truce. Home safe, they buy a house, G.I. mort-
gage. Though marriage rafters splinter, desire
re-glues. "Hey," they joke, "we're made of velcro-"
chest to chest, constructed to stick, pull, stick.
But the world spirals around-vertigo
has her holding on to doorways, afflicted
with agoraphobia as though a sea
has washed up the street, as though she must swim
to grocery, post office, library.
The word "love" dissolves to its antonym.
Meanwhile the children of a sudden grow
into strangely familiar people they know.


These strangely familiar people know
how to sweep back salt waters that linger
like a self-made lake of tears. Punctilio
filial pitch? No, their agile fingers
work the keyboards, ideas are summoned.
Marriage of Mom&Dad ends rivalry-
their talents linked towards a goal in common-
audit a sixtieth anniversary.
Earth rotates and the married numbers stun:
three hundred sixty five times sixty
equals twenty-one thousand nine hundred;
add fifteen leap years to the mix.
A banquet celebrates the count of days.
"He looks at you with love," the waiter says.


"He looks at you with love," the waiter says.
Is that his line to couples as he pours
champagne to honor years slept in one bed?
What does his practiced eye perceive in demure
shared glances across a table of friends?
What's love? How may needy ardor marry
friendship? Their day-by-day achieves a blend
on low speed, converting tears and "sorry"
to dialogue of shrugs. Anger outgrows
its role as flint to erotic spark. Tonight,
on the verge of drift into undertow
of solitary dream, hands re- unite-
his gold ring's been lost, and hers is worn thin-
still-pulse beats echo wedding violins.


The pillow transmits pulse beats-violin
vibrating pizzicato inside ear drums.
Unbutton pajamas- warm bony skin
to kiss. Limbs fall into sideward columns
of peace. Mind transposes the day's collage
into slides of honeymoon black and white
snapshots. Shuffle through glossy images
fading to sepia, history of bright
camera ready smiles. . .barefoot on a rough
makeshift pier at the lake's edge, classic pose
swan dive, slim in profile . . . in air. . . he coughs,
waking her, not himself. Rustle of bedclothes,
slow turnings. Breath has a feathery sound,
muted, disappearing into background.

Giving Up Teaching

In an academic library, the dry leaf
crackle of a turning page,
shuffle of a book taken down
put back,
snap of a laptop,
rubber soled footsteps.

I face the clock,
en route to teach a final
women's poetry workshop,
"an island of sanity".

Transition is a bridge to loss.
I'll miss the births, deaths,
motherings, angers, raptures,
sounded in their syllables,
the unpretentious wisdom
aglow in their faces.
We share a geography of decades
bordered by a "good" war
and the swamp or snow or sand-filled
ditches and hills of wars since.
Without that workshop's tonic island
shall I be a castaway
on the coast of old womanhood? Isolate,
allotted a fenced-in garden-the rose trellis
a straggle of thorned vines, the beds of iris
tangles of browned blades?

No-I can chart my island
under sky patterns I rename,
design orchards swelling with novel fruit.

At home, the susurrus of familiar breathing.
Old lovers burrow beneath a downy quilt.
Under the skin, muscles sigh
towards another's chest,
arms entwine
and we listen to song
within our bodies
quieting to inborn
rhythm. Earth eases day through dusk
and the moon approves.