Janet Ruhe-Schoen

Black Grapes*

In my fantasy Spanish America,

everyone speaks the language of Neruda

in voices full and deep and beautifully harsh,

textured like desert night with desert stars -

no, no water;

the stars are water.

Era el otoño de las uvas...

It was the grapes? autumn...

I remember autumn, when grapes were old.

their nectar insipid,

and woodsmoke hung on the air

with the scent of horses and cold clouds -

no, no water;

the stars are water.

Temblaba el parral numeroso...

The laden arbor shivered...

I can see the old hands of the abuela

reaching up, cutting bunches to bring inside,

to put on the table, to serve with toasted flour.

You roll each grape in flour until it is coated,

and then you pop it into your mouth

and it's like eating the arbor and the dry earth under it-

no, no water;

the stars are water.

Los racimos blancos velados

escarchaban sus dulces dedos...

The veiled white clusters had

frost-bitten sweet fingers...

Yes, I know the sugary substance of eyes and smiles

hiding behind virginal veils their frozen

malignancies, griefs, superstitions, envies, nightmares -

no, no water;

the stars are water.

Y las negras uvas llenaban

sus pequeñas ubres repletas

de un secreto río redondo...

And the black grapes filled

their small udders full

from a secret, round river...

It is clear to me, even after years away:

the secret round river that can't

reflect the stars because it is

within skins


and does not leave any of us alone,

not the poets, not the artesans hammering shapes

in red-gold copper, not the students in parochial clothes.

It is clear to me, even after years away:

my inner Spanish America is a female continent,

moistureless between salt seas,

deep in her darkness a grape so tart,

so bittersweet, so deadly

that it can be tasted only drop

by amethyst

drop -

no, no water;

the stars are water.

*Italics in "Black Grapes" are quotations from "El Otoño de las uvas" by Pablo Neruda. Translated by J.R-S.

Red-Orange Moon

She'd always loved red-orange

like the moon when it harbingers hard times,

like the fire inside the oven door.

She'd often remarked on its beauty

when she baked bread.

One day, she forgot her bread.

She got ahold of our paints

and painted her hair.

I remember how it looked,

the red orange on her white hair

that she hadn't pulled back into its metal clasp

that morning.

She was Abuela,

venerable expert on bread and beauty and hard times,

but suddenly she was just a little girl

playing with fire -

suddenly, she fell.

The fine bones of her cheeks

sparked like butterfly wings

beneath her startled eyes;

then her eyes closed

and her hand curled

over her heart.

The doctor came and with my father

lifted her to her bed.

My mother wept.

My father shut the door.

Deep in the night,

my mother still wept

and I heard my father say,

"Three days at most, and she'll be gone.

It's more merciful."

But Paolo and I

did not believe in mercy.

We snuck into Abuela's room.

We sang her the songs she used to sing to us,

pulled her curled hand away from her heart,

pried her sealed eyes open, cleansed her.

and with a dropper we fed her fresh water

like dew.

Abuela was eighty then.

She's one-hundred now.

Every morning she gathers her hair

into its metal clasp,

kneads and bakes her bread.

Evenings, she takes her stick

and walks up the hill to watch the moon

in any weather -

white moon, yellow moon,

blue, red-orange --she'll stand it;

she'll stand our kind of love

that's so much stronger than mercy.

Imagining Elijah
Revisiting the silver and blue of my childhood -

not Aloneland, the abyss left by Nazi minesweepers,

but the midnight blue horizon of legend adorned

with constellations: Esther, Ruth, Naomi, Jacob, Joseph

and Elijah, Angel of the Open Door -

I imagine Elijah.

Each Passover, I was the one who left the table quickest

to run and open the door for him,

but no one's eyes

deep with all knowing

answered my eyes.

I wasn't really disappointed...

didn't really expect...

but what if he'd been there? Elijah

in a white three-piece suit, white Panama hat,

red carnation in his lapel, smoking a Panatela

asking to see my Dad business;

or Elijah in Biblical robes,

long ancient face twisted sideways in a rictus of sorrow, eyes disconcertingly gold as the Pesach moon,

holding out a narrow palm, requesting to see

the Master of the House;

or Elijah in a plaid shirt,

rocking back on his heels,

unpasting the Marlboro from his lip,

scratching the palm of a calloused hand

saying his pick-up's broke down -

What is this poverty of vision?

Why can't I see

the man who would be invisible in any crowd

until he started to sing? Standing

dark with the grief of five thousand years

rock-still among all the moving shadows of the April night.

Song for Violeta Parra
La vida es subversiva. El amor es el agitador.

(Life is subversive. Love is the agitator.)

- Graffiti, Santiago del Chile, 1984

The violets of yesterday

will bloom again tomorrow,

There will be no end to joy,

no end to sorrow.

The hawks up in the shining sky

hunger as they soar;

They must drop down to earth to kill,

then rise and fly once more.

The rose smells sweetest drenched with dew,

its velvet glistens bright;

a gloved hand breaks the stem in two

to give, for love, tonight.

The violets of yesterday

will bloom again tomorrow;

there will be no end to joy,

no end to sorrow.


Now the Rain Falls Lovely, Lovely

Now the rain falls lovely, lovely

on the Plaza del Mayo and the poor cherry tree,

cherry that sighed long and slowly sickened

for lack of morning's liquor from a loving sky.

Now the rain falls lovely, lovely

on the plaza, the red fruit, and the sigh.


Janet Ruhe-Schoen, born in Allentown, Pa., left that green cradle at 18 with gypsy longings and eventually landed in Peru and Chile.  During her 13 year residency in Latin America she was a singer, actress, English teacher, journalist, but, mostly, mother to four children, and always a poet.  She now lives in New York State, does some free-lance journalism and works in a library.  In 1998, Palabra Publications published her book of biographies of nine great Baha'is, A Love Which Does Not Wait. Her work has appeared in Calyx, New Milennium Writings, Arts Dialog and other places.


[home] [org] [news] [calendar] [membership] [links] [bulletins] [open tent] [poetry] [past] [nslc]