Of You and Me / When We Were Good – draft 2

Of all the things that I remember,
clearest are those cream teacups
we saw in the museum, the words
of Arab women on them, talking
about arranged marriages.
They were in a corner painted garish
red– to stand out against the pale, perhaps–
the teacups halved and jutting
from the wall at intervals. You knelt
with the camera I’d lent you, and for a while I stared
at your intensity, how you focused.
But you stayed in that corner and I wandered
off. Soon after you found me
in a showcase of local pottery, ceramics
hand-thrown, dyed and glazed by practiced hands.
When we left you were still talking
about those teacups, how they said some people felt
sheltered in tradition, or trapped
by what had always been meant for comfort.

That’s what stays with me, those teacups
and how you carefully photographed each one.
They were so much smaller than the two mugs I poured
each morning: your black tea with milk, my coffee
with cream and half a spoonful of sugar.
When I used to kiss you, you said I left
on your mouth the taste of pennies
and you grimaced, though it was your good
Italian grounds that swirled and stained
my white mug dark.

Drafts on drafts on drafts. The end still needs work, another push, I think, some clarity so that the connection I’m seeing is more fully fleshed out on the page. In general, I think I just really like writing about people whose relationships are just a little bit off; they love each other, but there’s also something wrong that’s really hard to put your finger on. I like that, I think, mostly because it all loops back to my philosophy on how love is more choice than butterfly feeling, or that perhaps it’s both but that doesn’t mean your world is without flaws. I don’t know. Maybe I just like talking about fucked up relationships.

Also, any thoughts on the potential new title?

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Green Manures and Cover Crops – Nathaniel Perry

Is there a center in all of this,
or only field peas in flower, or just
our meadow peas in flower? Yes,
all of it, and they, as they must

be, are only ours, and you
are only mine, and, of course, ours
as well, which is the same as mine
for now, while we are undevoured,

which will not last and will not last
because it seems it will until
the evening ends exactly as
it ended here tonight – still,

with light in the trees and storms somewhere
out towards Prospect – which is to say
forever. But stay with me like peas
in the meadow, which is to say always.

I am such a Perry fangirl. But this poem – it’s beautiful. It’s not one of my absolute N. Perry favorites because I think it is a little, tiny bit indulgent and sweet. But..it’s indulgent and sweet in the right way, I think, a way that’s working for him.

Side note: Marie Howe, one of my other favorite poets, chose Perry’s Nine Acres as winner for the APR/Honickman Book Prize.

The story of you is now a part of me – draft 3

We saw the Italian graffiti from the back
of his motorcycle: tu storia sempre
sara parte de la mia. He pushed
the visor of his helmet up to point it out
and translate: “The story of you is now a part of me.”

And now that story is a part of me – a small piece,
a shared identity. It was my first time
on two wheels like that, swerving around cars and up
onto the sidewalk, my shaking arms a vise
around him, my hands clenched tight
in the pockets of his jacket.

It’s not the thought of dying I was scared of,
but the wet smear on the pavement, the sound of breaking
bones, the bits of torn-off skin– the idea that shifting
my weight could change our course, lay us
down on concrete. That night we sped back
to his apartment after a three-course meal
and good red wine. The wind we made battered us
more than before, but I loosened my grip
and for the second time looked somewhere other
than his shoulder. The headlights of cars
made short funnels through the darkness. If I wanted
I could have struck the mirrors off their sides.
It wasn’t until he swung me off the seat and walked
the bike into its garage that we realized
one of the saddlebags was open, that I lost
my purse and all my things off the back.

I’m not quite satisfied with the end, I think, but it’s better than before. Marginally.

Before the Movie – draft 3

After Marie Howe’s “After the Movie”

My friend David and I are standing outside arguing
about film romances and storylines. He says
he believes there’s such a thing as soul-mates.

I say, I don’t think so. He says, I think it’s normal
to expect the walls to fall down when your person stops loving you.

