Two Poems by Leonard Kress


Clavdia Chaucut’s Chest X-Ray
“I know, I know. You’ve read The Magic Mountain….Things have moved on a bit from that, I hope…” from Amundsen, Alice Munro

Clavdia Chaucat’s chest x-ray—
there’s nothing more intimate, the plate
of her damaged lung, her gift, her soul,
placed in your hand after a carousing sweet hour
of bliss, and your one last look at her Kirghiz eyes
before she leaves the sanitarium for good.

Tuberculosis is no longer the good
Romantic disease it once was. X-rays
replaced by MRIs, cat and pet scans, the eye
penetrating disintegrating flesh, no more plates
of alpine beef and cheese served on the hour,
as the cold damp mountain air restores your soul.

It takes someone like Clavdia to rouse your soul,
to seal you off from the world below for good.
Who’d want to return to a realm where hours
tick off and a holocaust of the sun’s rays
douses reason. Think of her hair done up in plaits,
dark tendrils, and the warp and woof of her eyes.

If nothing else you’ll forget you’re an “I,”
forget distinctions between body and soul,
consciousness shattered like a flung plate,
nothing there to shriek bad or good.
Take it from her, affix it to the wall, her x-ray,
its corrosive spots, gaze upon it for hours,

for now she is yours and no longer ours,
Clavdia (why not Claudia?) with the Kirghiz eyes.
While you’re at it, catch some rays
up here on the mountaintop deck, sole
recipient, since all the others, good
compliant patients, scrape clean their plates

and prattle about spotless x-ray plates,
miracle cures, healthy glows lasting hours
and how intractably good
they feel. They look directly into your eyes
as though they were interrogating your soul,
the whole time discounting the truth of the x-ray.


Monsieur Swann Takes a Walk at Night

Monsieur Swann takes a walk at night
along the boulevard, beneath the swelling trees.
Those few who wander past,
are barely recognizable, though a shadow
now and then approaches, murmuring a word
in his ear, asking him to take her home.

Monsieur Swann startles, having left home,
not wanting to return until the interminable night
ends. He anxiously brushes up against these words
that seem to emanate from the trees
or somewhere in the deepest shadows,
as though, in his kingdom of darkness, he’s passed

the one he sought. Read Remembrance of Things Past
if you want to know the rest. You’ll never leave home
if you do–Proust renders other prose mere shadow
language, and poor Monsieur Swann will haunt your nights
and the rest of the world will seem just so many trees
and stones that long to be transmuted into words.

But it’s not only the mid-day doldrum words
that commandeer; everything in the past
that hasn’t already reined in the trees,
making of them a perfect home
to keep the frightful night
free of harrowing shadows

will remain relentless in its attempt to shadow
you and shower you with searing words.
Imagine what it might be like to share the night
with Monsieur Swann—if you can get past
his foolish pretense and feel at home
in his realm and his uprooted family tree.

Don’t think this is not mistaking the forest for the trees
or about the inherent murk of shadows
or the instability and fugitive nature of home.
Just utter the word
and we’ll wander together beyond the past,
meeting Monsieur Swann as he takes a walk at night.


Leonard Kress has published fiction and poetry in Passages North, Massachusetts Review, Iowa Review, American Poetry Review, and is a previous contributor to Corium. His recent collections are The Orpheus Complex, Living in the Candy Store, and Thirteens. He teaches philosophy, religion, and creative writing at Owens College in Ohio and serves as fiction editor for Artful Dodge.