Feb 092011

Karen Mulhallen

Here are three achingly poignant yet transgressive poems frommy old friend Karen Mulhallen, yes, dear friend, extraordinary woman-of-letters, poet, Blake scholar, and publisher and editor of the amazing Toronto-based literary magazine Descant (this summer’s issue marks the magazine’s 40th anniversary). Karen has published close to a dozen books of poems, the latest, her selected poems entitled Acquainted With Absence, published in 2009, was edited and introduced by dg (see poems from that book published earlier on NC). These new poems are from Karen’s forthcoming collection, The Pillow Books (forthcoming 2011 with Black Moss Press).


February/Raise High The Red Lantern

He is coming. Raise it high
My red lantern burns in the bright light of day
disappearing in the glare of the sun.

in the evening the lantern of the Other Wife
bursts through the darkness.
Her light more brilliant than any other lantern.

I am the Daylight Wife.
Take my light.

The Other Wife

I am the Other Wife
He leaves me always before dawn
It is more than two decades since we met.

We were young then, although we did not know it.
We felt old, full of knowledge.
Now we know we are still not wise.

Sometimes I think of him when my legs are in the air.
Sometimes I think of him when my face is on my hands
when I am lying on my belly.

He comes to me in dreams.
He comes to me in the blinding light
which pours through the west window of my study.

He comes to me by cover of darkness and just at dawn.
At first I said no.
Then I did not care.

Later I said yes.
And now as we grow older together
I think how I am the Other Wife.

Pray for me.

The Red Lantern Raised

I am the Daylight Wife.
Yesterday he showed me a photograph of a large wooden bed
draped in white net curtains, decked in red silk cushions.

The bedroom is large, he said,
and isn’t it beautiful?
I squinted into the shadows.

There I saw the Other Wife.

—Karen Mulhallen

See also Carpaccio’s litte dog tanka.

  7 Responses to “Three Poems from The Pillow Books — Karen Mulhallen”

  1. These are lovely! I like the conversation between the poems, and the image of the red lantern. The second poem is especially poignant–“Now we know we are still not wise”–the language deceptively simple.

  2. Wow, these are really good. This is my first introduction to this poet. I’ll be checking out her work now. I love how the lines veer from the magnificent to the domestic with such ease:

    He comes to me in the blinding light
    which pours through the west window of my study.

    That’s just a stunning juxtaposition of imagery that elevates not only context but itself.

  3. Wonderful. Words about really good poems just seem silly to me, or I would write some more words here.

  4. Lovely poems. Welcome back to NC.

  5. Beautiful poems, Karen. I’m struck by how the narrators move between memory and present. The line, “I am the Daylight wife/ Take my light” is so poignant. I echo Carrie’s sentiment.

  6. I love the three of these, separate and together.

  7. Loving your poems/stories. just to let you know, sister..

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