The HyperTexts

Michael Cantor

Michael Cantor is an American poet whose work has appeared in Measure, Dark Horse, The Formalist, The Atlanta Review, The Comstock Review (Pushcart Prize nomination), Light Quarterly, Iambs & Trochees and many other journals, anthologies and e-zines. He has won the Newburyport Art Association 2004 Poetry Prize, Honorable Mention in the 2005 Morton Marr Prize competition, the 2006 Ibbetson Press Poetry Prize, and a number of New England Poetry Club awards, including the 2006 Erika Mumford Award. New York-born, Mr. Cantor retired in 1999 from a lengthy career as an industrial executive, and presently resides on Plum Island, north of Boston on the Massachusetts coast. He has lived and worked in Japan, Belgium, Mexico and Brazil.

A Bouquet of Triolets

This damp New England island spring
has hints of songs of cardinals
and that seems all that God will bring
a damp New England island. Spring
comes hard this year; the cold rains cling
and only wood-stove fire dulls
the damp. New England island spring
hears hints of songs of cardinals.

In summer’s dusk the beach-wise Labs
pinwheel and dart and bite the foam
that rattles stones and shells and crabs
in summer’s dusk. The beach-wise Labs
will chase and fetch till sunset grabs
last light from day, then shoot for home.
In summer’s dusk the beach-wise Labs
pinwheel and dart and bite the foam.

The island slows in autumn chill
as herons tip-toe through the marsh.
Red sumacs flare, swans thrum, but still
the island slows in autumn; chill
winds carve the emptied beach and spill
salt hints that winter will be harsh.
The island slows in autumn chill
as herons tip-toe through the marsh.

Dead gray and February bleak;
no color on this frozen beach
relieves the ice-flecked sands that streak —
dead gray and February bleak —
to meet a black horizon, seek
the end of day where gull bones bleach
dead gray and February bleak.
No color on this frozen beach.

Originally published in Candelabrum

The Young Men in Their Beauty

There by the walls of Ilium
the young men in their beauty keep
graves deep in the alien soil
they hated and they conquered.
From the Oresteia of Aeschylus

The perfect children play lacrosse on beaten fields:
resplendent, gold on green; one flourishes the ball —
net-slung, dead white—as if to rally swords and shields
to heed an ancient call to arms and give their all

         against a scheming foe. But, see, the group that masses
         on a farther hill is tall, long-muscled, darker:
         defiantly the Cree attack with darting passes,
         hooting, clubbing; ash on flesh and gravel starker

than a referee’s whistle. The favored children swarm
across an April carpet, sprinting, sticks held high;
the young men in their beauty revel, safe from harm,
and fill the sun-struck day with cries that amplify

         and echo between Mayan courts. Rude shadows cling
         to Chichen Itza walls as bone and skin meet skin
         and blood stains stone. A ball invades a chiseled ring
         set on a wall; and now the end-game shall begin

to play on beaten fields: a bowl of hammered gold,
a hard black knife, the children perfect, bright and bold.

Originally published in Iambs & Trochees

For Trudy, in New York on Business

You came and went in dead flat Hopper light:
encounter at the Whitney; swift affair
that we, both married, knew would lead nowhere —
but all each wanted was the one-night
stand of sorts; late afternoon-lit flight
to your hotel; a lamp, a desk, a chair,
a bed on which to stumble, fall and share
the satisfaction of an appetite

for unexpected sex. No mysteries,
no chiaroscuro worked to mask the sight
of loose and mottled flesh. And did we care?
Was there more there than Edward Hopper sees?
You filled the window, stark, unshaded, bright;
I watched your shadow paint the soot-choked air.

Originally published in Texas Poetry Journal

A Gloucester Portrait

She is, she says, a lighthouse keeper’s daughter,
and though she left the life her father chose,
it’s wind and rocks and ocean that she knows.
And so she sits and croons, and eyes the water,
then land, then back to sea, as if she sought her
place again; and blinks a smile that glows,
then fades. In here I’m called Four Roses Rose.
The second time around the smile is tauter.

She’s here, at Lobster Tom’s, most afternoons,
one hand around a glass, the thumbnail black.
We take a window booth, where she can see
the sea, past rusted packing shacks, the ruins
of docks, the chains, the fishing tubs that lack
a mast; and soon I’ll hear the songs she’s saved for me.

Originally published in Dark Horse

Two Tales from the East

The women in the prints of Utamaro
are quiet, self-involved
with dress and style
Their faces bear an air of inner sorrow
They do not smile.

        At Fifth and Sixty-Second
        Old Tokyo lover
        Tea house owner, former geisha
        Waiting for the light to change

        An Hermes scarf waves
        “I am with my Italian
        Banker friend, we are
        Staying here, at the Pierre.
        Such a small world, is it not?”

