“Iago’s Curse” and other poems by Liza McAlister Williams

September Tenth, 2001

Outside the store, at the sidewalk sale,
the breeze lifts each dress again
as the shop girl tries to smoothen them:
musses the chic brown challis pleats,
ruffles the flamestitch voile
whose turquoise and chartreuse V’s
seem borrowed from another day.
Sun, when it shines on this scene,
is playful, peeping between
steely clouds whose sky business
does not admit playfulness.
The baking, lazy summer’s over –
the long summer when the towers
that are about to fall amidst us in ruins
have so far felt and withstood only
the earliest tremors of their collapse.


(after Kevin Young)

Rain popping on the air conditioner
like hail on a tin roof

like a handful of pebbles against a window
like the pinging of a car engine cooling off –

you can make a story to explain
being alone again on a drenching night:

a hobo curled in the hay
of another anonymous barn

a virgin with cold feet
ignoring the signal to elope

a travelling salesman
out of gas in Barstow CA –

the story makes no difference
when the ending is the same. 

Hit and Run

A brown curled leaf that clings to the winter oak
long past its season’s close is a lingering sign
of the cycle’s natural end. But when she phoned,
her voice ragged with tears, and choked through sobs
the name of her young friend, the hand of panic
laid its icy finger on my neck.

This seasonless attack on order’s wrecked
the borders we’ve protected: it’s a force
unforeseen – death seeps between the seams
of the earth, its garden smell of mulch and mould,
one inconsistent note mixed with the old:
of twig and leaf in newly sundered green.

Déjà Vu

Something shifting low in my gut tonight,
an air bubble from the lentil soup,
made me suddenly think of you,
how we’d lie together curled in sleep
and, turning, you knocked your elbow
or knee peremptorily against the inside of me.

Now that I’ve known you for twenty years
I smile to think of your string-bean limbs
and your purposeful disposition even then,
the two recently married and trying
to get along in the tight quarters of my womb,
and you and I too, not yet having formally met.

Iago’s Curse


I mine own gain’d knowledge should profane,
If I would time expend with such a snipe
But for my sport and profit.
                                                                          Othello I iii lines 384-6

They met together after a long time
and, as from separate dreams, awoke
from their ideal worlds of Art and Rhyme
to see around them loss, decay and crime.

“There will always be another test,”
one thought, and nearly spoke,
as she lightly, secretly caressed
the absence of the aching, missing breast.

The other knew a different way to lose:
a child, in thrall to greed; broke;
drowning his qualms in power and booze,
hate, for ‘sport and profit,’ as his muse.

They heard, somewhere around them, out of sight,
the heavy sounds – from chestnut, and from oak,
from the great elms with their hopeless blight –
of limbs falling, falling in the night.

Iago’s Curse and other poems are © Liza McAlister Williams

DSC04180Liza McAlister Williams has taught writing and literature at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, for many years, finding that poetry is a bridge-builder to the artistic process of art and design students. She and her husband have raised two daughters amidst the pleasures and challenges of old-house-living and urban gardening. She writes creative non-fiction, poetry and children’s poems. Her work has appeared in a number of journals, including Measure, Blue Unicorn, New Hopkins Review, and Light, and she was a runner-up several years ago in the Howard Nemerov sonnet competition.
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