Monday, January 31, 2011

by Elaine Terranova

What with foresight and dancing,
gypsies would seem to pass easily
between worlds. The hummingbird too—

only a moth with a beak—
Have I ever heard it hum?

Yet it's everywhere welcome,
coaxed by red flowers, even sugar water,
for we are devious, in our desires.

And the dead, we embody them
for our own purposes. I can't talk
to a shadow, to an abstraction.

A sun worshiper, my brother,
always raising his face to it.
One touch and the body roar quieted.

Now, though I walk the length
of the park, he is not there.
He is nowhere under the sun.

I want the dead but I am with
the living. The tulips raise up their hands.
The lunch crowd swallows me.

Waiting for the Ice Storm

and the aftermath of that, and my drive in to work tomorrow should be an Olympic event. Ever since the one terrible tornado and black ice incident in Alabama of all places, I live in fear of freezing rain, sleet, and automobiles. Odd that this Utah girl should be a chicken after her Alabama winter and not all of the years of blinding blizzards and snowfalls so heavy that they routinely brought down the trees that wore the enormous white parkas of them. Beautiful enshroudings, if deadly.

So I am homed-away and happy to be less sickly than the virus that made me feel all Victorian with its fevers and the coughing-up of blood. I meant to fan my hair out against the pillows and go out in a way of wretched rose petals.

I opted out of the AWP conference this year and today's weather forecast is the only thing to console me about not attending. The conference is one of those things like family that one loves and hates at various times, but that in the end, one feels more at home connected to than not. Tonight finds me listening to World Cafe and my beloved Old 97s on the radio and getting to anticipate seeing them in Cincy AND here in April. Also, Woody Pines maybe this Friday and I am hoping to talk M into the Josh Ritter show.

I am wishing I had finished my Cold, Cold... story in time for the deadline I imposed for it. I did get comments back from Kathrine for my novel pages and her comments were good and sound and make me want to get in and write. If I can get all of my classes planned out thoroughly and this little lit mag up and running, then I can justify such selfish indulgences as some writing and re-writing.

I have been assembling a kind of loose elegiac collection, very lyric and white-spaced. I think I am going to call it Pink Lady Apple, for now and see how it fits over time.

I post a bit of winter tonight to coordinate with the freezing rain that begins soon.
Deer, December

One of thirty nights I can't sleep
I awaken to motion in the last dark
out the window, tight against the hillside.
I put on my glasses to stop
the glass in the old house from wavering.

Three of them, maybe twenty feet away,
they nuzzle new snow,
leaves and twigs not yet frozen hard,
a poor diet, winter just begun.
Foraging, chewing, staring lines into space.
Their necks bolt upright only to the slight
shift in what I imagine is wind,
to things I can't hear, couldn't,
were I with them outside and not still
warm on the edge of the bed

Then a cardinal is winter
red against the even gray of 6 a.m.
—cloudy, this time of year. I'll stay watching
until I'm late for another morning meeting,
my alarm clock not gone off—that must be it.
I can't know how little I'll be missed.

Richard Terrill

Sunday, January 30, 2011


Yesterday was a bouquet of a day, the kind that seems incongruous in its individual blossoms but gathered up, makes for a pleasing visual harmony.

Strangely, I went to my first VFW ever. There was something cozy-cavernous to it and it was lovely to be there with an older vet who was so proud to be showing a place new to me and dear to him. On the way out, a really young man helped M's mother to the car and his innocence and sense of respect meant a lot to her and reminded me of some of my students and their true sense of decency. It was a lovely way to end the Dayton portion of the day.

The night could not have been any different from the day. A dive bar out in Gahanna called Mug and Jug and a cover band that played everything from Counting Crows to ACDC. It was as you might imagine such a thing, but it was also fun in a way. Back home M played cd after cd for me and we danced in the kitchen and stayed up until three. Needless to say Sunday morning was a sleep-in and by afternoon I felt the full weight of a week spent sick followed by a day so long and so rich.

Tonight I am trying to write but the words seem difficult and I am here to try and warm-up somehow or give up and turn in.

Friday, January 28, 2011

One Dark Ballet

Date night tonight and after a quick stop at Crate and Barrel (for what is date night without the domestic, capitalist foray into overpriced home goods?) we went out to our favorite new New Year's Eve find of a movie theatre to see a movie (my pick). Because I have a lifelong fascination with the ballet and the bizarre lives of ballerinas, I chose, of course, Black Swan.

Portman's performance was spot-on, if relentlessly earnest, but the movie overall lacked control over its tone, with inadvertant humor and high melodrama. It might be that the years have bred an impatience in me for art and the sufferers of art or it might be that I was just put-off by the countless bloody nail scenes, but I felt like this was the type of movie I have kind of outgrown.

In any case, after a long week of what felt like walking pneumonia, I had to get out. And I do have a new cube-shaped plum colored mimic end table, all in preparation for my mommy's visit.

Where have I been remiss? Well, considering the sick week, I am still text-ahead. I have been staying away from my telephone and spending time reconnecting with writer-friends and writing goals. I am deep into a new story that is dark and exciting and I have been thinking as my novel's narrator and imagining more of her story into place well enough to have written the ending a few days ago (though only the first fifty pages and the ending are really in place, there's a whole lot of middle to write yet.) But my priorities are falling back into place, at long last and hurrah!

