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Tag: New Issues Poetry and Prose

Poem of the Day & Remembering Ralph Angel

Happy Tuesday, friends. I hope you enjoyed your day and did something you love today.

I mentioned yesterday that I’m diving more deeply back into my reading and writing, including sharing poetry during these uncertain times.

On March 9th, the press where I used to work as the Layout and Design Editor, New Issues Poetry and Prose, shared a video of Ralph Angel reading his lovely poem, “Bright Example.” In the post, it read, “If you need to need to hear Ralph’s voice, it is here. We at New Issues will all miss him so much.”

The post hit my body like a wave, and I locked myself in the bathroom for a few minutes, simply sitting there to listen to Ralph read his poem aloud. I cried alone while my children played, unaware, in the basement.

I think partially the news hurt so much, because it’s impossible to imagine such a bright light in the world going out at a time like this.

But more than anything, I think it’s the culture that I embraced while working with New Issues. The relationships we built there with each other, and with our writers, were sound, authentic, and unforgettable. I’ve never lost track of New Issues, celebrate their winners, read their latest books, and do whatever I can to remain involved with them from afar.

Working with Ralph Angel, who was one of the later poets I worked with while on staff, was an incredible experience. We exchanged countless emails about his poetry, their need to breathe on the page, the weather, what we were reading—typical to poets who relate anything in life to poetry.

More important were the phone calls, which were fewer in number but long, thoughtful, and hilarious. I knew long before anyone told me that he was brilliant, and a jokester.

During one of our calls, he joked with me about pranking me at some point—but not until the book was released, of course. He said he couldn’t take any chances (haha).

Then at AWP that year, in Seattle, Ralph was scheduled for a book signing at the New Issues table at the bookfair. I made sure to be there, so I could finally meet him in-person. When he arrived, there were immediately people surrounding him, so I waited. Once he was free, I introduced myself, and he gasped audibly.

He said, “Oh, it’s you,” and pulled me into a hug, saying, “Thank you.” He picked up his book from the table and said, “This is here because of you” (which was such an exaggeration, but it meant a lot to little MFA-candidate-me).

Goodness, I miss him. I think I always will. But eventually, I will have all of his books, and that will be more than I can say now.

For anyone who doesn’t have the books I have, or who may have not been introduced to his work yet, here are three poems I particularly love from Ralph’s Your Moon, which I designed in 2014.

THE WIND WILL CARRY US

Someone has been sleeping. Someone’s
heading nowhere.

This is the winding road. Then there’s a solitary
tree, and after that, nothing,
nothing.

If someone asks, say I’m
looking for buried treasure. Such a lovely
village. You’ve hidden it so well.

I haven’t hidden anything. Our ancestors
built it here.

See that blue window, near the lady
sitting on the steps. Let’s
go higher. I will

show you. Here’s your
room.

We have a sack of apples. We have
fresh bread. You won’t
get another chance

like this. On judgment day
it’s obvious. I’m used to it. I work
here. If you stay a while longer, you’ll
get used to it, too.

When I was little, and someone
told me a secret, I always wanted to reveal it.
And, eventually, I did.

“If you come into my house
oh kind one, bring me a lamp
and a window

through which I can watch the crowd
in the happy street.”

I’m sorry to disturb you.

You’re welcome.
This is my normal route.

YOU’RE THE RUB

Murmured in loneliness, round and round.
Let’s not go inside. The cliffs drop off, and the ocean’s
a friend—on the boardwalk
enough people alone
have died.
So relax, take your feet
off—nobody’s
missing. There are many parts
of the mind. On that old
open day we let out our long green grass. A night’s passed
and you expected it
to be there.
You’re the rub—the love
that loves the love. I like especially the puddles
and your wire. I like your mud.
I like your part
of it.

CONVERSATION

So I took a walk
inside. You’re alone
when morning
comes.
Watching you sleep in
is better

than oatmeal,
even Irish
oatmeal,
that thing you do
so well.

When you were a fish
you were a salmon.
I know, I’m
slow, I
know.

November’s a nice day
to be. The ocean’s
near.
Your fog
is

everywhere.

