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Three Poems


Just writing the word scares me.
I said, “Of course you’re not manic.”

You said, “They noticed how quickly I moved,
a car speeding through red lights

my words piling up, crashing into each other,
screeching to a halt like an ambulance at a hospital.”

You said, “They said I seemed alive, on fire, a live wire
dangerous — What if I can’t sleep, again?”

You painted 22 pictures over the weekend. “They’re good,
they’re so good. I drew the hypocrites in here;

the homeless out there, surging the base of the fortress.
They were so real, Ma — and so alive.”

I felt my own flesh blacken, then burn and curl inward,
like a piece of paper catching fire. How well I remember

that feeling of being more alive than when I was alive,
sunflowers blooming in my chest, my ribs expanding —

the blight and the drought,
the fear and the sorrow.

I looked at my son, the little boy, his lurching body
filled with more than it could ever contain.


On Memorizing Ode On A Grecian Urn

I thought if I could memorize it
eat the words
swallow the lines
digest whole stanzas
it would live inside me
nourish me in my own sad times
— and who had sadder times than Keats?

I stumble over
…or the dales of Arcady

I remember mastering
a tricky passage on the piano
playing the same five notes
over and over —
my reward getting it right
the smooth, silky feel
of my piano teacher’s hands
as she draped mine over hers
playing softly, slowly
so I could feel the rubato

I think of my mother almost 93
at home with my father 98
alone in their apartment
their bodies failing to heed
their command “die!”
because they are ready and ailing
and how meticulously
she once flashed index cards before me
teaching me the times tables
“No, do it again — ”
her lips pressed tight
pale as her pink housecoat
eyes on fire because
she made it a game

In Tempe or the Dales of Arcady
No, do it again —
Easier to memorize things when you are young

I now have all five stanzas memorized
recite them on walks
in the shower
in bed at night
when I can’t sleep
I think of the poet and his sorrow
memorizing his words comforts me
as if I could take all the memories
of my mother and swallow them
chew on them digest them
let them seep inside me
like rainwater
so I might keep them
alive forever



On the morning of our departure
rain taps, spits, plinks against the glass
birds I hear but cannot see whistle
maybe plovers, terns.

On the morning of our departure
sandpipers sprint along the shore, a robin
inspects our lawn. On our window, spots
of luminous light, a painting by Seurat.

In the car you played a song from a show
about the painter. You said you loved most
the last word in a verse at the end
of act one, this word: forever

Even before my grandparents had a place
to live in this country they bought
burial plots. This is what I think about
on the morning of our departure

from this new house, our last,
where we will remain to hear the rain
watch the birds, walk along the sea
slowly, until we too are forever.

Fran Schumer loved reading novels as a child. In a desire to be more useful to the world, she studied political science. She regrets it. She began writing poetry late in her career. She loves the ocean, trees and Keats.