I hem and haw and twist my mouth up as I say, it’s complicated,
we’re complicated; it’s foolish to think
there’s only one person you could spend the rest of your life with without killing.

David says, I think we mean different things by the same word. Soul-mates.
Maybe it’s not just one. Maybe we stumble over our days,
trying to find them all so we can fit the jagged pieces of our insides to one another.

I tell David that sounds painful. What if you don’t meet them? I ask.
Or are you all destined to run into each other, bouncing off cities like pinballs
off the sides of their machines?

We’re leaning back to rest on the cool brick of the building, taking
turns inhaling tar from the same cigarette, and I find myself repeating
what I said to my last love: love is choice, I used to say to him.

Edgar Cayce says that soul-mates help us to become whole ourselves.

Liz Gilbert says, a soul-mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet,
but to live with one forever is too painful.

D.H. Laurence says, I prefer my heart to be broken, and when I tell David this he laughs
until he’s coughing, says, that’s crazy. I know, I say. That’s just exactly it.

I tell David, I prefer my heart not broken, and believing
that soul-mates exist is a kind of permanent brokenness
until they come along to seal the cracks. He says, that’s one perspective.

Between his fingers, our cigarette has burned all the way up
to the filter. He stubs what’s left out on the brick
carefully, dotting the wall with ash. We should probably
get tickets, David says. We should probably go in.
And what I hear David saying is, “Let’s stop. You are broken,
too cynical, a dry husk of biting words and bitter laughter.”

Then I think, what does it say of me, that this is what I hear?
And do I love David enough to let him think these things
even if he’s not thinking them? I pull my shoulders to my ears,
a shrug as I turn towards the door, and he follows.

I think about perspective, the sense of trying to remember
the world is going to keep turning whether we want it to or not.
The hall into the theater is cavernous, the vaulted ceiling covered
in mirrored panels that stare back at us. We stand and wait
as the ticket counter slowly tears each printed square he’s offered.

Maybe you’re right, I say. Maybe the people you talk about are real.
But I think it’s our own job to keep our own hearts whole.

I’ve been working on this for a while. It’s an imitation of one of my favorite poems, which you can find at this link. It’s also an idea I’m really interested in, hearing what people think about the idea of soul-mates, finding out what definitions resonate with people. So part of the reason this was written was to try to work out some of those different ideas for myself, and to talk myself through them. As it turns out, I’m nowhere near done with that wrestling.

But I still think love is a choice. The more I turn it over in my mind, the more I am convinced: I think there’s something that turns you towards a person, orientates you in their direction, so to speak. Something in the people we come to care about them that let’s us know it’s where we ought to go. But after that, I think, it’s a lot of choosing to love, to let them love you, to be vulnerable and trusting even when everything else tells you to clam back up. And that choice bit makes it all the more frightening, I think. Because if bad things happen, a lot of the hurt feels like your own fault.

This is just what’s sounding true for me, part of where this piece is coming from. I’m sure we’re still a few drafts away from done.

x

On Needing You – draft 1

Once we found a cardinal in a stairwell, trapped. We didn’t know
how it got there, but the poor red thing just beat
against the heavy storm windows with the tips of its wings–
not a barrel-chested assault, a whole-hearted
battering– but gently, in the same way that we might have
circled our arms to stay afloat in the deep end
of a pool. It was smarter than I would have been,
if I found myself stuck in an upturned glass
or an inverted test-tube, a blind alley. If it had thrown
its small red body against the pane like the sparrows
that had flown down our chimney and forgotten the way
out, it would have fallen to the floor in minutes, dead
and growing cold. Instead the cardinal rested
in the brick eaves or twisted tight circles around the ceiling,
only returning to the glass every few minutes,
as if to make sure there was still something
there, a blockade, a hardness between it and the autumn
branches. I’ve never seen a bird like that, one that knew that it was stuck.