So I
talked to I, I said
fuck death, everyone
I meet knows
someone

I know. I said
it’s nice to be happy,
but no one
believes
me.

Take your time,
my love. The logs have lit
the fire.
The sweet scent
of your hair

kisses
my mouth, and I
kiss you back,
and pour
the tea.

Enjoy, friends. And have a glass of wine in Ralph’s memory for me, okay?

—all from Ralph Angel’s Your Moon (New Issues Poetry and Prose, 2014)

&

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An Inspiring Day in Kalamazoo: Poems

Happy Sunday, friends! I hope you each had a wonderful weekend and are looking forward to Monday.

Believe it or not, I actually am excited about Monday, because I’ll be spending time with my kiddos and (gasp!) writing.

This weekend was of the whirlwind variety, taking me through Chicago, down to Indiana, up into Michigan, and back again. I’m home now, comfortable in my own space after so much catching up, via inspiring, intellectual, and fun conversations with family, former colleagues, and writers alike.

I was invited to a New Issues event today, entitled, “Celebrating New Issues: Honoring Bill Olsen’s 10 Years of Editorship.” When I found out Bill was retiring this year from teaching and editing (at least in a formal capacity), I knew I had to find a way to make it to Michigan. Fortunately, we were able to make it work by making a weekend out of it, spending time with family and then heading to Michigan for the reading.

It was wonderful to reconnect with so many writers from around Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids, and also to see those integral to New Issues Poetry and Prose, and the English / Creative Writing Department at Western.

Though I’ll inevitably be writing tonight and tomorrow, I wanted to share for now two poems, not written by me, that were read at the New Issues celebration, as well as two poems from New Issues’ latest publications… I’ll be sharing more of Bill’s work later in the week, once I’ve had a chance to properly revisit his work; I hope you’ll stay tuned for that, because his work is amazing.

First, poems by New Issues’ latest: “Distillation Poem” from Eman Hassan’s Raghead and “Mistress of the House” from Chet’la Sebree’s Mistress.

DISTILLATION POEM
Kuwait, Active-Present

Everything is different and yet the same.

The same moon arcs across skies less
and less blue, while vanity mirrors

still reflect an ever-constant me me me, still
deflect backgrounds of sponsored Asians in bondage.

Fingers of moonlight grow long across dressing tables,
wrap eyes in gossamer bandages…

… if you’re looking for a sonnet, this isn’t it.

Come, take your pill and remember
those petrified lessons of war’s carnage, come

smell the putrid outpouring of sewage, still let
into the sea, in the dim-lit dead of night,

raw as the dead who now see
standing behind each shoulder like worried angels

longing for fingers to touch, to unfasten the knots
at the backs of our skulls…


MISTRESS OF THE HOUSE

I want to learn to sit cross-ankled
and set an Emily Post table,

want to invite my colleagues to dinner
and play hostess supreme—

serving beef bourguignon and baked Alaska,
all gluten-free—to retire

to a bed bearing a partner
in satisfied exhaustion.

I want a deep-lunged beast
to stir me from my sleep,

want to be good at something
other than this writing exhibitionism,

even though I lost the first baby I loved
and prefer eating pork rinds alone.

*

Next, a poem by Bill, from his latest collection, TechnoRage:

AND THE CREATURES LAY DOWN

The woods running out of breath
were paradise, you and I
rocking in sex like kids on swings,
trying out open tunings
or whatever we wished that seemed pure
and apart from our parents
and all humankind, and now
the ice caps are on the verge
of a nervous breakdown,
it’s time our generation said
goodbye. That bowling ball
in my hands was my head,
before even midnight died
there was lots of wind to listen lost to
but when it lightninged
one beautiful sight was you.

And the world was just like
a reality and mostly ours to
kite alongside our loved ones
hurled like birds by the wind
beak first into the mortuary.
We stopped crying at the sad parts
to cry at the joyous parts,
then turn to one another.

*

Finally, a poem by Robert Hass, from his collection, The Apple Trees at Olema, to wrap things up.

