Saturday, July 11, 2009

First Residency at Vermont College of Fine Arts

1. I wake before the chocolate cake gets eaten, before the van I’m driving from the backseat crashes into a stalled logging truck. The phone rings, it’s my mother: Happy Fourth of July! Your father found your old red wig; I’m wearing it in the parade.

2. You know how they talk about the seed? There’s a quote from a lovely woman—when the pain becomes too great, the hard shell of the seed breaks and the flower begins its slow growth to bloom. The pain is not the heartbreak of this life, our human right, but the pain of seeing beauty in a certain light. As for the first time discovering there is another way to live. How can I explain the thing you must know alone? Maybe art is the presence of death making every moment worth knowing and while we cannot live always without the prospect of food, we can for a time break from the pain of our hunger, let ourselves be torn apart by the truth of an enormous beyond, before the starving need to bloom gets the better of us and we grow like hell towards the sun.

3. I am smoking Camel cigarettes on a bench, under a tree whose name escapes me. My father—the fisher king—tried to teach me all the names of the trees. His favorite, the Northern Pine, whose enormous roots devour the earth with the speed of lightening, whose mammoth trunk drives two stories high, before soft fertile limbs plump out, grow weary with the altitude and divide. When my father bought the land where he and mother planned to build a home, there was a singe giant pine standing decades tall over the beach. It was only a week and a storm came and lightening struck, taking my father’s pine. He walked over the land, through marsh and swamp and sand to find his fallen prize, its branches swimming in the cold lake waters of the shore.

I imagine him standing for a moment in awe before he ran his hands along the thick rough bark, starting at the breach that revealed in death the trees sweet inward youth, the rings where growth comes from the center out. Then walking into the water, he moved to its branches, touching the spiky ends of its needles and let himself sink into the sandy lake bottom before he went to get his chain saw and cut it clean from earth.

Years later he made the tree into a table where at night he sat with his billing files and calculator, summing up the weeks sales, while his single son and several daughters watched a college ball game on the TV in the room where the tree still remains.

I am smoking Camel cigarettes, drinking cold coffee not by choice, under a tree, on a bench, and I have known for a year now that I adore my father almost as in worship—as though the gods rewarded me. Though I cannot remember all the names of the trees—I plan to someday learn—I know, the pink, soft middle of my father, from where he grows, is guarded by fifty-four rings and a hefty layer of bark and he never sheds his leaves.

4. The sun has finally come out. The sky a silly blue, the clouds are cruising by and everyone here at the school for aspiring writers is an ounce lighter. For the weather unlike the poems, can quickly recover from the darkness you thought was blundering towards an end.

5. Anouk and I have names for others here. In the morning before we set out to workshop, she says in her sugary voice of British decent, well I hope to start a conversation with Big Bear today in lecture. To which I reply, I plan on avoiding Black Widow Spider and eating the Fedora for Breakfast.

Four Spoons (a revisiting)


I drink a Manhattan,

eat a plate of nachos,

smoke a cigarette.


Everything I say

I say for real this time,

my second, my endless chance,

and with gusto.


already I am an old woman,

fingers furled, milky eyes,

wandering around this fine home,

collecting spoons (you know those collections?)

asleep with a book by midnight.


cold in the month of June

all around you radiance grows,

the sky bottoms out in your eyes.

you will not answer your phone,

you will not answer me this.

but I never called.

I will be what I am

and you will in your time

be what you are.

Even still,

you will want to please me,

you will want to ease me,

you will learn to pray.


My mother was a pirate

my father, a spade,

the night I came to be.


Heat on the lungs

means grief.

I watch him die

his body turn inward,

and the heat go out of him.

And at the funeral a woman says,

my you have the nicest hair.

Don’t I know?


I get on my knees,

the floor is wood, rough

wood, we pulled up the

linoleum to get to it.

I get on my knees

this morning.


Where I’m from

the men get shaved clean and slick their hair.

The women drink cans of beer

and watch the men grow prettier by the year.

And there’s many a woman in these parts,

homesteading it alone,

smart as whips, lickity split, chop a cord of wood.


The sparrow of your willingness

an unfed greed

called the grace from me.

From you I took four spoons,

a garlic masher, a pot for boiling.

I saw you whispering

near the creek and went closer

to hear you say:

I will be humble,

I will be humble,

and learn to grieve

what’s not forgiven.