We pried the rusted window open, wedged a two-by-four
into the space between sill and lower sash because we knew
it wouldn’t come that close to us, wouldn’t fly away
while we were there. I thought of how nobody wants to run
when they know others are watching. Weeks later, I’d fall down
half that flight, from the second floor to the first,
sprain my ankle. For weeks I couldn’t hold my own weight.

There is something here, I just know it. And it’s not there yet, not quite realized yet – mostly because the idea, the meaning, the something else is still half-formed and rolling around in the space between my ears. But there’s something.

On a place that feels like home…

It’s one of those nights in which I miss things – big things, little things, tangible and intangible things. Most specifically, tonight I’m missing Galway.

I just finished reading an acquaintance’s book of poetry [Mark Brewin’s collection Scrap Iron, which is in fact phenomenal and you should all run out and buy it], and some of them draw pretty heavily on this Irish town I love. And it made me miss, in a visceral sort of way, the feel of the air coming off the river, the smell of fish at the morning market, the gaudy storefronts with Gaelic lettering, and the people – oh, people.

If I were to wax poetic for a moment, I’d tell you about the merry, ruddy-faced man my friends and I met in a pub. He spun us all around and taught us to dance something snappy. Or I’d tell you about the barmen – Sean, Ronan, Aongus, the bouncer Johnny – and how they made us feel at home by throwing cardboard coasters at our heads. I’d tell you how, the night the pub was so busy you could barely stand, I snagged a stool beside the musician’s corner and didn’t come up for air for hours, face in my hands and staring at fingers moving across strings and buttons and accordion keys. I’d tell you about making friends with Enda and Lorcan, best friends who had a penchant for hitting on the same girl and thus royally cock-blocking each other (there is no polite way to put this, I don’t think). I’d tell you about closing down the pub and having a lock-in, and the boys fussing at us for helping gather the empty glasses from the ledges ’round the walls. I’d tell you how intelligent they were, how interested they were in our opinions, how we talked about literature and politics and religion.

It was all so good-natured and friendly and fun, and tonight I am in love with those memories.

Tonight it feels like I’ll never get back there, like it won’t ever be the same. And while I know the first bit’s all in my head, the latter bit’s spot on. I won’t be a student visiting again. I won’t be studying there. I’ve got this basket of preconceived notions I need to figure out how to throw out the window, because the next time I’m in Galway will be so different than the memories I’m so fond of.

But I’ve got some ideas for it, for those future trips I hope to make. It’s a city that feels like home to me, more so than anywhere other than the Blue Ridge, and I can’t imagine never being there again. Maybe next time I’m there, it’ll be with a certain Englishman I’m fond of. Maybe it won’t be so cold. Maybe it’ll be summertime on the islands and the sky won’t really get dark all night, and we’ll stay up so long that we can watch the grey bits turn pink over the River Corrib. Maybe next time.

News from the South, snowed in edition…

If you’re wondering why I haven’t been writing lately, it’s because I apparently need a normal schedule in order to structure my time and to-do list into any semblance of order. Also, the following things are going on:

-Snopocalypse. There are seriously at least 6 inches of snow outside my door. We made snow cream last night, which was delicious. We sledded down the hill behind our apartment building using a giant cookie sheet (Ok, I didn’t because right now I have a bum ankle, but the roommates did.). And we’ve just overall been acting like children in the snow, which is practically what we are.

-Literary journal submissions. I’ve been submitting the things I have already to people. Also, the journal I edit for is in the process of seriously weeding our poetry submissions, so I have a lot of other people’s work to read/write on.

-There’s already a poem rolling around in my head, I just can’t seem to get it on paper right. Working on it.

-Yesterday, I found out I got into a grad school in the states, which is wonderful not only because it’s fully-funded, but also because it’s a great program filled with writers I love. One of whom emailed me personally, which caused me to fall out of my chair (futon) and do a happy dance. Which is exactly when it started snowing. AKA- snopocalypse is my fault.

So that’s my life now. More poetry to come!