Selections from O Woolly City

Priscilla Sneff

Winner of the 2004 Kenyon Review Prize in Poetry

The Year of the City One

Blank night, bank of the Charles, dark dormitoria
remsleepers. He
Is an onyx in black water. Black-inked
Onyx lost in water, this life. O black, black where the waters
May I give you a bouquet of crinoids? I said,
May I give you my time?—clepsydra of seas, hourglass of sands?
May I give you my word, father? I said
Where the waters stirred as though the man were dead.
O the waters stirred as though the man were dead
And no father was, mother was, daughter—
It’s Time bears me now by the dark water
And no more am I bitter (noon was glazed over with pollen;
Rich; plummy; plush black-and-gold bees imbedded in the
Abbess in her honeycomb, for I’ve come home
In time! In time skin smarts against skin now: mine and X’s
Whose arm span I stir in now. Him I have husbanded, loved (Now he
Sleeps. . . .) Tuned onyx shrieks in gold setting: Rise sun;
Endanger; glorify me.
I knock on closed door
in light, bestrewn
The four-petaled, the six-petaled freak. The city is
Heaps. It is the Year of the City One.


Well: over the black and sea-burnt cliffs
I came upon
A garden red and green and, like me, lost:
A garden gone florid with neglect, for O
The rain it rains, the wind it blows, the hell
Love grows.
though I hope for change, I do not expect
Such sea-change as the sojourner’s, the change
Of heart one ordinarily undergoes,
For Chance became my science. I followed it like a compass,
I followed it like a lover, I followed it like
A river, as days followed days, years years, and still
I carry to my love the compass rose.


Whether he live or no
The meadow shimmer as ever
And heat render the long stems low
And the sun stroke the river

And silence take me in
Undoubling its front door
To a room like the room inside my skin,
Its broken furniture,

And I lie on the single bed
Older; the linen is taut.
My own bare arm lies under my head
Shifting little or not

When night calls to its own,
Ruffling its owls together,
And their eyes blink at the shining moon,
And the moon glows in the river.

The Firebird

Visit the Interior of the Earth; Through
Purification Thou Wilt Find the Hidden Stone

Mum’s the bird and molded smoke the hand,
The taloned dark stroke that smooths you
Two in the sack of one city, the sex
Grave and dark and grand, and the blackened streets,
in places,
Of a sudden brilliant and pocked.
Then a white ash hovers mid-air. The city
The slowly exploding shell. The city’s
Flocks of ascending white tracts. To London:
Lichtspiel and the last word, love. The rest is

          • •

Something I have seen in fire—salamander
Rinsing coolly in its red freaked fountain;
Something I have seen aloft—flickering feather;
Something—terrible fuse, in current and under,
Trembling the weedy strings. . . .

Oh, Chemo’s the bard; cold univac of bonds
I am waiting for, in order to live:
Bright metal, bright brain of bronze,
Bright silver tongue—brash him
The gold and unexplored heart.
And VITRIOL’S the word; imbedded joke that ends
With the last laugh, the sudden brilliant cough:
Visita Interiora Terrae, Rectificando
Invenies Occultum Lapidem

          • •

Night planes over England,
night of wings, night of
Light shows over megaliths; O
My soul,
The desire and the pursuit of
The whole.
The mere vision:
The ticking and integral stone, set
Still in its open tomb, quick
And dreaming voluptuous dreams:

          • •

O love is absurd O gilded flack
Each sonnet.

          • •

Something I have seen in London—Love-
In-Illness under cool, taut linen;
Something I can’t dream of—wingèd peace;
Something—the nervy world burning through nightmare—
Troubles my heartstrings. Something . . .

          • •

I wait in the city for
something—vision—and see dream-
Shapes, flapping and dim-lit, but they are only dreamt.

See a hazy flock, sleep-fraught and night-flying, of huge, light,
Mechanical birds. See the delicate slim-limbed primates
Traversing the shattered curbs in silverish streamlets. Greet
One visitant after another, delightedly!, but never on the first


          • •

Cave. Cave.
And who is this croaks, “My dear, my dear,
I shall carry you over the lintel and through the white doors.”


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