Posted by the editor on 2009/12/18
T. Alan Broughton was born in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, 1936, and spent his childhood on the campus of Bryn Mawr College where his parents were Professor of Classics and Dean of Admissions. He attended The American Overseas School in Rome, Exeter Academy, Harvard University, Juilliard School of Music, Swarthmore College, and University of Washington. He taught at Sweet Briar College before joining the English Department at the University of Vermont in 1966 where he was the Corse Professor of English Language and Literature, served as Chair, and retired in 2001.
T. Alan Broughton lives in Burlington. He has been writing since he was fifteen. A recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and NEA Award, he has published novels, poems, stories, and short essays on writing. His most recent books are his seventh collection of poems, A World Remembered (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2010), and a collection of short stories, Suicidal Tendencies (Colorado State University Press, 2003).
- Hob’s Daughter, Morrow, 1984
- The Horsemaster, Dutton, 1981
- Winter Journey, Dutton, 1980; Fawcett, 1981
- A Family Gathering, Dutton, 1977; Fawcett, 1979
- Suicidal Tendencies, Center for Literary Publishing, and University Press of Colorado, 2003
- A World Remembered, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2010
- The Origin of Green, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2001
- In The Country of Elegies, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1995
- Preparing to be Happy, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1988
- Dreams Before Sleep, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1982
- Far From Home, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1979
- In the Face of Descent, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1975
LIMITED EDITIONS (POETRY)
- The Others We Are, Northeast/Juniper Press, 1979
- Adam’s Dream, Northeast/Juniper Press 1975
LIMITED EDITIONS (SHORT STORY)
- The Jesse Tree, Northeast/Juniper Press, 1975
PEN Short Story Collection, Anthology of Magazine Verse & Yearbook of American Poetry, Borestone Awards for Poetry, The O’Henry Awards, The Best American Poetry, The Ploughshares Reader, The Best American Essays, The Best Writing About Writing, Contemporary Poetry of New England, Poetry Daily, and others
AWARDS, FELLOWSHIPS, AND GRANTS Include:
Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Borestone Awards for Poetry, Balch Awards (Virginia Quarterly Review), Yankee Annual Poetry Awards, Angoff Award for Poetry (The Literary Review), Tate Award – The Sewanee Review (best poems published, 2008).
History of a Street
When we skipped down that street,
singing in the dark, what did we know
of Via Rasella or Ardeatina? Armies
had come and gone in marches
as old as layered stones, shards
of amphorae and busts. We sang
because we were ignorant and young.
She stood in the doorway and swung
the hips of her wide and shadowy form,
chanting she’d take us both for the price
of one. We stared across that line
between our innocence and her offer,
could not speak, and strutted off.
Who blamed her for throwing a stone?
We thought the only human failure
of that street was our sheepish own.
What other song could we have sung?
The killing site already had its plaque,
bones were reclaimed for consecration.
What song remains in Via Rasella
or on streets where men and boys
were seized, except the usual cry
of swifts building on high ledges,
women calling from windows?
When trucks were crammed with priests,
officials, boy of fourteen, assorted Jews,
someone howled a name, a dog barked
at rigid shadows on the walls.
That night we slipped past parents
in our homes to beds and dreams
of what we might have done.
We trudge into ash
past smoking vents,
the clinkers of lava shaped
into hunching torsos
armless and damned.
The only green is corrosive sulphur,
and our guides are sherpas
breaking black snow.
The sun is dying beyond the sea
as if it plans never to rise,
the cone is stained with blood,
and lights of the city holding our beds
are strung in loops
that chain the bay.
How can I trust that wild-eyed man
whose knife is stuck in his belt,
and the other, mute from birth?
Will they take us up to the rim
then cut our throats, heave us over
with empty pockets to drop
to the center of earth?
When I stand on the cusp thrown out
by a molten core, stand where
defiant matter snags the sky,
the mute stares at the pit
and his brother howls a song.
My parents are etched
in a joined silhouette,
and the sky is milky with stars.
Naples, glittering necklace of lyrics,
slopes below where Christ’s tears are aging,
and sea that defines its illusive horizon,
that madman and I fling our arms wide to you
and sing our duet on the edge
of a mountain’s resurrections.
