Linda Gregerson is the author of four collections of poetry: Fire in the Conservatory (Dragon Gate 1982), The Woman Who Died in Her Sleep (Houghton Mifflin 1996), Waterborne (Houghton Mifflin 2002), and Magnetic North (Houghton Mifflin 2007). The Woman Who Died in Her Sleep was a finalist for the Lenore Marshall Prize and The Poets Prize; Waterborne won the 2003 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. Recent poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Triquarterly, Poetry, The Atlantic Monthly, and The Kenyon Review.

Gregerson is also the author of two volumes of criticism: The Reformation of the Subject: Spenser, Milton, and the English Protestant Epic (Cambridge University Press 1995), and Negative Capability: Contemporary American Poetry (University of Michigan Press 2001). Her essays on lyric poetry and Renaissance literature appear in many journals and anthologies, including The Blackwell Companion to Shakespeare's Works, The Cambridge Companion to Spenser, Criticism, and ELH (English Literary History).

Gregerson has received awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Poetry Society of America, and the Modern Poetry Association, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Institute for Advanced Study, the National Humanities Center, and the National Endowment for the Arts. She has served on the faculties of the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, The Kenyon Review Writers Conference, and the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers. Gregerson is the Frederick G. L. Huetwell Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan, where she teaches creative writing and Renaissance literature.

Three Poems by Linda Gregerson


No Lion, No Moon

                                 štepán Pollack 1931-43

But there she is, fair
Thisby, twice: the once

in dirndl and embroidered
blouse, then letter-

by-letter – Tisbe – on
the wall above. Heart-

with-arrow glossing the
name, the heroine’s

affliction, and, by
consequence, her claim

on us. Cheap paper, much
yellowed these sixty

years, the crayon
wielded not so much

with art as with
the art of open-

heartedness. Which makes
me think her lover, himself

so easily undone
by words and by

an open heart, un-
likely to have scorned

the hand that formed
the letters mis-

proclaiming Priam
just above his head.

What’s Pyramus to you,
child? Or you

and all Theresienstadt
to Thisby?

That someone
had the wherewithal

to find the children
crayons at all or guide

them through theatricals,
that someone – not

just someone but the
sum of them, the common-

weal, inside this un-
familiar and malignant

place, this “camp” –    could find
the heart to care for

pictures, plays-
within-a-play, and inju-

dicious lovers long
before their keepers

thought to use such things
as camouflage (the Red

Cross sent observers
once) and, caring

for such things, to
make of them something

like a nursery for
the yet-to-be-ex-
terminated soul
of central Europe is

a knot not even
malice-on-the-grand-

scale has dissolved.
Thisby knows

so little of the world
as yet: the bit

she can see through the
chink in the wall

has made her heart beat
faster in its cage. But

little as she
knows, she knows

the one thing, there
are forms for this,

his eyes will be like . . .
lips like . . . she is not

required, no more
than the guards

who have loaded the trains,
to make the whole thing up

from scratch. The transcript
and that stubborn other

thing that gets trans-
scription slightly wrong, if only

rarely in our favor. Young
štepán left the lion out.


My Father Comes Back From The Grave

                                                  (for Karen)


I think you must contrive to turn this stone
                      on your spirit to lightness.

                                     Ten years.
            And you, among all the things of the earth he took

to heart - they weren't so many after all - bent nearly
                      to breaking with daily

                                     griefs. The grass
            beneath our feet.
Poor blades. So

leaned on for their wavering homiletic (pressed for
                      paltry, perpetual,

                                     raiment, return,

            the look-for-me every child appends to absence) it's

a wonder they keep their hold on green. Come back
                      to me as grass beneath

                                     my feet.
But he
            inclined to different metaphors.


