Mothers and Daughters: Communicating Vessels

One year when the awakened plane trees
find themselves struck yellow in the night,
there will be nothing left of me but
a memory in your hands as they pull
wet laundry from the spun drum or
open the window’s case –
inviting October’s last, warm breath
to communicate the dust
between one room
and another.

by Bonnie McClellan


This was first posted in May of 2013.

Gare du Montparnasse: Sonnet for Georges Méliès

This week’s Google Doodle reminded me that in 2013 I wrote a poem about Georges Méliès, one of the first film-makers, the father of special effects and author of the first political film: L’affair Dreyfus (1899). I had known nothing about Méliès until, in the course of my work as a translator and language coach I was working with Dr. Barbara Grespi, a professor of cinema and visual culture. Now, Barbara is one of those insanely intelligent, sophisticated, and stunningly beautiful Italian women who makes someone like me feel somewhat ‘less than’. So, I was thrilled that she had asked me to work with her on an English language presentation about tarot iconography in the films of Georges Méliès. When she first talked with me about the topic, I said George who? She graciously replied, “He’s famous for the film of the Moon with the rocket in its eye.” Sure enough, I wiki-ed and then Youtube-ed and came up with the familiar images.
In the process of finding out about Méliès I also got a bit of information stuck in my head. Five hundred of his films were confiscated by the French army in WWI in order to recycle the celluloid into heels for soldier’s boots.
When I started writing the poem that had been poking and shifting in the back of my head for over a year. I wrote 10 lines of blank verse and then I sat still and started again. It all came in rhyming couplets (which I rarely use and then never one after the other) and it turned into the first eight lines of this sonnet:

Gare du Montparnasse: Sonnet for Georges Méliès


What kind of boot heels do you think they made

Five-hundred films for la deuxième armée?


Celluloid soles France’s poor bastard sons

It is difficult to avoid the puns:


“Attrition: boot(less) battles lost when won.”

“Headline: (well)heeled dead sink in sanguine mud.”


Harder yet, the dramatic phrase hold back:

“Verdun: Europa’s epic fade-to-black.”


The cinemagician’s vanished oeuvre leaves

me, stumbling barefoot through 1916.

Fumbling across mounds of nameless bones;

Agape – Agape, from this place no train goes home.

Dancing couplets I misstep and massacre the waltz,

Lost within the sonnet’s frame, I’ve borne their witness false.



I ended up adding the last 3 couplets because I couldn’t help asking myself: “why are you writing about a toy maker and a special effects man when the ground is full of the blood and bones of the people who died wearing those boots?” Somehow, I don’t suppose we’ll be seeing a Google Doodle about Verdun any time soon.

The Mountains Are on Fire: by Bonnie McClellan

The mountains are on fire with clouds,

burning wet they billow up,

choking the spaces between the trees.


I hear the ticking of two clocks.


Furrowing through the valleys

fat white engulfs the state road,

levelling even the bell tower’s lopsided stones.


The crackling ash of rain stops.

Horizon lines: by Bonnie McClellan

the world is dark.
shutters open.
the sky’s glacial pool opens.
three morning stars laugh
over the horizon line.

* * *

this copse of time
this stand of hours
………..between nows
becomes a minute
bristling towards the moon.


The contract is only valid
when everyone believes
in the same magic.

…..“With whom is the Courtesan’s contract made?”

She whose business is:
the manipulation of all parties
(including herself)
to her own best advantage.
Christlike she is
hero + victim of her own story.

……“The party of the second part is the Blacksmith.”

He whose hands are rough,
hard and dark as the hammer
he brings against the red point
of the witnessing nail.

The contract is only valid
when everyone believes
in the same magic.


A mantra to keep her head
above water : old words
– the end justifies the means
– one must hold power to create it
– an unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness
she reasons along the switch-back,
forked path,
the yellow wood;
…..worn thin by fine-shod feet of
……………..the prime minister
……………..the snake in the garden.
Things fall apart.

The contract is only valid
when everyone believes
in the same magic.


Forged of finer stuff
her slender circle glints around
the blacksmith’s rough hands
hard and dark as the hammer he rings
against the truth of the nail.
Iron wedges open wood’s yellow grain.
The courtesan’s ring corrupts his grip.
Yet, the nail is driven –
…..her gaze darts away from
… eyes || death’s mirror
He sees.

He sees.
He believes.

The courtesan’s ring corrupts his grip
…………………………………corrupts the nail
…………………………………denies the magic
…………………………………of open eyes:

it’s all for sale.


To hear a reading of this poem, click on the player below:

To read more poems by this poet, click HERE.

Standing power figure (nkisi nkondi)

Dark Business: by Bonnie McClellan

Like cinderella’s slipper

this poem arrives

to fit your mind’s foot,

hard but comforting.

If not, blood will tell:

‘you’ve trimmed off a bit’

        –heel or toe–

the doves will call you out

even if the sky has read

the weather report and

dropped its fog to hide

your stocking’s stains.



Borrowed Words: by Bonnie McClellan


Adam to Eve, later in life,
after babel’s tower fell,
began his speech with borrowed words:
“Oh, my love!”
What world would I not give now
for that eternal, ancient fantasy:
“A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou!”
In the shade of Kunitz’ VERY TREE,
the gentle spark released beneath
lithe pressure of your palm
above my heart
which would break
its fragile net of bone to rest
that narrow distance
closer to your flesh.
Now distracted by quick thoughts
of two french words: “chair” for flesh and “peau” for skin.
The first implying something
more animal/essential; the second softer,
more sensual than elemental:
“chair de ma chair.”
“os de mon os.”
ossature de ma vie.
bone network, calcite frame.
like bread,
like wine;
in my bones singing:
“sang de mon sang”
with each red cell
new marrow-minted.

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