In “Without a Claim,” poet Grace Schulman is inspired by the things she loves. Raised in New York City “like a houseplant in a windowsill, Schulman describes the majesty of the American landscape. In this instance it’s Montauk, at the eastern tip of Long Island, where the poet has a home. “Usually poems of mine are inspired by sudden glimpses of beauty, whether the beauty of trees or the beauty of land or the beauty of art. I think ‘oh my God this is so beautiful.’ I’ve got to understand it. What is it? I’ve got to know what it is and then praise it.”
Without a Claim
By Grace Schulman
Raised like a houseplant on a windowsill
looking out on other windowsills
of a treeless block, I couldn’t take it in
when told I owned this land with oaks and maples
scattered like crowds on Sundays, and an underground
strung not with pipes but snaky roots that writhed
when my husband sank a rhododendron,
now flaunting pinks high as an attic window.
This land we call our place was never ours.
If it belonged to anyone, it was
the Montauk chief who traded it for mirrors,
knowing it wasn’t his. Not the sailors
who brought the blacksmith iron, nor the farmers
who dried salt hay, nor even the later locals,
whale hunters, the harpooner from Sumatra,
the cook from Borneo, who like my ancestors
wandered from town to port without a claim,
their names inside me though not in the registries.
No more than geese in flight, shadowing the lawn,
cries piercing wind, do we possess these fields,
given the title, never the dominion.
But here we are in April, watching earth rise
with bellflowers that toll, brawl, call, in silence;
daffodils that gleam yellow through sea haze
and cedars at sunrise asking for flame
like a cake with tiers of birthday candles.
Come visit us by shore, up a mud lane.
Duck under the elm’s branches, thick with leaves,
on land deeded to us but not to keep,
and take my hand, mine only to give
for a day that shines like corn silk in wind.
We rent, borrow, or share even our bodies,
and never own all that we know and love.
Excerpted from “Without a Claim” by Grace Schulman. Copyright © 2013 by Grace Schulman. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Grace Schulman is the author of seven books of poetry including her latest collection, “Without a Claim.” She is a distinguished professor of English at Baruch College, City University of New York.