        Twenty years ago
        Sharing the first noodle bowl
        New Years tradition
        At Nanzenji, in the hills
        Snow on a yellow obi

Emerging from the bath or at a mirror
Their beauty is dissolved
in time and place
The soul of ukiyo-e is an aura
of whispered grace

        Mink coat, winter tan
        Her hair is fox-toned red now
        “But he is away
        I am sad bachelor girl
        Left all alone in New York”

        Bare tatami room
        Chilly morning at the inn
        Gray light on shoji
        Sounds of chimes and temple bells
        Her cool skin smooth as the straw

        Restructured eyelids
        Frosted lipstick, matching nails
        “Perhaps we can meet
        Do you know Piano Bar Jun?”
        In her bag a cell phone rings

These willow trees one sees in Yoshiwara
transplanted, will resolve
to stay alive
Become invasive, grab for air and moisture
They grow and thrive.

Originally published in The Cumberland Poetry Review

Noblesse Oblige

My gracious Brussels host in ‘63
Was long-nosed Guy—de Bakker Delacroix.
Unschooled, I did not realize that he
Was distantly related to the roi,
Or that, in Belgian names, the small “d” “de”
Bespeaks a landed haute nobility
Which nurtures ties to common folk as the
Pluperfect sense of aristocracy.

No one explained to me the reason why
Guy asked if I would join a family dance,
Or that his youngest sister’s silken thigh
Thrust sweetly through my legs, as if by chance,
Was just her way of waltzing, not a call
To flee big brother’s stuffy Christmas ball.

My mother never thought to teach me that
When strolling darkened, portrait-covered walls
It’s best to say, “Strong jaw. Fine sword. Nice hat!
Is that an early Rembrandt, or a Hals
Not, “Voulez-vous permettez-moi?” and leer
And grab, and cruelly trip into a pair
Of spindly chairs inlaid with aged veneer.
I only wish I had been more aware.

I’ve been all over now, and I’ve learned this:
If cloistered beauties seem to beg a siege,
By showing glowing, anxious cheeks to kiss —
Be sure it’s more than mere noblesse oblige.
And know, when visiting a friend’s chateau,
That in the Belgian language, “non” means “no”.

Originally published in Light

The Disappearance

There were no kids, the dogs are dead, and we’re
completely out of touch. Old friends lived near,
and now or then I’d get a call and hear
that one had seen her, sitting in the rear
at some designer’s show, or sipping kir
with groups of those young men who just appear
at every function, slim and cavalier,
and that she still looked good—but slightly queer,
and was not aging well—and I would fear
that she had asked for me. But year by year
my thoughts and interests moved from there to here.
The friends are gone—no longer volunteer
small updates on her sightings. Would a tear
or two in private now be real—or insincere?

Originally published in The Cumberland Poetry Review

The Perfect Sonnet

I’ve been at this forever and I think
the perfect sonnet should consist of one
long sentence which will elegantly slink
around caesuras; have a little fun
with word-play as it sets its feet upon
good meter and an intertwining rhyme,
and then, just when it seems it will run on
and on without an insight worth a dime —

sublimely superficial, laced with wit
that sidesteps the realities of life —
shall open up a bit and half admit
concern about old age, finances, wife;
so that, instead of running out of gas,
it turns around and bites you in the ass.

Originally published in The Cumberland Poetry Review

A Game of Go

So like the combat in a game of Go,
this quiet drama, played between the shoji screens
of almost empty rooms. Imagine new
tatami mats, their sweet, fresh reeds still touched with green;
the smell of straw, young pine and tea;
a low and graceful table, cushions, you and me
exchanging claim and counter-claim:
what better way to end it than a game?

We shall encase ourselves in white yukatas;
the starched and just-unfolded cotton straight and stiff;
sit back upon our heels, hands on thighs —
two actors in an ukiyoe print—then with
the brisk, quick moves we know by heart,
set out the bowls and hollowed board; and bow, and start:
each click of stone on kaya wood
a sound that cannot be misunderstood.

There was another, younger life, when chess
was where we fought and loved; when we would slash diagonals
across each other’s path, and stop and kiss
in midnight, all-night coffee shops for every captured piece.
The game we played involved baroque
and public risk; you laughed, and draped your hair to cloak
each move; and I would feint, slide back,
pretend that I was hurt—and then attack.

Now Go avoids emotion, has no crowd,
no court, no courtiers, no ruined and toppled queens;
we face a flat and square and hard-ruled board
where pieces, black and white entwine and interweave —
and some are yours, and some are mine,
and who owns what, or whom, is what we must define.
It’s not to conquer, but possess:
simpler, and yet more intricate than chess.

Originally published in Measure

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