Heir Apparent

Issue #29: November 2014

Six Collaborative Pieces | Maureen Alsop & Hillary Gravendyk


In the veiled light, the chest is a shroud

  for what used to linger, powdered wing

  and circle of flames     destination

mapped my understanding—

gaps at the waterfront where the ships slowed

to listen to the gulls’ song bodies

O, this close to the sea

 The salt covers everything

 like a stuttering glass garden

 at the turn of winter

The women crouch in the sand

 wrestling shells from the insistent shoreline

My pocket flooded with charms

Dusk drawn dawn, moth hour—

venerated faces balance outside the window—

The day’s failed confession

 A black stone on the tongue.

Snow Paradigm

I remember crocus’ tips like pink mimeographs create their method,

and an uncertain resemblance: two girls under the pines

at dusk.

They imagine a door, struggle with its lock, then wander

onto a path of soft gray needles arms twined, eyes fogged.

You said the gray was absolute But

at the beginning of the Nineteenth

Century a boatman waved his rifle over the Natchez Trace—

being quite alive the girls held ground

to a translucent square cottonwood leaves lit a thousand tongues

panting in the muggy air tasting fire. The river

curled like a finger  around its sloping banks

mustard weed and lambs ear underfoot

You wore homespun and satin slippers I was there

when the light fell

Scurvy, Birds

The soul had other ideas while we proclaimed blond

brilliantly in this umber season of molten rust. Arriving

at the door, itself a bronze medallion. Snow’s centerfold

was a sedge meadow

creased with wildflowers. We gathered

our hands together in a brocade bouquet, milk-cloud sky brimming with charms—

We were offered safe passage, handle

shaped like a horn, our hands before

sun-defeated contrails were chrysanthemum blossoms

separating our eyes from the outer body.

What artifice, what control! The air thrumming

with startled sounds, the body quiet as a page.

A silver tabletop laid with cards, but our unwieldy

communion finished with illegible spades. Sparrow’s

eggshell, comfrey stem, toast crust. A wintry caul

netted the pink afternoon.

[Why Loss Burns Back the Only Accompaniment Our Name Hardly Saves]

We waited in the zone of forgetting

Warming tincture in a tin pocket

And pedaled furiously when the door opened

Soaked sugar cubes extracted a kind of fire

As if taking back summer’s long rhythm

Or demanding a timpanic line

Something to rouse and rabble

Something to secure a wisp of blue smoke

As when flames over whiskey curve into lavender undulations

The snake of our too-close approximations

Reminiscent of lilac-silver-maple- supplications

We are carved from instinct

Knowing that liquid itself sanctifies a storm’s condition

So your heart up close is the truth


you cast

a handful of shadow

against a bare tree

strike a warrior stance—

your jade eye opalescent

your skin filmed with white—

thick with cameras the woods

crouch around you

animal loosed in the dead

leaves you pick up the scent

I laid down for you.

My cabochon tongue clicks and

your hand twitches open an abandoned

nest threaded with glass

the light sequins the floor:

records of every leave-taking


Black of the bruise

that spirals from the eye—

lilac, goldenrod, mint—

a scented bouquet smeared

across your skin: war palette.

I wove grasses into the dead

wings of uninvented birds, crushed

berries into blood so that the eye

would reanimate the woodland

of your face—

cast-off smile, a coal cabochon

In the hand, or smooth ash on

the tongue. You tasted your wound

wore it like a diadem, the crown

Of every hour

About These Poems

I first met Hillary in a van from Reno to Squaw Valley Community of Writers. Mid-conversation with another poet who was living on a lavender farm, I heard her voice behind me—engaged and alive in details of canning jams: cherries, rhubarb, rosemary, cinnamon, or maybe cardamom laced. We ended up being roommates that summer. Subsequently the whole house became a quick flock of friends. Perhaps this poetry from friendship or friendship out of poetry arrives and disintegrates in one breath.

Memory’s dislocation, newly leveled by fragment. It is daunting, this capture of admiration and sense of camaraderie I held for Hillary. I found in her a witty, lively personality, extraordinary intelligence, casually aware of all that crossed her parameter, and able to confidently yet modestly engage in any subject. She created a mirror within the relationship as a person with whom I could aspire to my highest potential. Her friendship was a rare and generous gift, and the poems we created were like that: unexpected, quick, yet prepared, conjured. We discussed the prospect of writing collaboratively over Cajun vegetable dishes at Dhat Island, a Caribbean Creole restaurant in Redlands. “I always liked the idea of the pseudonym ‘Hillary Christmas,’” she laughed, and we visualized a snowy chapbook’s interior vellum pages spilling outward into a multifold.

Our first collaborative poems addressed “Dear Madame Snow,” which was perhaps an exaggerated beginning, but fun. These poems arrived as effortlessly as our conversations, sparked and easy, written rapid fire via email exchange. We layered line by line, sentence by sentence, back and forth until we exhausted them—we added titles, omitted what was unnecessary until we both decided they were complete. We set few parameters and navigated the poems with little exterior discussion.

Thus our joy in writing together occurred in the surprise and dissolve of two efforts into one. Using gemstones as a focal point, the poems “Sardonyx” and “Amazonite” were written independently under the spirit of collaboration. I chose Amazonite, and she followed with Sardonyx.1 We also wrote a few poems using our names as prompts, and to the topic, taken from a behavioral assessment survey I often use at work: “Sometimes, When Alone, I Hear My Name.” 

Now, alone with the thought of Hillary, I am able to read and reach back through poetry to connect again. Her generosity continues, as well as the entirety of her voice.

Dear Hillary,

When I speak to the ghost inside our ghost, you are spared. We drink plum champagne, listen as ginger bees’ melodious scores swarm our laughter. Your giardiniera of late summer conserve: kumquat, clove, sycamore scent. Witness, you read the sky’s seam as botanical impress. Despite being led to this, nothing led us here. We followed glass shoreline’s effortless shoal. A frayed sail at cliff’s edge. Your eye turned away. The body, without intimation, recorded an imagined stillness.

Inside the snow my ghost trekked north. Architectures just shy of meadows—as you crossed a landscape’s furrowed constellation. Everything shameless. We ascended dusk. Meaning, my archetype’s unkempt gleam flattened to moss beneath battened currents. I set a lantern upon the wet grass.


1 these poems here are both Hillary’s