Without a Claim

by Grace Schulman

Grace Schulman, already known as "an elegiac, highly original religious lyricist" (Harold Bloom), elegantly weaves between generations and continents in her new collection.

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN-13/ EAN: 9780544073777
  • ISBN-10: 0544073770
  • Pages: 96
  • Publication Date: 09/10/2013
  • Carton Quantity: 48

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About the Book
About the Author
  • About the Book
    Without a Claim is a modern Book of Psalms. Indeed, the glory in these radiant sacred songs meld an art of high music with a nuanced love of the world unlike any we’ve heard before. No matter your mood upon entering this world you’ll soon be grateful, and enchanted. In any such house of praise, God herself must be grateful.” — Philip Schultz, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Failure and The God of Loneliness

    Grace Schulman, who has been called “a vital and permanent poet” (Harold Bloom), makes new the life she finds in other cultures and in the distant past. In Without a Claim, she masterfully encompasses music, faith, art, and history. The title poem alludes to the Montauk sachem who sold land without any concept of rights to property, and meditates on our own notion of ownership: “No more than geese in flight, shadowing the lawn, / cries piercing wind, do we possess these fields, / given the title, never the dominion.” She traces the illusion of rights, from land to objects, from our loves to our very selves. Alternatively, she finds permanence in art, whether in galleries or on cave walls, and in music, whether in the concert hall, on the streets of New York, or in the waves at sea.


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  • Excerpts

    Seeing, in April, hostas unfurl like arias,
    and tulips, white cups inscribed with licks of flame,
    gaze feverish, grown almost to my waist,
    and the oaks raise new leaves for benediction,
    I mourn for what does not come back: the movie theater — 
    reels spinning out vampire bats, last trains,
    the arc of Chaplin’s cane, the hidden doorways — 
    struck down for a fast-food store; your rangy stride;
    my shawl of hair; my mother’s grand piano.
    My mother.
             How to make it new,
    how to find the gain in it? Ask the sea
    at sunrise how a million sparks
    can fly over dead bones.
    The Sound

    Accabonac, Shinnecock, Peconic, Napeague,
    the creek, the bay, the stream, the Sound, the sounds
    of consonants, hard c’s and k’s. Atlantic,
    the ocean’s surge, the clicks of waves
    collapsed on rocks in corrugated waters,
    the crowd circling a stranded whale
    sent by the god Moshup to beach at Paumanok.
    The Montauks left us names. Their successors,
    Millers and Bennetts, whose names are carved
    on local gravestones, rode rough tides,
    strung trawl lines for cod, and even on Sundays
    parked vans by the sea and gazed in fear
    until commercial hauls replaced their boats.
    Surfmen gave names to streets that bag the tourists
    who prize their charm. I hear old sailors rage,
    in many languages, against cold winds,
    the light now clear, now haze: Pharaohs and Mulfords,
    whalers (names unknown), hurl throaty curses
    that rise with the sound of waves and with the cries
    of an ice-colored gull plucking scallops in shallows.
    Without a Claim

    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.
    Moon Shell

    August, I walk this shore in search of wholeness
    among snapped razor clams and footless quahogs.
    How easily my palm cradles a moon shell
    coughed up on shore. I stroke the fragments
    as, last night, I stroked your arm
    smelling of salt, scrubbed clean by the sea air.
    Once you loped near me. Now, in my mind’s eye,
    your rubbery footsoles track sand hills
    the shape of waves you no longer straddle.
    You inch forward, step, comma, pause,
    your silences the wordless rage of pain.
    But still at night our bodies merge in sleep
    and fit unbroken, like the one perfect shell
    I’ve never found and can only imagine — 
    and crack when we’re apart. I clutch the moon shell,
    guardian of unknowing, chipped and silent,
    until I fling it down and feel its loss.
    Broken, it fit my hand and I was whole.
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