JULY NOTEBOOK: THE BIRDS

Late afternoon in June the fog rides in
across the ridge of pines, ghosting them,
and settling on the bay to give a muted gray
luster to the last hours of light and take back
what we didn’t know at midday we’d experience
as lack: the blue summer and the dry spiced scent
of the summer woods. It’s as if some cold salt god
had wandered inland for a nap. You still see
herons fishing in the shallows, a kingfisher or an osprey
emerges for a moment out of the high, drifting mist,
then vanishes again. And the soft, light green leaves
of the thimbleberry and the ridged coffeeberry leaves
and the needles of the redwoods and pines look more sprightly
in the cool gray air with the long dusk coming on,
since fog is their natural element. I had it in mind
that this description of the weather would be a way
to say things come and go, a way of subsuming
the rhythms of arrival and departure to a sense
of how brief the time is on a summer afternoon
when the sun is warm on your neck and the world
might as well be a dog sleeping on a porch, or a child
for whom an afternoon is endless, endless. Time:
thick honey, and no one saying good-bye.

*

Have a wonderful evening, all.

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Poem of the Day: David Dodd Lee

 

A POEM ABOUT BLUEGILLS

 

There are poems about bluegills. There are poems
about trout. The bluegill doesn’t give a shit.
It’ll eat a bare hook but would rather not hear
about your childhood. The bluegill’s thick headed.
It hunkers down in the weeds, thinking. The trout’s like a young girl
in a wedding gown. Touch it and it dies.
You can pull a bluegill out a pike’s ass, it might
still swim away. I’m not talking about pumpkinseeds,
those little flecks of tinsel. The bluegill’s
the stud of all panfish. People catch pumpkinseeds
thinking they’re bluegills. A pumpkinseed shivers;
it thinks it’s going to convince you it’s cold.
Bluegills are fatalists. A slab in your hand may jerk its head
twice. Once hooked it goes for the mud. By the time
it’s resting on a flotation device it’s willing to die.
It doesn’t grope like a rock bass, swallowing air,
the bluegill’s a realist. It knows it’s just a wedge of painted flesh,
heavy enough to pull you half out of the boat.
If you’ve got a big white bucket of panfish
sitting on top of the ice, the bluegill’s the one still living,
thinking, its head like a stapler, mulling things over.

 

—from David Dodd Lee’s Downsides of Fish Culture, New Issues Poetry and Prose (1997)

 

 

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Poem of the Day: John Rybicki

 

I AM MAD AND THIS IS HOW I DANCE

 

I wheel my bed into the yard,
stand it upright, braced on all sides
by ropes. I am too small to house skies,
bat-winged angels drunk on tar,
dogs scraping their tongues
against pavement. My veins
finger through cement
until they find grass, Irish fields
of winter wheat.

What a strange curse to be God,
stuffed with blood and poked
with so many holes.
I need no priest.
I roll my long hands out
to the rag people whose fingers
lace up through sewer lids,
spines hunched in a room
below ground.

I want to let go of it,
believe me.
My bones are too small to arch around it.
But it is morning and I am featherless,
black-lunged from a night in long tunnels.
The light has me by the hands,
is dragging me into its fire.

 

—from John Rybicki’s Traveling at High Speeds, New Issues Poetry and Prose (2003)

 

 

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Poem of the Day: Julie Moulds

 

AFTER READING RUMI

 

I say my prayers upside down, the wind
blowing me like a clothespinned robe,
my little bat hands curled together. I look for God

in a school of fish. I look for God in Mammoth Cave.
I look for God in an air balloon. If Jesus’
hot coal head is the sun rising, where does

He hide his body? Or does the body merely
flatten black like a shadow, then disappear in sun?
An unravelling ghost, round as a coin, tells me

of Judas, how he still benedict arnolds
through the meadow bought with ruddy silver:
his neck choking in an argentine knot, his entrails

snaking out like squirrel tails. In His dressing room
like Al Jolson, God masquerades as Night.
He blackens His paint-pink hands. He blackfaces

His clown-white countenance, while a goat
drinks Christ’s blood and sprouts fur wings.
A frog drinks Christ’s blood and becomes

a green bat. Made of fire, a crackle man jumps
in a thorny bush. He blows me a gas-blue kiss,
then cries, I am God and you are my new Moses.

