Olivia Williams Coulter
Olivia Williams Coulter (1915-1989) was born in Ft. Stockton TX and
graduated from Northwestern University. She had many poems published
when young, but, alas, when she undertook her career as a technical
writer for the U.S.Government and the rearing of two children, her
appetite for poetry waned. Some years before her death, she
published a chapbook of much of her earlier verse, Pecos County
and Other Poems, most copies of which have been distributed to
Texas libraries. She neglected to publish a lot of her lighter verse,
and I have attempted to remedy that here.
When in the wake of summer fall the leaves
Like rags upon the shank bone of the street,
And evening rain along the gutter grieves,
And hurried is the sound of passing feet;
When wind embraces boisterously the waist
And nips the nostrils with the lusty cold,
And frost bites summers ankles into haste
As dog who drives the sheep into the fold;
Then on my mind is pressed the imminence
Of winter as a goad against the skin
By ancient instinct that predates my sense
Still warning me to lay the harvest in.
So with a sickle wend I through my brain
To cut the memory of you for grain.
Even, Land, shall I return.
No other desolation is as this:
My own familiar. Not where
The deserts of the south land burn
Nor in the white cold north
Is earth as bleak and as aware.
Though other lands are broken by the spring,
Here grass must crack the ground to grow.
Here twilight is a weeping and the wind
A thought that does not know.
Gray glass of mesas; chimera of sand;
Infinitude of sorrow bound by prophesy
Like rawhide tight across the temple
And a brazen memory . . .
Let other lands be breasts and thighs,
This is the high and stony forehead
Of the earth, its opaque eyes.
There is a quiet in adobe
That, cover it as you may,
Time will lay bare;
Whitewash and plaster set
To protect this earth against
Its ancient bedfellows leave it
Regretfully at last, and this remains:
As graceful as a nude.
These houses, timber rotted,
Rain-faded into rainbow colors,
Are old and quiet pictures
Freed of the passion of creation,
Are nudes in still life
Hung upon a mountain.
There is a loneliness in adobe.
The crickets chirp within these sunset fields;
The lowing cattle drift up paths to water;
And these are wings that beat through all the shields
Against the aching breast of Ishmaels daughter.
That it is winter and tomorrow spring
Is cause enough for sorrow and for fear
For me who knows that growing things can bring
Emotions like a dagger pressed too near.
Oh, I have prayed for strength within this land,
Such strength as it has: fierce and grave and slow.
My soul eludes the fingers of my hand
Like water with no thought where it may go.
Like water do I sing and laugh and spill
Out of the bucket on my way downhill.
Old Louie shuffles down the street.
His smile is foolish, vacant, fleet.
His only passion, alcohol,
Has made his soul an idiots scrawl.
They whisper that he drinks vanilla
In the square shack that is his villa.
They grin derision when he begs
A dolla, swaying on his legs.
But still his manners are a kings.
He tips his hat and mumbles things
piteous, broken, beautiful,
With silly smile and accent dull,
Yet with a childs unbittered glance,
And so we marvel at what chance
Made offspring of a noble reach
The state of flotsam on a beach.
This is the merry
White shape of my love suddenly
Filling the vacant room like windows
Opening on rain.
Yesterday I visited
Infinity, finding I was lost
Sitting still in Illinois,
So this ghost
Returned to comfort me.
What is time without myopia?
Why is this great room
Without a gesture?
To assure me
Space is penetrable,
Death is near.
It is as if I said,
Watching the lithe cats stalk
The uneven grass,
"There will be no more winter,"
And all the winters were past,
As if I said, in the doorway,
Watching Maria grind maize
On a floor
In a room cleaner than any
We ever knew before,
"I have come and I am
Waiting," and through
The hill-ward street
I heard the wheels on cobbles
And knew the dead could meet.
The grass still grows
As green, but my ten toes
Are all encased in leather.
Consideration for my clothes and hose
Forbids I lie upon the grass,
Even in perfect weather.
Here in the grass rising
Where the hailstones fell,
With the sharps of birds
In the trees bell,
Here in the morning pasture
Where mules graze,
I lie in the grass rising,
face in the maze,
Mouth to stone undaunted,
Eyes on the finite,
I shall become an ant
In a minute.
Late Poems . . .
I mourn my black cat with his yellow eyes
the only cat I know who can, in anger, glare.
I mourn the fox, the fawn, the doe,
the colt, the mare, the antelope who used to roam
in Texas hills, the prairie dogs.
I mourn the bobcats, catamounts, the grizzly bears,
the salmon in the rivers, whales, the sharks,
the birds the falcon and the wren
the tall giraffes, zebras, and the elephants.
I mourn myself who also must go down
into the dark alone.
Elegy (for Ruth)
This loss of you is like my bodys pain
except I cannot find its true location
not in the heart, the brain, the arm, the knee;
it goes all through me.
My friend, I can no longer help you
if I ever did and you no longer
are a source of comfort somewhere within reach.
You went away.
My own death seems much closer.
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