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01-25-08

Elizabeth Biller Chapman

Summer Vespers, Bel Canto

 

Topaz, the last light gathers like smoke above the dark

hills curving west to the fire lookout and departs,

 

a spirit taking leave of its body, ridge by ridge.

All week we've kept watch over this valley and our flock.

 

"Los Carpinteros"— acorn woodpeckers who racket

and hammer through the oaks and on our roof beam.  Wake-up,

 

Wake-up--and a sprout moon rises at their knocking.

 

This is a rough landscape, long known to you.  A dreamy

brush rabbit stirs but does not budge from the still-warm path.

 

The fog's gray wool folds back westward to the outer bay.

Trawling, the jellies pulse their bells—Lion's Mane, Crystal,

 

Sea-nettle, Lobed Comb, Gooseberry—all those old selves

tumbling together in the open water, dying

 

into each other's lives.  Now my home is where you are.

At your brother Ned's house in the next draw, yielding up

 

her heart, Janet Baker sings Berlioz, Summer Nights,

that mezzo soprano surrounding us like July dusk,

 

these shadows.  Fiercely green, the wild oak leaves upward.
 

 

Everywhere I Feel the Stars of Fall

 

They engrave the dark.

When the moon is new, an equinoctial tide

lifts the nests of harvest mice.  At dusk

 

the Great bear hugs the horizon

while I ride the new mare into Purisma Gorge.

Her coat's the color of madrone bark.

 

We sway with each change in the wind.

She flicks her ears.  I stroke the long red hill of her neck:

Lady Pegasus, with scratches.

 

The crickets' song grows faint.

Above me, Cassiopia's butterfly floats

from her hook of eternity,

 

and all around, forever in their gauzy net,

Night's tears, the dimmer stars of autumn, etch

the dark, expanding in us here.

    -from Candlefish

BIO: Born in Boston and raised in Brookline, poet Elizabeth Biller Chapman earned a BA at Smith College, an MA at the Shakespeare Institute, and a PhD at Columbia University. She wrote her first poem at the age of 43. In her poems, Chapman explores lushly detailed natural and personal landscapes.

 

She is the author of the poetry collections Candlefish (2004) and Light Thickens (2009), which won the Robert McGovern Memorial Publication Prize. Her work has also been featured in The Best American Poetry 2002 and The Blueline Anthology (2004). Chapman has taught at Smith College, Radcliffe College, and Claremont McKenna College and worked as a psychotherapist for 17 years. She lives in Palo Alto, California.