Take a dip? I say, and hopscotch over heat-
baked sand. He pulls up the charred bush
like a tutu, follows me into meringue white waves.

 

—from Julie Moulds’ The Woman with a Cubed Head, New Issues Poetry and Prose (1998)

 

 

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Poem of the Day: Beckian Fritz Goldberg

 

CROCUS

 

I wanted to stay in the earth:
There, I needed no skin—the dark
body was all around me.
I had no tongue. Above me, sleep,
a heaven of snow. Years,
years. Then the split,

the blue heart lifted almost
out—who was coming to save me?
How would I know myself, outside
self…

And then the sky. The you.
The first terrifying eye of a bird
coming down to me, a kiss
forced open. When I was buried

I did not need to forget. You
are what I need to forget
but not now—
not with everything in the air,
not with these lips
so designed to fail…

 

—from Beckian Fritz Goldberg’s Reliquary Fever: New and Selected Poems, New Issues Poetry and Prose (2010)

 

 

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Poem of the Day: Diane Seuss

 

IT BLOWS YOU HOLLOW

 

It takes your bones to bed,
tongues out the marrow.
Says it will meet you halfway,
a hotel deep in Oklahoma
where you’ll get adjoining rooms
and have a couple of nervous
breakdowns. It’s a no-show, waylaid.
It orders the venison sausage,
the lamb, the infant in puff
pastry, picks its pretty white
teeth with the pins from your little
sister’s hair. Churns you till you
congeal, till the cream goes hard,
courts you till you’ve got a hard-on,
bangs your machine with its hips till you tilt,
your flippers frozen. Your heart’s a tilt-a-whirl,
throwing off steam into the frigid night,
spinning heartsick, heartbreak.
It dances close with its hands
on your nipples, immaculately conceives you
and runs off with the kid in the night,
wears five watches on each arm, pillaged
from your ancestors, innocent and burned,
wrestles with your mother, gets your father
to confess his infidelities at Sunday dinner,
puts its fist in the cake, picks the buttercream
crucifixes off the hot cross buns,
teaches brother to piss his name into the snow,
shaves his head, needles him till he’s tattooed.
It grows gorgeous on its deathbed,
rises gloriously to the occasion,
wills you its curls, its secret codes,
licks your fingerprints like a creamy cat,
dies with the grace of the curtain-pull at the golden opera,
clasps its hands, kisses Jesus on the lips, its body
lit from within like a fawnskin lampshade.
And all you want to do is revive it. You’ll write
circles around it, half-assed parables halfway told,
with bandaged hands, with all the bones
in your face showing, by god,
you’ll make a religion of it.

 

—from Diane Seuss’ It Blows You Hollow, New Issues Poetry and Prose (1998)

 

 

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Remembering Herbert Scott

 

SLEEPING WOMAN

                    —after the painting by Richard Diebenkorn

 

I’m walking east down Lovell in Kalamazoo
in the middle of the afternoon, and it’s hot, July
something, and there’s a man sleeping on the sidewalk—
the way you would in your bed—his body a kind of Z
in a fancy serif font, the curlicue of hands
beneath his head at the top, and the toes of each foot
curved to comfort the other, at the bottom. At first
I don’t know if he’s alive or dead, his skin
the color of burnt iron, a darkness alcohol finally brings.
I remember him from months before, a couple of blocks
west of here. He leaned against my car and wanted
to borrow money, a loan. He wanted a ride to South Haven
where he could get the money to pay me back.
His voice had that desperate familiarity that says:
You know me. You must want to care for me.
I think I gave him something, not much, and drove away.
I couldn’t forget his face, murky with solitude,
like the hard red clay in Oklahoma where I grew up
that won’t grow anything—everything lost to erosion
that brings such desolation you can’t survive.
I thought he wouldn’t survive more than a week or so,
but here he is, and when the cops arrive they know him,
call him Billy, and he’s still alive, maybe
for the last time, and they pick him up.
I head east again, turn left into the cool museum
where I lose myself, sometimes, where I find you
sleeping where I’ve seen you before, paint streaming
around you like water, gathering in the shallows
of your dress. I am always surprised to see you.
I don’t know. Are you flesh, or water? if I move
you will disappear in a startle of color.
The gallery is almost dark—those new-fangled spots
that keep the viewer anonymous—but your face turns
toward me from the crook of your doubled arms,
all about you an unemcumbered sway, an intelligence
of light explicit as a summer evening. Deer quietly chewing.
I balance, in the shadows, between.

