Peter Klappert has published six collections of poetry, including Lugging Vegetables to Nantucket (Yale University, 1971) and The Idiot Princess of the Last Dynasty (Alfred A. Knopf, 1984). His poetry essays and reviews have appeared widely in magazines, journals, anthologies and textbooks. His most recent collection, Chokecherries: New and Selected Poems, 1966-99, was published in 2000.

Klappert lives in Washington, DC. He has taught at Harvard, William and Mary, Rollins, and New College; since 1978 he has been at George Mason University in northern Virginia.

Six Gallery Press will be publishing a new edition of Circular Stairs, Distress in the Mirrors with drawings made especially for the poems by Michael Hafftka.
To see the drawings click here.
Below is a poem from Circular Stairs:


CEREBRAL CORTEX

In order to find out about my enemy
I invented him myself
and kept that before me, a model in a mirror.

First in my eyes he was an unclaimed angel,
a blond spirit dancing at the surface,
amusing other guests with silly hats,
with his shuffling lack of vanity
and the delight he took
in simple foods, and in water.
But back
there, in my room, with me alone
he was always in disguise. In such unpredicated
moments he became
—What do I have to show you?
Some button-eyed, rangy and evasive
rascal off le Boul' Mich', some child
whose large, abnormal, and sensuous lips
(like those flowers whose sepals
utterly contain the parts within)
curled at the ends of words
so that he seemed to be mouthing "oblivion"
and "profane" continually between his teeth,
so that you wanted only to run
your thumb over the blade of a kitchen knife.

But this is not an image
I believe myself. There was no more to him
than a bony frame
on which the slug mind hung a skin.

I doubt anything I
said was ever suggestive
or intelligible to him, although
(as I have reason to suspect) among his friends
he was a perfect mimic of my tics and gestures.
He resented, you see, my generosity,
and my manner of speaking in whole sentences.
I avoided asking obvious questions :
"Are you at ease?" "Is anything the matter?"
"Does that make sense?"
Everything is
"the matter." What has ever "made" sense?


When merely bored he permitted me
my observations. When angry, or frightened,
he failed appointments, he left
precipitously and early.

Ignorant was the most one could say of him.

His habits obliged
whether present or absent. The work
(done from memory, of course) is slightly
more severe, more empty, but then nothing
I attempted pleased or resembled him
and all my fabrications, with a simple
winding down of the eyelids, lock
shut.
He has not ceased
entirely to attend me, but his passionless
attraction makes him . . . shy.

Meanwhile, I put my energies into the streets,
pursuing his poses through the sonorous alleys,
along the stops in the metro, down interminable
aisles chipped and spattered by the invalids
in my world. my compositions suffer.
Such work as I accomplish
is interesting only at the margins.
In the center is another
broken monologue, words wasted upon
something ideal and anonymous
—a crescent of yellow suggesting an eye,
a tooth framed by sneering or smiling lips,
the outer rim of an ear.

If he is beautiful
he is beautiful with my losses, as a thief,
exciting not by the value of his thefts
but by the act
and by invisible fine threads
binding the object in time to its owner.
As the owner, or inventor, of a new art,
I have cultivated
detachment
which I can see now is only
a secular word for renunciation.
I meet
instead, and always for the first time,
the failure that proves me. I meet my own
innocence and a capacity for murder :
my enemy, the only child
to whom no one will ever be able to speak.