About Me

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Mark Olival-Bartley studied applied linguistics at Hawaii Pacific University, attaining B.A. and M.A. degrees in TESOL. He is now writing a dissertation on the sonnets of E. A. Robinson at LMU M√ľnchen, where he tutors composition alongside editing flyers on poetry and style. He teaches English at M√ľnchner Volkshochschule and leads the Amerikahaus Literaturkreis. He is also the resident poet at EcoHealth, where his science-themed verse is regularly featured.

20171127

Pearls

by Cathy Song

The tennis pro is demonstrating to us once again
the serve. The ball spins in its cylinder of space,
a beauty spot poised perfectly this morning,
the end of November, the air and the sea
beyond the fence crisp like the bougainvillea’s
cool servings of sherbert—raspberry and tangerine.
“No adagios!” is his morning’s offering
as I leap around the court.
You, in turn, bat with your racket
and strike out a dozen times.
Still you persist and flail at the ball,
your heart not in any of this,
these expensive lessons we’ve devised
to get you through Christmas.
A year ago, your twins died, infant boys
who succumbed to a virus the doctors
found difficult to explain. I was living far away
at the time and could not be with you,
the first and the second tidal waves
that socked the wind right out of you.
I flew home having never held them,
though I knew they were perfect and beautiful.

“Marooned!” you lamented
(the girl who would hang pearls on a Christmas tree)
as you rehearsed your accents to me,
a closet full of scarves you tried on
and discarded, standing in your nightgown,
solemn, and to a younger sister, heroic
like the young widow in Amy Lowell’s Patterns
who grieves in stately cadences, your voice
propped by whalebone and lace.

The schoolteacher in you found me acceptable,
an obedient receptacle for your vast yearnings,
a longing to be anywhere but here, a tropical
island adrift at sea.
You were the one always holding the plans,
the girl with the flashlight and the map.
You always knew where we were going.
Light thrown upon the ceiling of our tent
(the blanket we propped with our knees)
illuminated the hour
like a piece of tapestry
torn from the Sistine Chapel,
your versions of history,
periods marked by beauty.
I heard you say Michelangelo
and the tent glowed like a shell,
the way the blue-veined walls of igloos
hum under the pressure of cold Arctic stars.
You brought fire to the feast
and I, fiercely loyal, unenlightened,
waited for news of the world.

“Last chance,” the pro says and you hurl
the ball away from you, pitch it
into the clouds. It defies, for a moment,
gravity, a green apple in a blue column of air.
In a girlhood room we met again,
and again as we do this time in sadness—
you who wished us each happiness,
you lifting me up to share the view.

Note: A recitation can be heard here.

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