 

Herb Scott_The Other Life Selected Poems of Herbert Scott_David Dodd LeeThat is easily my favorite Herb Scott poem; it is the one, when asked, or when I think of him, that I turn to. My first exposure to him was through The Other Life: Selected Poems of Herbert Scott, edited by David Dodd Lee. I devoured this book upon its purchase, and read it again and again, before entering the MFA program at Western Michigan University. Since attending WMU, and volunteering and working at New Issues Poetry and Prose, I have realized the impact one poet can have on a literary community: the friendships, the press, the poetry, sharing the word; he was one of the hinges on which everything ran. I never met him, but my praise for New Issues is never-ending, and his poetry continues to startle me. He challenges me as a poet, and as a member in this community; it’s a gift I wish for all other poets, all other writers, as long as there are literary communities.

Herb, today would have been your 84th birthday. It’ll never be enough, but I like to think turning to your work, raising a glass of white wine, and thinking about what I can do in the literary communities I touch to make them better, I’ll be able to do a fraction of what you’ve done, and continue to do.

Happy Birthday, and happy memories. Cheers.

 

 

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“The Snapping Open of a Valve / A Bird’s Egg”: Reading Kerrin McCadden’s Landscape with Plywood Silhouettes

 

Kerrin McCadden_Landscape with Plywood SilhouettesNo matter how long I’ve been reading and writing professionally, it still amazes me how much a little time away can contribute to my appreciation of a larger work. During my first year as the Layout and Design Editor at New Issues Poetry and Prose, I had the extreme benefit of working with Kerrin McCadden, upon her winning of the 2013 New Issues’ Poetry Prize for her first full-length collection, Landscape with Plywood Silhouettes. In subsequent months, I would focus on content, proofreading and the physical layout of her poems on the page. This is a job I tremendously enjoy; but I have found that I have to turn off that other side of my brain in order to adequately complete these tasks—that part which is interested in image, line, and syntax, in the overall arch of the collection and the persona established throughout. While a certain amount of attention must still be given to these attributes, in order to ensure a thorough, comprehensive proofreading, they have to otherwise be set aside to focus more so on the fine-tuning that occurs in this great world of bookmaking.

Kerrin McCadden’s Landscape with Plywood Silhouettes officially arrived on the literary scene in March 2014. Over the next several months, I was then able to focus on other pursuits—my writing of poems, writing book reviews, and working on other layout and design projects—and take my more-analytical attention away from McCadden’s work. Now, late in the summer when I’ve had a little time to sit back and let the literary areas of my mind take a rest, I’ve returned to McCadden’s collection simply for the joy of it, and I am beyond-astonished with what I have found.

McCadden’s poems are, in a word, breathtaking. They live somewhere between the world of the lyric and the narrative, providing us a foundation to establish a story, but otherwise leaving us suspended in that place where our imaginations and interpretations take over. They are relatable, descriptive, in that way that many good poems are, but they also provide the breathing room we need to invite our own memories. These poems are the persona’s stories, but they can also be our stories. Much of what makes these poems so relatable are the themes established, but also McCadden’s use of image and metaphor.

These poems largely focus on family and love, longing and grief, and coping. Though these concepts may seem to be commonly placed together, it is the way in which McCadden complicates these ideas, and juxtaposes them against one another, again and again, that makes them so interesting, real, and alive.

