“Around the Final Bend” and “Lovely Scene”

Around the Final Bend

after Petrarch

Song, take these rhymes and carry them abroad.

Lift your little wings and beat and beat

like in some Disney film. The Greeks had gods,

the Christians, Christ. We moderns have the heat

of giants booming from the screen. Our stars

take close-up orbits, Venus kissing Mars.

Old Peter Petrarch lived like Peter Pan,

a Neverland of candlelight and robes,

of vellum manuscripts filled in by hand.

We see him by uncertain light, bright strobes

of memory make his motions not quite right.

We wonder if it’s him, or if our sight

can’t reach that far . . .  And so we lift our gaze

to his horizon, his beloved Rome,

as far from him as him from us. We raise

our eyes to Virgil, his dear Cicero,

to emperors and slaves, the thousand

years gave us our language, laws. Ah, how

to render worlds so vast on one blank page?

I shrink, I shrink, I find the cup of tea,

the bite of toast, the man of youth or age,

the woman at the window where she sees

the Seven Hills. And slowly realize

we’re looking out together, her horizon

hard as mine. Song, beat those Disney wings

and fly a little higher, back to Greece,

where Homer didn’t write but—sang. Song, sing

of starry kings, of men and gods and beasts,

the heat of planets clashing in the sky.

Make my heroes dance, their women cry—

Help me see the mirror in their eyes.

And having seen—song, lead me to the cave

black bison fill, raise the torch of rhyme

so I see whole herds circling, black wave

upcresting in the dark to tumble me

ashore from that—that wine-dark sea where we

began, fins to fingers, hands . . .  Stand staring

at the stars, that—screen with no horizon

left at all. Dear song, just when I’m wearing

out, you lift me, loving, into time—

that source of endings now can never end.

Song, take these rhymes around the final bend,

the planet’s curve. Climb and fall and wend

your way to Avignon, to vanished Rome,

to Greece, to painted caves where we alone

stand staring out at stars, dear song, our only home.

Lovely Scene

San Francisco, 1933

He can’t believe this damn blind date, she’s hot.

They head out to a favorite drinking spot,

and when they wander in, he sees heads spin.

She’s not your common woman from the Y,

already had a double shot of life.

Been working years, escaped her family here.

Damn refugee, like him. He orders juice,

she gets a cherry coke. What’s your excuse,

she asks, and leans to sip. Raised Nazarene,

haven’t quite recovered yet. I’ll bet,

she says, and laughs . . .  He sees it, how the past

can lose its hold. What’s yours, he asks. First date,

she says and looks at him. Won’t hesitate

to ask for gin next time. He laughs, his mind

at ease with this old calculus he loves.

You know, she’s saying, taking off her gloves,

I love this city. My home town, it’s oyster

shucking. That, or get you to a cloister

if you can. I got me to the station,

headed south. This city’s my salvation,

my—what’s Nazarene? Ah, lovely scene,

her little double take, her tilted face

approaching his. I don’t know what it is,

except— ’Sit hymns? Oh yeah, there’s hymns, they sing.

It’s just—somehow, I never could quite bring

old Jesus up. Something always—came

up first. He grins at her. What was your name?

Olivia, she says, and yours? Oh Henry,

like the candy bar. She reaches gently,

lays her hand on his. Hell, get me that gin fizz.

About the Author

Kate Adams

Born in San Francisco, Kate Adams is a writer now living in Mountain View, California. Previous work has appeared in Centennial Review, Zzyzzyva, the Journal of The Wallace Stevens Society, and the Sand Hill Review. Her work has won awards from the Massachusetts Artists’ Foundation, in poetry and in fiction. She is currently serving as the editor-in-chief of Fault Zone, the anthology published by the SF Peninsula branch of the California Writers’ Club. Poets of influence include Matthew Arnold, Wallace Stevens, and Gjertrude Schnackenberg.