In Honor of Marni Ludwig: Five Poems

It came to my attention last night via social media that Marni Ludwig, poet of New Issues Poetry & Prose and Poetry Society of America, has passed away. She leaves behind her chapbook, Little Box of Cotton and Lightning, her full-length collection, Pinwheel, and countless friends, family members, and fans.

At my most recent AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs’ Conference), I attended a panel less so because of its topic and more so because Marni was scheduled to be a part of that panel. It was announced at the opening of the panel that, falling ill, she had been unable to commute to Seattle and attend the conference. That was my one opportunity, that I know of, to have met her and complimented her work in-person, but I feel grateful to have known and admired her work in the years since I was introduced to Pinwheel at New Issues Poetry & Prose.

In an effort to commemorate—I’ve found the best way to remember and celebrate a poet we’ve lost is to turn back to their poems, and think about how the poet’s work has touched our lives. For me, Marni Ludwig has been with me through these poems from Pinwheel and all of Little Box of Cotton and Lightning; she’s been with me through my re-connection to direct, if surreal, declarative sentences in poetry; through my rediscovery of oil pastels and marbling (because of that fantastic book cover); through my connection to the ideas of depression and suicide that are at least hinted, if not animated, in these poems.

So, first, a poem I wrote back in 2014 that I’ve never done anything with—but it feels particularly poignant (at least for me) today:

UNFORESEEN

a body falls. So senseless

is the heart when it comes

undone. You pull over

in the downpour, look up

at the building in a sky

that seems to go on forever,

and you think you see it: a small

exit hole from which he fell—

a brick misplaced, a departed

cloud. Whatever caused it was lost

in that pirouette of skin

to pavement. Stuck there,

the engine failing, the tires

flat, your mind blank,

you crumble like salt. He

was your friend, or he

could have been, had you

known him. What could

the driver’s license and

the countless credit cards

in his wallet really tell you?

How about the flowers

at his funeral, the way

rain will fall on his grave bed?

You mumble on forever

and ever—dirt sleep—

you wander around

out-of-doors.

And, four poems by Marni Ludwig from her collection, Pinwheel—four show-stoppers. Though there are so many to choose from in both of her books.

AFTER THE GIRL

After the girl
with the handful of mice
and a tiny silver guillotine leaves,
we lie down in the dark.

You tell me last night
you dreamed you wore
a beard. The night before
you drowned but did not sleep.

On the screen behind us
citizens of a great island
build the streets
toward a difficult sky.

On the next screen
a blind girl steps
before a shining faucet
and lets her dress fall.

CEREMONY FOR A BYSTANDER

Listen, I am returning to where you are.

Wisteria, wisteria,
asleep on the stalk,
show me how to keep
the mouth soft.

Inside, wasps

are building cornices in the dust
and not one accurate place
in the silence.

STEEPLECHASE

Face down in the sun you can say you followed an animal
into the sun. We were having a conversation
about her pain. Lamb and Pin, first in line,
and then the other ponies trailing behind, mending
their shadows by the little coughing light of dusk.

And the birds dropped in our laps.

How could the sky have forsaken us after we made it
small, to match our faith, and rode it
so purposefully into the breezeway.

From the east, you shall hear the call of seventy pentecostal hoof-taps.
From the west, the haystack whispers, slow learner.

Once I lost the use of my arms.

It was the only time I felt a kindness toward myself.

As for despair, I’ve learned to sit with it,
to arch my back and sink
the weight into my heels.

Every night I oil the saddle.
Every night I spit onto the torn bed-sheet,
rubbing concentrically until I find you
lying in the grass, drinking at the mouth
of the river of an inner ear.

SECRET

I dreamed I swam in a public park
while leather-beaked ducks
ate black bread at the edge
of the cool water. I was afraid
to feed them. I was afraid of the sun,
which showed me the original image
of myself, floating on my back.

A dog barked and then another dog
raised its head. I feel I deserve to die
if I have made a mistake. Underneath
the lake: bird music, cold sky
swimming up to meet my hands.

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Ludwig, MarniPinwheel. Kalamazoo: New Issues Press, 2013. Print.

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If you’re interested in purchasing Pinwheel, please visit New Issues Press.

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