For instance, Family, as an umbrella term for motherhood and marriage, is fractured and confusing in a way that is so familiar to many of us. In her poems, “Bedtime” and “Little Ghost Girl,” there is a sense of creating value and prioritizing between children; this, in and of itself, can be a startling concept—the playing of favorites to the extreme of reading to and feeding one child, and forgetting the other. But if we then turn to McCadden’s poem, “Ballooning,” we are overwhelmed with the sense of maternal instinct and protectiveness, longing for connection and safety, which may complicate our reading of “Little Ghost Girl.” In a similar vein, we are not presented with the stereotypical emotions of loss and grieving commonly found in poems that mention, or focus on, divorce; rather, we are presented with a severe complication of a longing for the memories of the time before, as well as for something new. This idea, while fresh and inviting on its own, is further supported by the portrayal of love in these poems—and better yet, the strangeness of it, such as its portrayal in “Skeletons,” when the depiction of love is both bodily and surreal, perhaps even awkward and somewhat startling or creepy. In this way, each of these concepts that are stereotypically so desirable are driven with a sense of wonder and abjection, suggesting that they are not as clean and beautiful and ideal as they seem. This final idea intertwines itself beautifully with the grief and coping processes found in some of these poems, giving us the sense as readers that these processes are nothing if not normal, and that they, too, are not clean or straight-forward, that one individual—the persona, perhaps—may find solace or beauty in something that otherwise terrifies us, and perhaps where we find comfort would disturb her just as much.

As if these concepts and their unique portrayals were not enough, McCadden further astounds through her use of redefinition, metaphor and image. What I find so startling and beautiful about the use of redefinition is the sense of possibility that is inherent to its use. By including this particular tactic, the poet is able to redefine a moment, an emotion, or an image, again and again, through a series of word revisions or images that, all at once, change our perception of what the poet is trying to get across, while still maintaining our memory of that earlier version. It is a metapoetic method of revision—maintaining what could have been erased, or revised out, as a part of the learning process, the grieving process, and the inherent epiphany, available to this persona. One of my favorite examples of redefinition across these works occurs at the end of the poem, “The Death of the Reader”:

This is the heartache I am after. Not the one
after the marriage, the long marriage, the forty
open acres of marriage, the fifty page ending.
Just the snapping open of a valve, the chamber
squeezing like a fist, my heart breaking like
a bird’s egg, untended, desiccated, sparkling
in the evening light, so beautiful, so light
and diaphanous it almost doesn’t fall.

In this moment, we are presented with what we might expect the source of heartache to be, but are then challenged with a more bodily, and then lyrical, rendition of this persona’s grieving—the moving from “the snapping open of a valve” to “a bird’s egg, untended [and] desiccated”. Then, it suspends us in the end with a strange combination of hope and dread that maybe, just maybe, this teetering thing will hold fast, will not fall, will remain intact.

This is what I feel McCadden does so well. While she uses redefinition as a means to reach a deeper, raw truth, much of this redefinition is established through her beautiful use of metaphor and image. In the short passage I shared above alone, we are presented with the, both, real and conceptual idea of heartache, followed by the raw snapping open of a valve and the fragility of a bird’s egg, all covered in soft evening light and the imposition of falling. This complication of rawness and fragility, beauty and dread, are juxtapositions we are so familiar with in our moments of struggle and bittersweetness. This is what makes McCadden’s poems so perfectly relatable, and open, leaving us in these strange, in-between places that both harm and calm, that remind us of the beautiful, simple things and “the lonely thing[s],” and humble us with the knowledge that we are “just a series of pauses, waiting,” even “careening [impossibilities],” never quite knowing what we have, or what we will miss, or what will leave us. These larger themes keep us up at night, so often, and in projecting them onto us through a universal you, and in constantly deepening our understanding of our own grief and the persona’s, we are left in this place of understanding and community, while all at once knowing that nothing is entirely guaranteed.

Kerrin McCadden’s debut collection, Landscape with Plywood Silhouettes, is haunting and truthful, honest and trustworthy, with beautifully-repetitious images of birds and flight, a constant going-away, and close-ups of ghost girls, gorillas, and heart valves, that challenge our understanding of grieving and happiness. In a sentence, it is not a collection you should miss.

 

KERRIN McCADDEN is the author of Landscape with Plywood Silhouettes, winner of the 2013 New Issues Poetry Prize, judged by David St. John. A 2013 National Endowment for the Arts Fellow in Poetry, she was also awarded a 2013 Sustainable Arts Foundation Writing Award, as well as support from The Vermont Arts Endowment Fund and The Vermont Studio Center. Her poems have appeared in Best American Poetry, The Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day series, American Poetry Review, Rattle, Green Mountains Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Poet Lore, Failbetter, Hunger Mountain and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from The Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.

