POEM OF THE WEEK: The Empty Tomb

Hank Graber photo  Anthony McCall Long Film for Four Projectors (1974) 1














Three nights before she was to dance
Saint-Saëns’ “The Dying Swan,” Anna Pavlova
drowned. (God comes on a dreadful tide.)
Her lungs filled with pneumonia’s pools
and she surrendered, saying, “Play that last
measure very softly,” then drew
her final breath. Russia refused to accept
that its perfect bird lay still. The dark
stage lay quiet – but they came, offered up
their tickets and settled in their seats.
The overture swelled, Anna’s entrance
to “The Swan” familiar as the dawn.

Waiting for those supple wings and feet
that floated just above the floor, the crowd
exhaled a collective “Oh!” when the spotlight
suddenly shone. On the stage a silent beam
followed her – or where her shapes had been.
The white disc slid across the boards
as the strings’ crescendo filled the hall. First
stage left, then stage right, the swan – their swan –
falling to her death in unobstructed view.

When the lamp found center stage, her solo
absence bloomed with each imagined pirouette,
each entrechat. The dance was nothing
and everything without her. And still,
as if at any moment she’d leap into that cone
of light— her feathers lifting slightly in the air—
the beam embraced her with the grace
of something good we’ve all once known.
When the finale comes, what then? they thought.
The music had to stop. And it did. A hush
the size of Russia. The light stood still.
Then, in a tidal wave they rose: A thousand
hands and hearts roaring for an empty stage.

by Christine Hemp

IMAGE: Anthony McCall, “Long Film for Four Projectors” Light Installation/Film, 1974
(photo by Hank Graber)

Poems and Ponderings

POEM OF THE WEEK: On the Other Side of Stone

Circle of Stones  Andy Goldsworthy











The miraculous seems to happen
not in full view, but in a cocoon, a bed,
a stall, a womb, away from where
we’re looking. Think of bulbs, buried alive
for what seems like forever and yet
soon enough a tulip breaks the surface.
Or those nights when muffled sounds
came from your parents’ room in waves
of portent. You did not know
what or why—just that something stirred
in the darkened space behind the door.
Prepositions chart a a there-ness
you cannot live without.  On Canaan’s land.
At the right hand of God. Beyond Sheol.
Through the valley of the shadow of death.
But what about that vacuum in
between? A no-whereness where
your blood stops pulsing and your worst
fear grips what’s left of bone and sinew.
This vestibule, this half-way house contains
both outside storm and the not-quite living
room. It’s where the linen cloak is shed.
You think that waiting there is the final
out—or in—. Until the walls begin
to move. You feel a quickening
inside the flesh, the sound of someone
breathing on the other side of stone.

by Christine Hemp                                                                                                                             IMAGE: Andy Goldsworthy, Installation: “Pebbles Around a Hole,” 1987

Poems and Ponderings




I open the door. Only an empty
egg carton, a dusting of Parmesan cheese
in a plastic container, an inch of red

wine left in a bottle, one wrinkled potato,
and a sticky puddle where the apple juice
leaked last month. Rorschach on glass.

No excuse now but to clean. Yellow-gloved
and determined, I scrub each shelf,
chucking the flaky onion skins stuck

to the crisper drawer. Surprising how
the shiny white, the polished void calms me.
A whiff of stringent bleach.

I close the door, glad to have prepared
a clean and spacious place for a new round
of sustenance. Absence making way for fruit.

–Christine Hemp                                                                                                                        IMAGE: French Skeleton Toile Rubber Gloves Milwaukee Art vs. Craft

Poems and Ponderings

POEM OF THE WEEK: World Without End

Frederic Edwin Church


I dreamed last night of death and destruction, the end
of the world.  The mountain behind my house (one I’ve never
lived in, on a bluff by the sea) spewed torches and glowing rocks,
their edges pulsing and jagged edges smiling. The sea roiled
behind me and the smooth beach rose to meet the swell
biting at my heels. I ran toward that fiery mountain, praying
that the end would not hurt, that I could weather
the shift from this world to that, a voice bellowing
from somewhere, just like in the movies. But I wasn’t
acting and I’m not sure if I knew it was a dream.
A prescience? Or a koan? So when my long-dead cat
Badger swaggered into the sea-green garden at the foot
of that mountain, the me that was watching knew I was not
dreaming. This was no vision nor a metaphor. Or a stand-in for
something I haven’t been able to shake. I swear
that he was the same mustachioed, black-and-white who claimed
me for twenty years. The world, it seems, did not end at all.

IMAGE: Frederic Edwin Church, “Cotopaxi,” 1862. Oil on canvas 48 x 85 inches. Detroit Institute of Arts



Poems and Ponderings

POEM OF THE WEEK: The Woman On My Left Is Reaching for A Roll

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The woman on my left is reaching for a roll.
Her arm extends, half-grown, half made.
Her better nature reaches for white turnips,
red beets, roots mad with mud. A glade

of skittering wings blows her off her chair.
She leaves the bleeding mound of custard on her plate
and wonders how much blood is too much blood?
Her tail is growing, itching to be flicked. Too late

for feeling homesick in the bone. Too late
for dinner party chat, for well-bred conversation.
She feels the swell of egg and yolk inside her.
What wrathful god invented this migration?

Just when she thinks that wings can take her
home, she gets off track, and moves from slack
to taut. I see her now, a reflection of her former
self below the ceiling of the sea, her fins laid flat.

