Bruce Bawer

Bruce is one of the most controversial figures in American letters. A leading literary critic, a past vice president of the National Book Critics Circle, poet, journalist, columnist, film reviewer, editor, novelist, and author, his work is always original and always provocative. Although he already had a few important books in print at the time --including the widely-acclaimed DIMINISHING FICTIONS, a brilliant collection of essays on the modern novel-- Bruce created a furor of angry debate in the gay/lesbian communities with A PLACE AT THE TABLE: The Gay Individual in American Society, a highly personal discussion of being gay in America. Among his other more recent titles is PROPHETS AND PROFESSORS a superlative collection of essays on poets and poetry. His newest book is the just-released STEALING JESUS, an indictment of Christian Fundamentalism. The poems below are from Bruce's verse collection, Coast to Coast (Story Line Press). Bruce, I'm very honored to say, is one of my oldest and most beloved friends.


My cat is snoring
in her Clorox box turned sideways
to face the warm radiator.

I stand at the kitchen counter
waiting for coffee water to boil
in the new aluminum pot,

and read the blue-bound proof
of a famous poet's letters.
I think of what they said tonight

on the news: that it would snow
all night, all day tomorrow.
I think of the boy with herpes,

the latest subway murder,
the new talks in Geneva.
And I remember the report

about the gorilla in Chicago
whose kitten friend was killed
by a car. They told the gorilla,

in sign language, and she cried.
The poet writes his wife: "When notes
get down below a certain pitch,

they are apprehended by the ear
not as sound, but as pain."
My cat wakes up, and yawns,

and looks at me. Outside the window,
white flakes fill the darkening sky.
I turn a page. The water sings.

The View From An Airplane At Night,
Over California

This is a sight that Wordsworth never knew,
whether looking down from mountain, bridge, or hill:
An endless field of lights, white, orange, and blue,
as small and bright as stars, and nearly still,
but moving slowly, many miles below,
in blackness, as stars crawl across the skies,
and ranked in rows that stars will never know,
like beads strung on a thousand latticed ties.
Would even Wordsworth, seeing what I see,
know that these lights are not well-ordered stars
that have been here a near-eternity,
but houses, streetlamps, factories, and cars?
Or has this slim craft made too high a leap
above it all, and is the dark too deep?

from Sixty Fifth Street Poems

for Christopher

I'd come from New York, an alien in that land,
and for six weeks the congregations of cattle
on the sun-drenched slopes of the naked yellow hills,
the spotted deer at the far end of the meadow
behind the house, before the wall of pine,
the gray-white sheep under the olive trees,
and the stony creek at the heart of the dark ravine
under a high church ceiling of pine and redwood
whispered insistently: you must change your life.
Or whispered, rather, that I could, I could,
that even such as I might find love in this world,
might find another life, and find it good.

Elise Paschen

Elise is the Executive Director of the illustrious Poetry Society of America. Her poems have appeared in The Denver Quarterly, Southwest Review, The New Yorker and other fine journals. She has published HOUSES: COASTS (Sycamore Press, Oxford 1985), a limited edition chapbook; and, in 1996, her first book of verse, INFIDELITIES was awarded the Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize from Story Line Press. The poems here are from INFIDELITIES. To learn more about Elise and her fascinating background, life, and work, read POET IN MOTION, an interview with Elise by Gloria.


To light the dark
of you where no
light has explored,

to trek the deserts,
accept mirages,
swim gulfs, inhabit

the islands, caves,
the rooms and alcoves
of you, the chambers,

to chart the arteries,
to join the valves,
the bolts, the nails,

to open windows,
to hazard exits,
fall through trap floors,

to upend drawers,
slam doors, to shatter
the glass of you,

but waking, sleeping,
to learn to say
no more to you.

The Other Mother

Because she is my mother, every night
she turns into Cinderella. In the wings
I watch. A dove balances on each shoulder.
Her hair tied with a scarf, she sweeps across
the stage--her broom, a branch, a courtly partner;
I smell the rosin and commit Prokofiev's
score to heart. It is Hamburg, 1965.
From the window of our hotel (once a palace),
Die Vier Jahreszeiten, a Christmas tree,
set in the white lake's heart, glistens.

We change hotels. Because, my mother says,
someone forgets to send the checks.
Our room becomes smaller, our hotels, motels,
rooming houses. A dancer helps me make
my father's gift, a box for cigarettes.
(I've glued three velvet hearts beneath the lid.)
We send it overseas. My mother reaches home
at midnight. On a table I've arranged
her supper: dark bread, huhnchen, peppermints.
She drapes a scarf across the lamp, reads mysteries.

Christmas morning. Evergreen in the air.
A small fir stands on the bedside table
alive now with bears, leopards, skunks, and zebras.
Is this the way my mother feels as she
enters the stage atop the crystal stairway,
the Court Ball at her feet like some rare gift
(a gift her mother has carefully placed
beside her bed, a tree in miniature
inhabited by llamas, elks, giraffes,
tigers, gazelles), a new kingdom to rule?

Editor's Note: Elise's mother is prima ballerina Maria Tallchief.
Elise talks about this poem in her interview.


Why don't we cruise
Times Square at noon
enjoy the jam
I'm not immune
to your deft charm
in one stalled car
I'd like to take
you as you are.

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Dr. Gloria Glickstein Brame
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