                                          *


                                                                   Your neighbor,

the young one, the one with two small boys, the one
                      who knew

                                     what to do when the
            gelding had foundered and everyone else was sick

with fear, can no longer manage the stairs on his own.
                      The wayward

                                     cells (proliferant,
            apt) have so enveloped the brain stem that

his legs forget their limberness. The one
                      intelligence

                                     driving it all. The one
            adaptable will-to-be-ever-unfolding that recklessly

weaned us from oblivion will
                      as recklessly have done

                                     with us. Shall the    fireweed
            lament the fire-eaten meadow
? Nothing

in nature (whose roots make a nursery of ash) (but
                      we . . .) so

                                     parses its days in dread.


                                          *


            And in that other thing,     distinguishing

the species that augments itself with tools.
                      With

                                     drill bits in
            the present case, with hammer, saw,

and pressure-treated two-by-eights: a ramp
                      for the chair

                                     that wheels the one
            who cannot walk. He will not live to use

it much, a month perhaps, but that
                      part, o

                                     my carpenter, you
            have never stooped to reckon. Now

the father, where does he come in? Whose
                      cigarette,

                                     whose shot glass, whose
            broad counsel at the table saw ("I told

you not to do that") ever
                      freighted a daughter's learning.

                                     Whose work
            was the world of broken things and a principle

meant to be plain. The grass is mown? The people
                      in the house may hold

                                     their heads up. Not?
            A lengthening reproach. And thus

the shadow to your every move. The cough,
                      the catch, continuo: the engine

                                     that breaches your scant four hours
            of sleep. And what should you see (still

sleeping) as you look for the source of the sound?
                      Our father on the mower making

                                     modest assault
            on the ever-inadequate-hours-of-the-day, as

manifest in your neglected
                      lawn. Fed up, no doubt. Confirmed

                                     in his private opinions. But
            knightly in his fashion and - it's this

I want to make you see--
                      in heaven to be called upon.


Prodigal

Copper and ginger, the plentiful
       mass of it bound, half loosed, and
              bound again in lavish

       disregard as though such heaping up
were a thing indifferent, surfeit from
              the table of the gods, who do

              not give a thought to fairness, no,
       who throw their bounty in a single
lap. The chipped enamel – blue – on her nails.

The lashes sticky with sunlight. You would
       swear she hadn’t a thought in her head
              except for her buttermilk waffle and

       its just proportion of jam. But while
she laughs and chews, half singing
              with the lyrics on the radio, half

              shrugging out of her bathrobe in the
       kitchen warmth, she doesn’t quite
complete the last part, one of the

sleeves, as though, you’d swear, she
       couldn’t be bothered, still covers
              her arm. Which means you do not

       see the cuts. Girls of an age –
fifteen for example –  still bearing
              the traces of when-they-were-

              new, of when-the-breasts-had-not-
       been-thought-of, when-the-troublesome-
cleft-was-smooth, are anchored

on a faultline, it’s a wonder they
       survive at all. This ginger-haired
              darling isn’t one of my own, if

       own is ever the way to put it, but
I’ve known her since her heart could still
              be seen at work beneath

              the fontanelles. Her skin
       was almost other-worldly, touch
so silken it seemed another kind

of sight, a subtler
       boundary than obtains for all
              the rest of us, though ordinary

       mortals bear some remnant too,
consider the loved one’s fine-
              grained inner arm. And so

              it’s there, from wrist to
       elbow, that she cuts. She takes
her scissors to that perfect page, she’s good,

she isn’t stupid, she can see that we
       who are children of plenty have no
              excuse for suffering we

       should be ashamed and so she is
and so she has produced this many-
              layered hieroglyphic, channels

              raw, half-healed, reopened
       before the healing gains momentum, she
has taken for her copy-text the very

cogs and wheels of time. And as for
       her other body, says the plainsong
              on the morning news, the hole

       in the ozone, the fish in the sea,
you were thinking what exactly? You
              were thinking a comfortable

              breakfast would help? I think
       I thought we’d deal with that tomorrow.
Then you’ll have to think again.