Lucy as a Work of Art by Jennifer Finstrom

Lucy as a Work of Art
—Secrecy has this disadvantage: we lose the sense of proportion; we cannot tell whether our secret is important or not. –E.M. Forster, ‘A Room with a View’

You’re reminded of the chapter titles
in E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View
where Lucy is variously lying to George,
Cecil, Mr. Beebe, Mrs. Honeychurch,
Freddy, the servants, and Mr. Emerson.
Not that you’re specifically lying to anyone,
but there is a growing current of things
remaining unsaid, and this makes you
uneasy, makes you think, too, of what
you choose to include in poems and
what you choose to omit. Last night
you found the conversation you were
having over dinner difficult, weren’t sure
which of your stories to tell or how
to tell them. On the first date you went on
with this man, he told you that your
eye contact was unusual but a turn on,
and last night you gazed at him steadily
as you sipped your beer, unsure of what
you were trying to convey. Forster’s novel
chronicles Lucy’s search for beauty,
truth, and love even as she was lying
to herself, and you think of George
discarding her postcards of The Birth
of Venus and the Guido Reni Madonnas
because he didn’t want her to see
that they’re covered in blood. Every poem
you write could be different, could offer up
that one detail that changes everything.

by Jennifer Finstrom

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Editor’s Note: Poems written in second person point-of-view are strange and unsettling, and this choice perfectly supports the oddity of this narrator’s thought pattern.

The Woman in the Stained Glass House by Jennifer Finstrom

The Woman in the Stained Glass House

About ten years ago, I wrote a poem about the stained glass
window in the stairwell of the apartment building where I once
lived with my ex-husband. I used to stare at that window a lot.
It was right in front of me when I sat on the steps to lace up

my work shoes before going to the restaurant, and I would
carry the quiet scene of a little house amid green hills
with me through my shift. There was a small crack to the side
of the house, though, round like a stone or a bullet, and maybe

it was that intimation of ruin that made me imagine
an unquiet life for the inhabitants of that glass house.
Or maybe it was something else. In that first poem, the couple
in the house are unhappy though nothing seems actually wrong.

They eat dinner. The woman keeps birds. Now I want to tell
the story differently. The woman lives in her glass house alone
and is happy. She can see the lake from her window, the row
of trees near the round hole, and she has let all of her canaries

out of their cage. The entire small house is filled with the music
of glass wings. The man is gone. It doesn’t matter where.

by Jennifer Finstrom

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Twitter: @jenfinstrom

Editor’s Note: Poems about poems don’t necessarily end well, yet this one quickly progresses past that initial trope and plunges the reader into a rich allegory of imagery and thought.

Pre-Raphaelite Morning: Paintings on the Beach by Jennifer Finstrom

Pre-Raphaelite Morning: Paintings on the Beach

Sunrise hammers the lake
into flattened metal, and two crisp
swallows detail the sky. Hunt
or Millais might have painted this scene,
the playground equipment intensely
cobalt as it waits unused, surrounded
by slender, newly planted trees. No one
sits in the slightly moving swing.
Not a young girl with a garland
of marguerites. Not Sylvia,
Dorothy, or Vanessa cutting class.

But still the school of nature beckons.
From my window, I watch a solitary
man amble the beach. He could be
a painter, planning his composition.
He could be drawn by the girl-less
swing on a grey day to imagine
that it is not too late, that painting
her there might make her real.
Or he may have risen early to avoid
sleep and his half-brother death
because even in morning, darkness

is always present, just as the heart
of snow beats steadily in June.
This day will pass as most days:
I will see the woman walking
her dog and the cloud that crosses
the sky like most clouds
that have passed. And when
I think of night with her train
of stars, I imagine, not a trailing
gown, but a steaming freight
that roars out of the west, devouring
each bright remnant of the day.

****
Painting titles used in the poem (grouped by stanza):

Young Girl with a Garland of Marguerites (Sophie Anderson)
Sylvia (Frank Bernard Dicksee)
Dorothy (Frank Bernard Dicksee)
Vanessa (John Everett Millais)

The School of Nature (William Holman Hunt)
A Gray Day (Daniel Alexander Williamson)
Too Late (William Lindsay Windus)
Sleep and his Half-brother Death (John William Waterhouse)

Heart of Snow (Edward Robert Hughes)
Woman Walking her Dog (Edward Robert Hughes)
The Cloud (Arthur Hacker)
Night with her Train of Stars (Edward Robert Hughes)

by Jennifer Finstrom

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Twitter: @jenfinstrom

Editor’s Note: Imagery, metaphor, personification—this poem is deceptively easy to read, yet the technique beneath its words draws the reader inside the narrator’s world with skillful appeal. The creative use of painting titles adds an additional element of ekphrasis to the poem.

Before Love Story: A Brief Catalogue of Jennifers by Jennifer Finstrom

Before Love Story: A Brief Catalogue of Jennifers

“What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died?”—Erich Segal

I was already over a year old when Love Story by Erich Segal was published on Valentine’s Day, 1970, sending my name soaring in popularity, filling my grade school with Jennifers. I’ve read the book and seen the movie, but still, something is missing. I look for a Jennifer from history or literature to connect with, but it isn’t that easy. I find Jennie Churchill, rumored to have created the Manhattan, but she is actually a Jeanette. I find Jenny Lind, and though we share Swedish blood and she has a memorial in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey, she was a Johanna.

I find Jenny Cavilleri in Love Story. This update of Verdi’s La traviata, itself a retelling of The Lady of the Camellias by the younger Dumas, features a girl named Jenny who dies of leukemia—though of course, it is tuberculosis in the opera and most of the nineteenth century. In all versions of this story, there is wealth and family misunderstanding. In La traviata, Violetta Valéry is a courtesan redeemed by the purity of love. The resolution and return of the beloved always happen too late, but I, at least, was born before love meant never having to say you’re sorry.

by Jennifer Finstrom

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Twitter: @jenfinstrom

Editor’s Note: A prose poem surrenders enjambment; therefore, the narrative flow must instead provide ample space for the reader to digest the imagery. This poem combines creative memoir with allegory: what is love’s purpose?

Elegy for Gatsby by Jennifer Finstrom

Elegy for Gatsby

I used to think that stories ended neatly,
and that even if you were dead, floating
in a green pool like Jay Gatsby, it was okay
and somehow you were still able to see
what happened after, how the phone that rang
and rang really was Daisy, how wildflowers
have covered your smooth lawn. And even though
I know now that dead is dead, this is all still
somehow true. How can nineteen-year-old me
not know that I cover her headstone in words?

by Jennifer Finstrom

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Twitter: @jenfinstrom

Editor’s Note: Careful enjambment gives this poem both energy and quiet contemplation, sometimes simultaneously.