AofA has published several Wendy Klein poems because we love them so much. They are courageous, above all. As well as marvellously crafted. And now she has been shortlisted for our Poet Award.
Widely published and winner of many prizes, 81-year-old Wendy Klein is a retired psychotherapist, born in New York and brought up in California. Since leaving the U.S. in 1964, she has lived in Sweden, France, Germany and England.
Her writing has been influenced by early family upheaval resulting from her mother’s death, her nomadic years as a young single mother and subsequent travel.
Despite dashing about between four daughters and fourteen grandchildren, she has published three collections: Cuba in the Blood (2009) and Anything in Turquoise (2013) from Cinnamon Press, and Mood Indigo (2016) from Oversteps Books.
She is one of AofA’s favourite poets and we have republished some of her brilliantly taboo and lush poems. She was one of our poets at the AofA poetry evening at the Poetry Society in 2019.
And here we present four of her poems.
Naked man shovelling snow
Sierra Hot Springs
The naked man shovels snow as if it was
weightless as winter sky pinked up for early
sunset. He flashes a hearty mountain smile
that says: hi, I’m okay; how about you?
His skinny plait swings to-and-fro in time
with his shrivelled scrotum, while his penis,
curls up tight to keep warm, like a rosebud
caught by October frost. I scrunch down
inside my borrowed swim suit, consider
how bodies can look so tough and tender
at once; how hard it gets to be proud of goose-
bumped flesh, age-creased skin; the way
the mountains don’t give a damn; the polite steam
from the sulphur spring that fails to conceal.
Give me a Persian rug for my winding sheet
for my comforting shroud to lie down in;
not the size of the Ardabil that graced
the floor of Hitler’s office in Berlin,
its four corners encompassing one sun;
nor the Kashan hunting rug on the wall
of Stockholm Palace, but a Gelim or a Kilim
for a nomad or a wanderer like me.
I’ll stretch out on its lavish paisley loops,
my head on its spill of blood rosettes: well-
faced, tasselled and secure enough to hold
my anywhere-sleep, light enough to take up
my bed and walk when I will, my limbs warm,
from the weaver’s memory, his feverish fingers.
Imagine, if you can, a vessel; the size of an amphora jug;
imagine its curved surface, impsing and erect.
Then reach out and touch it – trace the spidery cracks,
feel the terracotta, rough and faded, but still warm –
warm with the warmth of real sun, Mediterranean sun,
not its distant Northern cousin, faded and anaemic.
Imagine this amphora as a gift;
a gift from the sea, from the world’s essence –
omphalos, the navel, the centre of all life.
Imagine just finding it there one morning –
wondering how it got there;
wondering what it meant.
Imagine the moment when you realise what to do with it –
when peering into its musty depths, breathing in antiquity:
nymphs and satyrs cavorting in wine-soaked bacchanal,
gods and goddesses and gods and mortals in ecstatic union,
golden grain and golden oil, and sharp yellow wine;
imagine how you would know – know precisely what to do with it.
Imagine the growing knowledge of the gift given,
your hand reaching down and down and down,
exploring in stately finger steps, the steep dark sides,
moistened by, intimate with so many substances, and stirred by
the crazy rocking of ships, the battle cries of pain and wrath,
the babble of market days, coarse and insouciant.
Then imagine the invitation, both tacit and sly, to find a use for it:
to store away your shame, to store away the memory of living things
you may have killed: through failure to please; through needing
their love too much; through fear, neglect, suffocation –
or a combination of the three – through listening to bad advice;
through careless words; careless deeds:
your grandfather; your first cat; that potted heather plant,
sinless and unsuspecting, an unwelcome gift at an inauspicious time;
at least one unborn baby; the planet, through profligate waste,
that Acer bush, shrivelling overnight from burgundy to rust –
mysteriously – a litter of puppies (all but one), the odd lover;
the odd husband; the trust of a child.
But how would it all fit in? And how would you know:
what should go first, what should go last,
and what, in the end, you might just leave out?
A problematical bed to fill
She looked too jaunty
for sudden widowhood,
too down-at-heel to be
on the pull
A problematical bed to fill
was how she put it
which left a lot of scope
to wonder how the problem
came about and when.
She didn’t seem the sort
to offer her bed
to a canine companion
and I guessed her to be
a cat-hater or even a member
of abstinence actually.
Dry shade she explained
and the ghost of Mellors
seemed to hover at her shoulder
to whisper maidenhair ferns
the delicate stepping-over
of the wine-and-poem-
drunk woman her late night dance
how in the morning
she hurries to sent items
checks her indiscretions