Janet Sylvester has published two books of poetry, That Mulberry Wine (Wesleyan) and The Mark of Flesh
(Norton) and a chapbook, A Visitor at the Gate.
She is currently finishing her third book, the working title for which is A Visitor at the Gate.
Winner of the Grolier Poetry Prize, a PEN Discovery Award and a Pushcart Prize,
she teaches in the low-residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at Lesley University in Cambridge,
A Sample of Janet Sylvester's work follows. You can find out more about her by following the links provided at the
end of this document.
Efficient as personified abstractions,
three women hike up a Utah mountian
below the Sleeping Princess, her body
solid, a rock under a spell of snow.
I hear the altitude, changed into weight,
arrange their conversation's music,
bearing all of mercy's amplitude,
and as raggedly sure. Their ages span
three decades of chastity, the kind
the self achieves on this journey,
leaning deep to take on gravity
as it earns the puzzling words it was born for:
blank, truth's slant, apothegm and delay, man.
One leads for a while, graceful, though she can't
believe it yet, in a dress and sneakers,
in one hand her new camera, the other
speaking with Navajo charms. One,
fierce, recounts her dreaded blackouts. She says,
I gained forty pounds and I spent my savings;
now, I work to disinter my childhood.
At the last, the last dances,
her arms open for a moment, for years
of marriage that lift before the Sego
lily's white face, its pink, edgy middle,
its hidden root she could eat if hunger lasts.
The cliff face, impassive, bends above them.
There's nothing that they need, or that she has.
They arrive all at once below the rim,
fifteen common senses steeped in water,
a mist so fine they breathe and breathe it in,
its chill blueing their knees, leaving a film
clean as this late afternoon on their faces.
A bird flies into the water's curtain,
settles half-visible on a stone ledge,
then despite force, despite danger,
simply washes, raising, shaking its wings.
It takes half a life to learn to love women.
I, the fourth, at the age when we cannot pray,
first see how narrow the aperture is
through which the water pours, and how slowly
it seems to brim, backlit by a west sun,
how giving itself to the mountainside,
at that place where it falls, it also shines.
Copyright © 1997 Janet Sylvester
From The Mark of Flesh
W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.