 

 

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Reading Kerrin McCadden

 

BECCA

 

She says, It’s my birthday I’m going tomorrow.
What’s your favorite font? What should I
have him write? Serifs
, I say, I like serifs.
I like old typewriters—the keys little platters.
I don’t answer the question about what to write.
The vellum of her back. I am not her mother,
who later weeps at the words written between
her shoulders. I get ready to retract the idea of serifs,
the pennants that pull the eye from one word
forward, but the eye loves a serif. When we
handwrite, we stop to add them to I. Read this
word like typeface, make me always published, I am
always a text
. Write this on your back,
I want to say. Write that you are a lyric
and flying—serifed, syntactical. Becca chooses
Make of my life a few wild stanzas. She lies
on the bed while the artist marks her back,
his needle the harrow for her sentence. Make of
my life a place to stand, stopping-places, a series
of rooms, stances, stare, stantia, stay. She has
shown him a bird she wants perched above the final
word, stanza. It is a barn swallow—ink blue flash.
He says, toward the end, so she can know it will hurt
to ink so much blue, I am filling in the stanza now,
and he stings her right shoulder again and again,
filling the room of the bird. Make of my life
a poem, she asks me and him and her mother as
she walks away, make of my life something
wild, she says. I watch her strike out across
Number 10 Pond, the tattoo flashing with each stroke,
and there is barely enough time to read it.

 

THE DEATH OF THE READER

 

I have not read a book since my divorce, or,
I have been a bad reader and have read
books, but have not finished them, or, I may
or may not have read some books, but only
those I read as a child, and those to my son,
or, I have picked up books in order to love
them, but have been unable to. I have loved
so many books, and by that I mean novels,
those books that are to lose oneself inside,
to hide in a duck blind, to hide behind a door
with an axe, to hide in a tree with a friend,
to crush a birdnest in the fist, to watch the
smallest shells fall through the sunlight,
to pick up a gun and fire it by accident
and kill my ten-year-old twin, my father
running through the tall grass like he is
under water, I have never seen him run
so fast. Even hiding in the farmhouse,
fantasizing about a floor that can be hosed
clean. Mostly, though, the duck blind,
and being caught there, my long dress
having trailed the mud, and later my death,
there, in the second-floor bed, my eyes
two awful things, my death a black thing.
This is the tenth poem I have written about
my death, or at least the death of the reader,
or at least the death of the reader who cannot
read books, only poems. A poem can break
your heart in the short term, and over and over,
in the same way, and in others, the shards falling
through the treelimbs to the pasture below.
This is the heartbreak I am after. Not the one
after the marriage, the long marriage, the forty
open acres of marriage, the fifty page ending.
Just the snapping open of a valve, the chamber
squeezing like a fist, my heart breaking like
a bird’s egg, untended, desiccated, sparkling
in the evening light, so beautiful, so light
and diaphanous it almost doesn’t fall.

 

BALLOONING

 

Dawn was pink, cold. Husks
of balloons grew—long thin
handkerchiefs into airships.
I sent her into the sky like a question,
stood in the driveway, smiled
the pasted smile of the stricken,
waved. She was ten. I could almost see
the light of my teeth. I was sure
they flashed fightflight.
A balloon does not know where
it is going, and we gave chase,
there it goes, there it goes,
turning onto roads that thinned away.
She climbed and fell with shots of flame
along the river, then climbed so high
she became unlikely,
a lofty fleck of finespun color
spotting the gauze of winter.
For a minute, I lost her there.
Later, I thumbed through pictures
shot from the basket
and watched the morning—a flip-book:
There I was, smaller and smaller
on the driveway. The fields, too,
grew smaller and smaller.
Her hand dangled against the landscape,
smoothing the snowpack as she flew.
And while the sun finished cracking the horizon,
she arched back over the basket
and hung her hair into the sky.

 

*

 

all from Kerrin McCadden’s Landscape with Plywood Silhouettes (New Issues Poetry and Prose, 2014)

 

 

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