Issue 13 – WInter 2007 – Maxine Chernoff

Maxine Chernoff


Destructive Analogies

“It is all criticism of criticism.”– Laura Riding

Reading or writing
as branches on a tree
(or cultural concerns)
partake of the notion:
how bark will cover
the autobiography of most

Shall we say that we live
to make things new
unraveling the same 
string, multiplying
by naming

In the closed rooms
of drama, a world
whose slums, swamps
and cardboard hospitals
overcome the audience

Tryst in the garden,
death in the tombs
her contralto wavering
until the story voids sound–


Or Shakespeare, asking
much of a storm 
and its aftermath:
marrow of spring
through a window 
of  understanding



Light and Clay

“Will the dust praise thee?”—Psalm 30:9


The page was a place
before morality
before Gilgamesh
before the second prophet
of revealed law

The page was a hybrid
of value and valuelessness
a hybrid of community
and selfishness
a foster child of devotion

The page was experience
in semantic terms
folie a deux
a terminal location

Cowboys and princes
offered their lives
the cult of the dead
worshipped there too
lacking in value
it saw only faces

The page was a room,
a picnic, a heaven
the utopia of words
in a region of want

The page was a bride groom,
a bride and a lover,
the child of the union
of religion and anarchy
 “I will reflect it,” the page
said on Sunday
“I will absorb it,”
 the page meant to add


Between death and rebirth
the page stood waiting
words came to call
speechless at best




Lost World

“Nothing is truly beautiful except that which serves no purpose.” –Gautier


As four walls make a room
the pilgrims appear
through their map

The unreal flourishes
beyond imperious themes
and borders closed to laughing

And landscapes hold no proof
if intention is a sin
then dreams are guilty too

A blameless geography then,  
blameless houses, blameless men,
a mistaken faith in color and light

Neutrality is to blame
for wanting us to agree 
with its bland gestures

So much emptiness to fill
until we declare, quite innocently,
“There was a city on a river.”



Maxine Chernoff is the author of eight poetry collections including The Turning (Apogee Press, 2008).  She is Chair of Creative Writing at San Francisco State University.