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Sample Poems by Nina Corwin


It starts with Inspector 29, her nervous tics
and squinting eyes gone bad in the strip-search
for the wayward thread or almost invisible discoloration.
Or should I say, it starts with the apparel
on their hopeful parade from production line
to seller’s rack. But there’s always somebody judging:
saying yay or nay, fast track or going nowhere fast,
fine department store or strip mall cheap boutique.
As for me, you’ll know me by the labels
on the clothes I wear.
Gathering up the also-rans, the factory seconds
that stumbled under scrutiny, I who was always the last
to be chosen for blacktop kickball teams, I celebrate
irregulars! Those mail-order pantyhose marked down
for their slightly wavering seams, the snags that only
Inspector 29 can see, the skirt unevenly pieced together
by the anonymous sweat shop sewing machine operator
who must’ve had a really rough night. I welcome
their cut-rate selves into my home, sisters in imperfection,
standard-bearers and tainted saints of human error.
Once my breasts were a perfectly matched set.
But life comes along with its caustic shadows
on mammograms, its ambiguous cysts. 
Life with its imperfect science, the winking
of uncertain stars. Like those forced choices
where vanity meets cancer in a face-off for a good
night’s sleep and next day when you wake up,
you find your right breast sporting a jagged new smile,
sagging a bit smaller than the left and thankful for it.
After awhile, you hardly notice.
There are times I see Inspector 29 in my dreams,
smug as the angel of cleanliness buzzing about
the right hand of God. She plucks me easily
out of a line-up of department store wannabes
with my collection of scars, my uneven teeth and
too big smile, my piles of papers cluttering every
available surface. She drops me into a large vat
along with all the other misfits where we are slapped
with Irregular labels: Inspected by 29. Loaded
into boxcars and destined for bargain basements.
We are assured, if merchandise doesn’t move
within thirty days, further markdowns will be taken.

On Listening to the Brahms Violin Sonata #1
And just like that! Cruising up Route 94 with the classical radio station crooning on all four speakers, when it gets to the moment of that certain crescendo where the violin does what violins do so well, and the bow catches the sinews inside my chest as if they were strings stretched across an unfretted fingerboard, it strikes me that perhaps when Brahms composed he chose his instruments the way a painter chooses colors, dabbing his brush in a grace note of magenta because the violin can shimmy up a string so sweet, maybe turning it over in his hands as he imagines the sound of magenta rubbing up against the chords of a deep forest green, the way a poet might choose a word, say, magenta because the sound curves against the roof of the mouth, or the way a word like piano makes a kind of corkscrew between the cheeks, how clutter clicks, and chandelier is fragile and elegant at the same time, or how a chef picks a leaf of cilantro for its clean line and timbre where taste meets texture curried up against a cardamon pod, the contrapuntal harmonies when they echo with magenta or piano, the chords they make together in a sentence or crooning on a car radio – and it couldn’t be flute or oboe, not here, this moment – but now, these cadenzas, this final G major, now: the violin.

But Silently
“Is this what you mean us to think, does this 
explain the silence of the morning...?”
               – Louise Gluck

The ocean waves won’t tell.
Likewise, the trees don’t speak our language.
They just rustle softly in the night.
And so we turn to you,
Oh, Great Celestial Psychoanalyst
hoping you’ll put it all together:
A plus B equals C, something more conclusive
than “I think, therefore I am.”
But silently, just out of view,
from behind the fainting couch
peeking out of bushes, allegedly
from deserts or mountaintops
too craggy to access
your occasional grunts and inscrutable nods
are infinitely open to interpretation.
Looking skyward we lie, couch-bound,
and wait for answers.
Absent that, we project our own:
You are the scowling father, punishing
father, the loving father we never had.

So we spill out our fears and transferential
longings, our most
precious resentments, serve up our sins
in a great buffet of contrition
waiting for your pronouncement.
For you to say
something – anything. To make sense
of this earthly mess.