Claire Nicolas White (Smith College class of ’46) is a poet and translator. She has written art criticism, (Art News, Newsday), librettos, plays, and is the author of a family history, The Elephant and the Rose (Vineyard Press, 2003); a memoir, Fragments of Stained Glass (Mercury House, 1989); a biography, Joep Nicolas: His Life and Work (Van Spijk, 1979); poetry: Biography & Other Poems (Doubleday, 1981), The Bridge (Cross Cultural Communications, 1987); Riding at Anchor (Waterline Books, 1994); News From Home (Burnham Woods Graphics, 1998); and a novel, The Death of the Orange Trees (Harper and Rowe, 1963). She translated three novels from the Dutch: The Assault by Harry Mulisch (Pantheon Books, 1985 Honorable Mention PEN Translation prize); The Vanishing by Tim Krabbe (Random House, 1993); and My Father’s War by Adriaan van Dis (The New Press, 1996). In 1990 she edited a Dutch issue of Columbia University’s Translation Magazine. She edited Stanford White: Letters to His Family (Rizzoli, 1997) Her poetry has appeared in such magazines as The New Yorker, Partisan Review, Grand Street, Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s Bazaar, Witness, Confrontation, The Paris Review, The Hudson Review, and others. Her poem "Return to Sint Odilienberg" was published in The Best American Poetry 2002 (Scribner). Recipient of the Walt Whitman Birthplace award as Long Island Poet in 2005, White is the editor of Oberon poetry magazine.


 

Claire Nicolas White '46

 

VACATION

                                    To my sister Sylvia

 

Time’s emptiness makes the day swell
like a balloon and lifts me out of here,
wondering who I am, what larger sphere
to claim my own, no ballast to restrain
the flight away, a nobody, a speck
of dust, a fluff, a seed that has been spent,
a husk, a hull, a bird-sound on the wind.

On great stretches of lawn
are outlined lacelike shadows.
Cool pools fall from
wide spreading trees
with formidable trunks.
Roads stitch distances together
and cars roll by like sailors
drunk on land.

The air so still, heat rises from sodden soil.
Beyond, hills gather dense with growth.
Between you and me this space
lies there, to embrace. You say,
“Summer in America is Heaven.”

Your house with all its memories
becomes for me a second body
vast and dark. Visual signposts mark
this labyrinth, these halls, these rooms,
with shells and stones, ceramic pots,
the portraits of your vanished daughter,
two distant sons, the traces of
our father’s fame, our mother’s will,
your labors in the field of light
and dark inscribed in glass.

Monsignors call. Books crowd the walls.
I delve in them, in lives
that intertwine with mine.
You overwhelm me with
your solitary gathering of facts,
of plants, of perfect tools with which
to work, making the present relevant
now that so much is past, now that this land
has been ours long enough for us to feel
a part of it, shedding our languages,
willing to stay and make it ours at last.

 

 

Confrontation 2005