Men shoved cameos at us in streets
of Naples or alleys of Sorrento
where we walked against a cold wind
from the sea. The land, gouged by armies
tossing each other back and forth,
and faces incised with loss also rose
around us as if carved from obdurate
shell, claiming the right to persist.
I watched my mother peer
at brooches to divine their age,
the quality of craft. I held an oval
thrust in my hand. I was too young
to judge the profiles of women,
trees, or towns by small harbors.
They burned in my palm as if
the folded needle pinned them
to me forever. Save me, save me,
the eyes of each vendor pled.
Long after makers and buyer are gone
I hold one to my northern sun
that ricochets through empty rooms,
and I sink through pines fringing the sea,
laden lemon boughs leaning to soil
where ruined cities rise again to light.
Port of Departure
Nothing, so long as I am in my senses,
would I match with the joy a friend may bring.
When I came to Brindisi, Horace,
we traveled by rattling trains, not mules
and boats or weary feet. During that year
in Rome, our Emperor mined a distant harbor,
sent his daughters to buy jewels and scarves
at Via Condotti on Christmas Eve. You rejoiced
in the presence of friends, among them Virgil
who did not know he would one day guide
Dante to the gates of Paradise. We arrived
no less weary at the dark port where lights
from moored boats trailed on oily waters,
and workers waited to lug their battered bags
on deck, bound for Patras, then scattering
over the bony hills to home, if anyone waited.
Brindisi, Horace, was your destination. For us,
escaping the plucking hands of gypsies
and crumbling stones of aqueducts and tombs
was only a stage toward the next retreat –
down the shattered spine of Greece, pitching
through waves from rocky isle to isle until ahead
was only blue Aegean and our wrecked lives apart.
Ours was a backwards journey from paradise
to the purging of love in fluttering candles
at dawn, hell of divorce. I swear, Horace,
I had no better friend until we called it love.
Widow at Sundown
Voices of strangers at other tables,
of children and grandchildren merge
with the wheeling mew of gulls.
Golden waves that lick moored boats
might make a watery Venice,
but this is a town of pebbled shores
fringed with hemlock and pine.
No mistaking his laugh, son
who leans to fill each glass,
or daughter’s shrill cry
at her second husband’s jokes.
Venice was before they were born.
What should a woman at eighty-six say
to loaves and fish and dewy bottles,
to hulls that thump a dock or waiter
who bends to take her order?
Once she smiled and said, Choose,
love, I can’t pronounce what I want.
Now lift chablis to globe the landscape
in amber, transmute it to poles in canals,
warm hand on the nape of her neck.
Her son pours, asks, “Enough?”
What do they know of enough
while generations chatter into dusk
or sleep is a night of mosaics,
furtive with incarnations?
Better let them think a still face covers
a placid mind — not this miracle, flash
of heat from the world of a rented bed,
ceiling that sparkles with broken light.
Lemons, Amalfi, and the Stars
Note how slyly circumstance works to raise
a memory you never could have found on your own –
a glass, limoncello, both cold from the freezer,
comment from a guest, I’d like to go to Amalfi.
Idly you confess how you’ve been there
but too long ago to say what the place is now.
You were, after all, fifteen, and scarcely recall
what it was to be that age, except
for the blur of indecision that seemed so eternal,
the stew of hormones roiling the brain.
Went with my parents, you begin, but conversation
veers to someone’s trip to Sorrento — or was it
the island of Capri? — how very clear the ocean was,
how one could see every star in the universe.
Goodbye, old friends, goodbye, still warm enough
to stand and wave on a late night porch in October,
still sober enough to lie in bed without a whirl
of baffled head, far from fifteen but hoping
to live another decade in the milder confusion
of old age, until, adrift in twisting currents
of sleep, you are beached on the edge of some terrace,
blossoming lemon trees behind and around you
so infusing air that you breathe them in
only to exhale now, in bed, weary but glad
to imagine somewhere behind you in their beds
parents are still alive, sleeping, thinking you safe
in a dark room, not half-naked on the edge
above a glittering sea and under opening petals
of stars and stars on the spreading tree of night.
All poems on this post: © T. Alan Broughton
Published on mediterranean.nu with the permission of T. Alan Broughton