Fred Chappell

February 15, 2022

Photo by Charlie Warden

La Vergogna - Title of this poem



In the day when I collected shames

by dozens, shaping myself a proper fool

in most improper fashion, earning the names

that characterized my convoluted soul,

I was unaware that I harmed anyone.

My purposes were molded by ideals

that could motivate only some lone,

self-deluded individuals.

You were the Susan I could not comprehend.

How could you love me, strayed from a universe

wherein the laws were questions without end

and every blessing might prove to be a curse?

How would I trust me not to do you hurt?

My love for you cowered in me inert.

(Petrarch, 1)


Adagio, Pizzicato - Title of this poem


The snowbank feels the starlight on its skin

as effervescence, scintillate needlepoint

that inscribes with silence the motions of the skies.

This minute scripture keeps a strict account

of unruly meteors and the serene spin

of moon above the unresisting seas.

Starlight underscores the prescient silence

the patient snow receives and holds within.

All that is, awaits. Snow crystals gleam

at all their points, distinctly separate.

The sky has poured its diamonds upon the field,

an incremental mantle, dust of light,

a presence sky-wide dispersion had concealed,

resplendent now as droplet beads of flame.


Diminuendo lento - Title of this poem

The wine labors to gentle my chagrin.

The plaint of mourner thousands seems to subside

like echoes that sound twice and then again,

lamentations ever multiplied,

until in time they choir in one refrain

to sing the names of everyone who died,

and those who loved them as their dearest kin.

And so I pour another glass or three,

as if I might conjure a drowsy distance

between myself and the rending persistence

of the stridulent omnipresent threnody.

But this dark vintage will not diminish sorrow

in its descant on our ruthless tomorrow.

"Give Us This Day" - Title of this poem

Jesus each day in heaven visits the cottage

where my mother tends her grateful flowers.

They sit in rocking chairs upon the porch

until the hour for her to bathe his feet.

He frowns. "Oh, let us not untidy ourselves."

"This much at least," she says, "you won't begrudge."

Now he in his turn bathes my mother's feet.

Thus, the amenities ... They resume their prattle

of the rakish misadventures of Gabriel,

of the colorful sins of saints before sainthood,

missteps we all pretend to have forgotten.

They remark upon the ever pleasant weather

and watch celestial beetles annoy the roses;

and then at sundown Jesus suggests a prayer:

Intervals - Title of this poem

When Psyche blows soap bubbles with her pipe

they roll and waft and double-dip the air

in graceful frolic, silent, debonair,

as if the breeze directed them to slip

in waltz time through this world that they display

as rainbows on their bright rotundities,

to celebrate each separate demise,

each sphere spritzing as it goes away.

Chronos' pipe is carved of human bone;

the bubbles he produces are misshapen,

withered like grapes by a relentless sun,

their colors dark; and it may often happen

they disappear as soon as they appear

and mark no time to tell they ever were.

Imprimatur - Title of this poem

Every moment possesses a soul indifferent

to possession, desiring nothing for itself

but simple habitation: an instant of delight,

a flash of gratitude, a single musical note

and its overtone, the echo of the intonation.

Three moments the mourning dove inspirits

with cool tones, each the soul of its moment,

none possessing it. Lonely and communal,

the music speaks but does not declare.

The tones are lonely but never alone,

like the courageous woman and her loving sisters

conversing quietly in a time of grief.

Fred Chappell was born on a small farm in Canton, North Carolina, in 1936, and has authored more than 30 volumes of poetry, novels, short stories, and essays. Chappell has been awarded a Woodrow Wilson fellowship, a Rockefeller Grant, the Award in Literature from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the Best Foreign Novel Prize from the French Academy for his novel Dagon, as well as the World Fantasy Award for best short story in 1994. Chappell is a recipient of the prestigious Bollingen Prize in Poetry from Yale University, the Aiken-Taylor Award in Poetry, and the T.S. Eliot Award for Creative Writing from the Ingersoll Foundation. He lives with his wife, Susan, in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he taught for 40 years at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. Chappell is widely regarded as one of America’s greatest living writers.