The Contrary Muse

Poet (kneels stiffly):
 
I beg you, Muse, come down, come down and redeem me! 
You used to arrive any time, you would come for no reason.
Now, though the sweat of death stood on my forehead,
No song would be shaken.
 
Muse:
 
I pay no heed to prayers or to reproaches.
I bless those who burn, but they must not burn only for me.
Turn your passion elsewhere. Then, when least you remember
My touch, I may touch you.
 

More by Naomi Replansky

The Weeping Sea Beast

Tentacled for food,
You range your underwater neighborhood.
 
To look, to like, to eat, to break your fast! 
Before you move an inch an hour is past,
 
Your prey is past, a swarm of scales, an eye,
A round fish eye, a rude unblinking eye.
 
You close on nothing; slowly you untwine
Your many arms and trail them through the brine.
 
Now sailors at the surface hear you cry,
And from those heights they cannot fathom why.
 
For there are agile creatures all around
Who dart like flames through this rich hunting ground
 
And others who lie still and gaping wide
And make no move; but armies come inside.
 

I Met My Solitude

I met my Solitude. We two stood glaring.
I had to tremble, meeting her face to face.
Then she saying, and I with bent head hearing:
“You sent me forth to exile and disgrace,
 
“Most faithful of your friends, then most forsaken,
Forgotten in breast, in bath, in books, in bed.
To someone else you gave the gifts I gave you,
And you embraced another in my stead.
 
“Though we meet now, it is not of your choosing.
I am not fooled. And I do not forgive.
I am less kind, but did you treat me kindly?
In armored peace from now on let us live.” 
 
So did my poor hurt Solitude accuse me.
Little was left of good between us two.
And I drew back: “How can we stay together,
You jealous of me, and I laid waste by you?
 
“By you, who used to be my good provider,
My secret nourisher, and mine alone.
The strength you taught me I must use against you,
And now with all my strength I wish you gone.” 
 
Then she, my enemy, and still my angel,
Said in that harsh voice that once was sweet:
“I will come back, and every time less handsome,
And I will look like Death when last we meet.” 
 

Night Prayer for Various Trades

Machinist in the pillow's grip,
Be clumsy and be blind
And let the gears spin free, and turn
No metal in your mind.
 
Long, long may the actress lie
In slumber like a stone,
The helpless words that rise from sleep
Be no words but her own.
 
Laborer, drift through a dark
Remote from clay and lime.
O do not tunnel through the night
In unpaid overtime.
 
You out-of-work, walk into sleep.
It will not ask to see
Your proof of skill or strength or youth
And shows its movies free.
 
And may the streetcleaner float down
A spotless avenue.
Who red-eyed wake at morning break
All have enough to do.
 
Enough to do. Now let the day
Its own accountings keep.
But may our dreams keep other time
Throughout our sprawling sleep.
 

Related Poems

Muse Not Muse

(Gwen John, Painter, Rodin’s Model)

Cinnabar, Phoenician red, wild
         geranium—to be played against
         olive and smoky lime, a
mercury luster: quicksilver
         the soul, most visible
         in the empty room. Who saw

the wicker armchair open like Danae
         to the cataract of citrus
         light? Whose coat lies flung
across the frame? The Parisian garret
         window gapes ajar, the bare
         floor crackles, book

lies torqued along its spine,
        splayed. “I don’t pretend
        to know anybody well: people
are like shadows to me and I
        am a shadow.” Her job: years
        in an empty room, to wait.

The woman waits, the Master breaks his cloud-
        cover unaccountably,
        then she stands torqued
along her spine, splayed, in plaster
        rises, an immortal
        armless Muse turning

from him who turns from her. “Oh what
        inquietude: eternal
        adieu?” Raw sienna,
Payne’s gray, Naples yellow: she spins
        her color wheel, grips
        her brush. No adieu

but to twist in the Master’s ever-vanishing
        embrace, to strike his poses,
        plead, then lead
the long, fevered, scumbled hours alone.
        “Make your harmonies, make
        your harmonies.” Her brush

        her own. And when the god, exhausted, dies,
        she reigns already
        in her vacancy:
has rendered from sunset, salmon, ashen-blue,
        “Method: snowdrop in earth—
the road—the pink flower—“

“We must go on with our mysterious work.”