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Claudia Grinnell

Claudia K. Grinnell was born and raised in Germany.  She now lives in Louisiana and teaches English at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.  She has no distracting or expensive habits other than sushi and cheesecake.








Coal Season 

October he came-the man who brought coals 
to our street, he shoveled them from a truck 
into heaps before the doors. Payment, cash 
and beforehand; we knew who had money 
had heat that year by the size of their coal stack. 
The same people who'd wait until noon to bring
their coal down the stairs to the cellar, 
next to the potatoes- things that must last-
they had time to outwait our desire for theft, to taunt 
our wanting. What did it matter if a few 
pieces went missing, there was so much 
and winter would be so long and so white- 

© Claudia Grinnell

Even Now, This Wanting


I am buying a book today, a book
for my lover, a book that will locate
him, that will tell him his story.
This story: a man, a wife, three children,
one cancer, a dog, a cat (the cat
is my invention), one son
not speaking, four months of chemo,
eighteen years of marriage, one desire
to leave. Anything like that
would be in fiction the clerk says,
chews her gum, points to a vague spot
in the back of the store.


Hurry out here and be with me
he had said last night on the phone.
I am on my way I said: our typical night
routine: a man, a wife, and his lover.
How is her cancer? I feel guilty
for my healthy hair, my cheekbones,
my flesh not swollen by chemo.


I thumb through the fiction, the lives
on the pages. I weigh the possibilities:
a romance (so much lifelessness,
as if after a catastrophe, as if people
do not yet dare to move), a book
of poems (people and words, here too,
standing pushed against the margins,
the walls, quiet), a biography (a singular
life: recalled, but the condition in which
it appears is beyond dead because death
is being denied by picture, by image,
by tiptapping across the letters
of a keyboard). Why is it so difficult
dealing with books? If I were a character
in a novel, I'd have walked into the store,
confident and firm, purposeful.
It should be so simple.


I want him
to hold this book, this thing
I will give him, open it to the first
page, crack the spine, and in the words find
what I can't say, or say only badly:
how to catch up with himself,
for even a moment become one
with the image of himself,
how to make
a beginning of that. Begin
with a memory, color in
the middle. Open the book.


I want to conquer the desire
to leave the store,
bookless, admitting
defeat, make another round
under the sputtering
fluorescent lights: hundreds of books
and me, the entirely fictional character,
invented for their pleasure,
bringing me to life.


I will call him tonight
and speak in future tenses.

© Claudia Grinnell 

In the Widest Sense, Everything

Is magic: a CT scan
lets you look inside yourself,
lets you believe
in a thing that doesn't exist.
The alchemists had it all
wrong: the separation
and de-solution of matter
has already been achieved:
gold was never found: fac duo
unum*.  Angels knew this
earlier than we, as is, per definition,
the case with messengers,
and now the dull pressure
toward birthing, toward
the greatest deception.
We keep cats because of mice,
we keep birthing because
of the spirit's need to consume
itself, to keep shitting
seeds into the fertile
synapses of the brain.
We read our daily
horoscopes because
we want to be called
by our own name,
by our own birth date,
by our own sign.
*From two, make one

© Claudia Grinnell 

This Time, Columbus Won't Be Back

This time, he shaved real close
and lit a candle in the Basilika de StAngelo
left a message for his mother
wondered what do with the goldfish.
This time, he was ready to go.
This time, stones didn't skip,
not even less and less. This time,
he waited for the call from the angel
(the same one who usually books
diving excursions to Aruba)--waited
to hear whether the earth was still
flat, waited for reports on weather
conditions in the Tropic of Cancer.
He sold whatever would give comfort
to the enemy: the impatient buds
of early March, the precise coordinates
of the last landing--even the bronze compass,
a gift from a king or a woman who meant
well and nothing to him. This time,
it would be different--he left no clothes
in her appartment. This time, he took
his Bombay gin. This time, he needed
the call to duty, arms, and sea,
and the sly pragmatism of water rations.
This time, he has reason to believe
in something, in the names on a map,
some stars overhead, in the impossible distance
between this soul and his body, in this
gap which generates all
he has to lose. This time, all
the mirrors in Lisbon are covered
in black. This time,
no one stands on the shore.

© Claudia Grinnell

Losing Your Place

That's what remembering is like:
trying to gather together the face
and the name of the boy
with the thick, greasy tongue-
he pushes his tongue between
the pages of the book you read-
but where is the rest of him?
Or the color, that color red
of a woman's spiked heel
and the arch her foot followed
all the way to the back
of your throat.  You have never
seen her but you take her
to Venice and slide your hands
behind the strap of her sandal
and pull the shoe, slowly, away
from her foot, feeling your way
along the seam of her stocking
with both thumbs, and you hold
the shoe like a sacrament, a holy
wafer, against the black wood
of the gondola, and then you burst
back to the task you came here
to accomplish-waiting in line
until your number is up.
© Claudia Grinnell