Maxine Chernoff is the author of six books of fiction and fourteen books of poems, most recently Without (Shearsman) and To Be Read in the Dark (Omnidawn).  She is winner of a 2013 NEA Fellowship in Poetry and, with Paul Hoover, for their translation of Friedrich Hoelderlin, the 2009 PEN USA Translation Award. She is the editor of the journal New American Writing and serves as Chair, Creative Writing Program, San Francisco State University.


To Own

Maxine Chernoff


The blistering  shore 
whose rocks spawn 
birds among the ruins
of olive trees; tethered 
there the hosts whose language

 makes them strange and bartered

 goods, as life evolves

around a plague-filled
site, whose signs spell

 warnings to desist.

The news is filled 
with one true plot,
that men make war 
and trouble stands 
to view the scene,  
the boss who orders 
workers to make
jackets bombs or pies.

 Whose ghost will take  
the blame for all 
the dying in the leaves,

 what world kills seeds 
and makes the bees 
lose their high season 
thick with industry?

Cue the stinging rupture

 which we take to mean
a death has been 
inscribed upon the day 
we crush the grapes 
and say the prayer, 
which still is offered 
for a reason split, a rift

 between this ledge and that.

 Here is the cortège, holding

 meaning in their hands,

 the barest omens

dense as bulbs we plant
in fall.  Seasons travel 
in the world of pure design,

 their blooming too 
a death though for the moment

decorated as a bride. 


Maxine Chernoff


In the rearranged hours 

of days' first witness

whose lips

are encounters and 

listless  with saying,

at the crossroads of notice, 

where stories wait ready

 to meet their stunned donors, 

the  ones who know

reasons like people 

the weather or names 

of their children, the story's

rough edges and

rotten boards leaning toward

yesterday's sorrow and 

songs of embarkment,   


the river whose bank

Is covered in flowers
for somebody's death
though  no one is speaking

coming to grief might

 break one's sheer boundaries

 and  license  the weeping

 at rest  under eaves 

of the lake-facing cottage. 


The one who came asking

goes  home without closure,

 the one with the story

unfreezes the pen and

 lets it drop under

 the porch one invents

 as part of the scene,

 the  window one makes

 of scorched  and spent redress,

  the people who wait 

 as though they are human, 

and words  are their breathing

 and time their release.

Leave them there waiting 

 until they are needed

 to wander towards mention 

 on plot's tuneless page.

 Awaiting an author,

 they watch the moths

 landing, on time's

 hazy screen, where

 everyone falters along with

 their reasons for silence

 or speaking, the uncounted

 numbers awaiting their words.