Eight poems

by Catherine Chandler

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Zeeman’s Paradox
(Imagining Edward Hopper’s Sun in an Empty Room, 1963)

Sunlight streams into an empty room
through an undraped window to the walls and floor
in silence, like the silence of a tomb.

Don’t go looking for the bride and groom.
They’re old now. They don’t live here anymore.
Sunlight seeps into an empty room,

where absences—a trace of her perfume
and echoes of their voices—underscore
the silence. In the silence of a tomb,

in the hush and stillness of impending doom,
at angles most observers will ignore,
sunlight swirls into an empty room

that’s now for rent. The landlord took his broom
and, whistling, swept old secrets out the door,
the space deserted, mute as Joseph’s tomb

on Easter morning. Past the window, gloom
attempts to void the bright interior,
to nullify the sunlit anteroom
that waits in silence. Waiting there. For whom?


We both got on at Jolicoeur. I took
a window seat; the stranger chose to stand.
I normally don’t give a second look

at anyone—they might misunderstand
my scrutiny for interest—but he
commanded my attention. Here, unplanned,

appeared the image of an absentee:
his hands, his eyes, his mouth, his sandy hair,
his very stance, threw my reality

into a tailspin. I was then and there…
Rush hour commuters exited en masse,
my fragmentation none of their affair.

As windows in the tunnel changed from glass
to looking glass, a white-haired woman met
my gaze. She sighed and let the moment pass

in pangs of recognition and regret,
then turned to the next chapter in her book.
She played piano. He, the clarinet.

Ante Meridiem

Daybreak. January. Brava Beach.
Sea of galena. Sky of indigo.
Eucalyptus currents reach
the hushed peninsula, where ocean-side,
they’d walked here every summer, hand in hand
for fifty years. He tells me Laura died
last month. Two fishing boats glide past the strand,

Mid-morning. January. Brava Beach.
The quintessential touristy tableau
vivant transposes: petrels screech;
two guardavidas row against the tide
and fetch a lifeless body to the sand.
Was it an accident, or suicide—
this frail man’s meeting with the riptide and
the undertow?

A Dog’s Life

We have the last appointment of the day.
That’s how it’s done—
they don’t want anyone
to see the dog they’ll have to put away,
hear muffled sobs, feel ill at ease,
fearing a transmissible disease.

For days she wouldn’t touch her food or water.
Nearly fifteen,
there was so much she’d seen:
the previous summer’s turmoil when my daughter
had nearly died, then father had.
Night terrors when I thought I might go mad.

But mostly good times. As the years stacked up,
I failed to multiply
by seven. In my mind’s eye
she would always be the playful pup
who barked at birds, chased squirrels, scratched the dirt
and loved to nip the edges of my skirt.

She lies on the examination table
in this white room,
a steadfast friend with whom
I had entrusted secrets. Are you able
to stay?
I nod. He shaves a spot,
inserts a catheter. Before the shot

of pentobarbital, a sedative.
She sees me. Knows.
And as her brown eyes close,
I wonder if I’m able to forgive
myself for ever thinking she
was just a dog. This vital part of me.

On Vortex Street

the overhead wires sing and hum
plucked like strings
in tones composed by the vector sum
of the wind’s velocities
but in these resonant meanderings
harmony arpeggios
and all the world’s atrocities
and all the world’s worst-case scenarios
wail in the squalls
as into the maelstrom light curls swirls falls

Threnody: On the Razing of Sandy Hook Elementary School

And if you’re lost enough to find yourself
By now, pull in your ladder road behind you
And put a sign up CLOSED to all but me.

—Robert Frost, from “Directive” (Steeple Bush, 1947)

It was a school. It is a school no more.
        Weep . . . for
the echoes won’t be quelled. A small boy brings
        what little things
he can to help his teachers feel less sad,
        could make them glad―
two Devil’s Eyes. Observe his iron-clad
innocence. Behold his baby teeth.
Don’t look for footprints. Do not lay a wreath.
Weep for what little things could make them glad.

Reunion Muzak

A DJ mixes songs we used to love
and make love to way back in ’sixty-eight,
the brutal year that saw us graduate.
We’re still at war, but there’s no mention of
our Smitty and his simple, flag-draped box,
the two assassinations, or My Lai.
At Honey’s dreadful tremolos, I try
to keep a straight face.
                            Jumpin’ Jack Flash rocks
the scene, but stiff arthritic knees and hips
sit this one out. So let’s all raise a glass
for old times’ sake, when life was such a gas:

To young Mick Jagger’s full-blown lusty lips!
To days, my friends, that will not come again!
And to the cake that melted in the rain!

To the Iron Goddess of Mercy

ters on
the table
its wavelets almost
falling head over heels into
the imaginary axis of the outbetween

as I take my KrazyGlued teacup out of hiding
may the kettle whistle softly
may the day stay calm
may comets
swirl in

Raised in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Catherine Chandler, a native of New York City, has lived in Canada for the last forty-two years. A graduate of McGill University, where she lectured in Spanish in the Department of Translation Studies and acted as International Affairs Officer, she is the author of Lines of Flight (Able Muse Press, 2011), Glad and Sorry Seasons (Biblioasis Press, 2014) and three chapbooks, including a collection of sonnets, This Sweet Order (White Violet Press, 2012). Catherine currently lives in Saint-Lazare-de-Vaudreuil, Quebec, and Punta del Este, Uruguay. During the Fall and Spring terms, she teaches Music in the French language Commission scolaire des Trois-Lacs.

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