But look! She likes it here! This landscape rife
with fertility, her cutlery laid out to slice
a map in two and dig to China with a large and heavy
spoon. She makes it up. And down. The device

that brought her here can always take her home.
For the farther one travels, the higher chance
of cure. She consults her compass and it points
only to her center. Her arms begin to dance.

The dinner guests are infected with the tune,
Then everyone is reaching for a roll. We remove
our filaments of fear and logic. Joy is biting
the backs of our legs. We dare to see our shadows move.

–Christine Hemp
IMAGE: from the blog Mimi Eats: http://mimieats.tumblr.com/

Poems and Ponderings

POEM OF THE WEEK: Before I Left My Tower for the Ground




Before I left my tower for the ground
and walked among the grasses by the river,
I hid behind each window facing east. Around

the steps and down to cook alone,
stale rays of sun across the counter.
My blue enamel pot contained the bone

I boiled, the flesh giving way to marrow.
Broth inside blue walls. My private hoard,
skimmed and frozen into stock tomorrow.

Ravens punish me for leaving
the upright life where once I slept in sky.
They don’t see me at the cusp of evening

basting lamb, potatoes. A table set for two.
It’s flesh and bone this time. A lure
toward horizontal. Toward you.

                                     IMAGE: Christine Hemp, 2015

Poems and Ponderings


Jugglers Dream Calder


Look at the juggler balancing time!
His hands intent on a touch, not a hold.
He knows suspension is his paradigm.

He throws up the terrible flames – watch them climb
in a circle of light like a big marigold.
Just look at that juggler balancing time!

Tossing his torches, mocking what’s tame,
he walks the tightrope in a ragged blindfold.
He knows suspension is his paradigm.

Round and round like a fanatical rhyme
he sends the world spinning—ah, numbers untold
see the juggler balancing. Time

and space are God’s ball and flame.
Flinging sun and moon to the vacuous cold,
he knows suspension is his paradigm.

But we all must be jugglers in pantomime,
hands ready to clutch, but brief touch is more bold
for us. And the juggler balancing time
Suspends! Suspense is his paradigm.

–Christine Hemp
   from  the Webster Review

IMAGE: “Juggler’s Dreams,” Alexander Calder, 1966; gouache and ink on paper
29 × 42 in

Poems and Ponderings


Fall of Icarus Matisse


It was his idea, this flying thing.
We collected feathers at night, stuffing
our pockets with mourning dove down. By day,
we’d weave and glue them with the wax
I stole after we’d shooed the bees away.

Oh, how it felt, finally, to blow off Crete
leaving a labyrinth of dead-ends:
my clumsiness with figures, father’s calm
impatience, cool logic, interminable devising.
The sea wind touched my face like balm.

He thought I’d tag along as usual,
in the wake of his careful scheme
bound by the string connecting father and son,
invisible thread I tried for years to untie.
I ached to be a good-for-something on my own.

I didn’t know I’d get drunk with the heat,
flying high, too much a son to return.
Poor Daedelus, his mouth an O below,
his hands outstretched to catch the rain
of wax. He still doesn’t know.

My wings fell, yes – I saw him hover
over the tiny splash – but by then I’d been
swallowed into love’s eye, the light I’ve come to see
as home, drowning in the yes, this swirling
white-hot where night will never find me.

And now when my father wakes
each morning, his bones still sore
from his one-time flight, his confidence undone
because the master plan fell through,
he rises to a light he never knew, his son.

by Christine Hemp

from Graven Images, A Journal of Law, Culture, and the Sacred;
and in XY Files: Poems of the Male Experience Anthology by Sherman Asher Press).

IMAGE: Henri Matisse “Icarus” 1943 guache on paper, cut-out

Poems and Ponderings


ZenBrush_20150111114713 (2)


One more dark morning.
Blowing on the fire

to make another day go.
Without stove and wood

I might not leave
my bed. The tick tick

of cast iron warming,
the sputter of fir, stave off

the muffled grey hovering
outside like a stale,

lingering guest. I can’t
get rid of clouds. The sea

is flat and dull. But I can
sustain this little flame inside

and keep it burning,
stick by seasoned stick.


by Christine Hemp
IMAGE: “January” by Christine Hemp; cyber ink on screen

Poems and Ponderings

POEM OF THE WEEK: Persian Astrologer

Nasa Hubble Stars


Alignment was everything to us and we’d not seen
the likes of such a heavenly body before. We found it
strange that Herod was more keen
about a baby than a star. My colleagues didn’t know
(nor did I) what we’d uncover on that trip, but we agreed
it wasn’t just astrology. We prayed
for signs and followed what we saw.

Before our journey to the birth, gifts once came
with their own requirements and obligations.
To give, really, was to ask
something of someone else. But soon it was revealed
that our largesse was dwarfed by geography
more expansive than our charts could plot. In offering
our little hills, we learned that mountains sometimes
move. Giving no longer means a ledger.

Afterwards I dreamt I saw a despot
licking dust, so we steered our lathered horses
clear of Herod and his plans. And even though the sand blew
in our eyes, we kept our course for home. Everything
was different: Constellations no longer
pointed out the path. We gave up gazing
at the stars for answers. We were haunted
by an ember burning deep inside us.

by Christine Hemp
IMAGE:  NASA, ESA, the Hubble Telescope Heritage Team Photograph, “Chance Alignment Between Galaxies Mimics a Cosmic Collision” with Hubble Collaboration, and W. Keel (University of Alabama)

Poems and Ponderings