For Keith's birthday, I usually wax nostalgic over some undergraduate memory, usually a driving-related one. I recalled finding a slide of a meteor or some starry-thing on a gas pump late at night during one of our crazy drives and there was something mysterious and hopeful about that find. Something promising and wherever Keith is I hope that window of starlight was foreshadowing.

Tonight me and mine are awake way too late. He: trying to unravel the Botticelli website for me and me, posting I-know-not-what to I-know-less-who and it's the middle of the middle of those nights that remind me of driving closer and closer to dawn or memories so sleep-deprived that I can't exactly recall if I saw a play called Sea Marks in some venue I can only remember by impression and I am happy for the life I have.

If I Ever Mistake You For a Poem
No body was ever composed
from words, not the hipsway

of verse, the iambic beat of a heart.
Yet inside you, a sestina

of arteries, the villanelle of villi,
sonnets between your shoulder blades.

If I were more obsessive I'd follow
the alliteration of age spots across

your arms. But I have exchanged
my microscope for a stethoscope

as I want to listen inside you, past
your repetition, your free verse of skin.

How easy it is to fall for your internal
organs. Your arrhythmia is charming

hidden in the ballad of body,
your gurgling stanzas, your lyric sigh.

Kelli Russell Agodon

Monday, January 10, 2011


The brightest stars are the first to explode. Also hearts.
It is important to pay attention to love’s high voltage signs.
The mockingbird is really ashamed of its own feeble
song lost beneath all those he has to imitate. It’s true,
the Carolina Wren caught in the bedroom yesterday died
because he stepped on a glue trap and tore his wings off.
Maybe we have both fallen through the soul’s thin ice already.
Even Ethiopia is splitting off from Africa to become its own
continent. Last year it moved 10 feet. This will take a million years.
There’s always this nostalgia for the days when Time was
so unreal it touched us only like the pale shadow of a hawk.
Parmenedes transported himself above the beaten path of
the stars to find the real that was beyond time. The words you left
are still smoldering like the cigarette left in my ashtray as if it were
a dying star. The thin thread of its smoke is caught on the ceiling.
When love is threatened, the heart crackles with anger like kindling.
It’s lucky we are not like hippos who fling dung at each other
with their ridiculously tiny tails. Okay, that’s more than ten
things I know. Let’s try twenty five, no, let’s not push it, twenty.
How many times have we hurt each other not knowing? Destiny
wears her clothes inside out. Each desire is a memory of the future.
The past is a fake cloud we’ve pasted to a paper sky. That is
why our dreams are the most real thing we possess. My logic
here is made of your smells, your thighs, your kiss, your words.
I collect stars but have no place to put them. You take my breath
away only to give back a purer one. The way you dance creates
a new constellation. Off the Thai coast they have discovered
a new undersea world with sharks that walk on their fins.
In Indonesia, a kangaroo that lives in a tree. Why is the shadow
I cast always yours? Okay, let’s say I list 33 things, a solid
symbolic number. It’s good to have a plan so we don’t lose
ourselves, but then who has taken the ladder out of the hole
I’ve dug for myself? How can I revive the things I’ve killed
inside you? The real is a sunset over a shanty by the river.
The keys that lock the door also open it. When we shut out
each other, nothing seems real except the empty caves of our
hearts, yet how arrogant to think our problems finally matter when
thousands of children are bayoneted in the Congo this year.
How incredible to think of those soldiers never having loved.
Nothing ever ends. Will this? Byron never knew where
his epic, Don Juan, would end and died in the middle of it.
The good thing about being dead is that you don’t have to
go through all that dying again. You just toast it. See, the real is
what the imagination decants. You can be anywhere with
the turn of a few words. Some say the feeling of out-of-the-body
travel is due to certain short circuits in parts of the brain. That
doesn’t matter because I’m still drifting towards you. Inside you are
cumulous clouds I could float on all night. The difference is always
between what we say we love and what we love. Tonight, for instance,
I could drink from the bowl of your belly. It doesn’t matter if
our feelings shift like sands beneath the river, there’s still the river.
Maybe the real is the way your palms fit against my face,
or the way you hold my life inside you until it is nothing at all,
the way this plant droops, this flower called Heart’s Bursting Flower,
with its beads of red hanging from their delicate threads any
breeze might break, any word might shatter, any hurt might crush.

Richard Jackson (but, of course)

Friday, January 07, 2011

Happy Hour
A rabbi, priest, and belly dancer walk into a bar.
Everyone turns their way, recognizing a joke
when they're in one. The belly dancer, for all the swivel
in her hips, is modest, and asks the rabbi and priest
to go to another bar, but the rabbi and priest agree
that whatever bar they enter, they'll face the expectation
of a punch line. By the time they order beers,
people have gathered as they would around a burning house.
The priest wants to explain to the crowd that he
and the rabbi take belly-dancing lessons for their health.
The rabbi only knows one joke, a knock-knock joke
about a bris that isn't funny: snip who? snip you.
The belly dancer's also a black belt. This skill
combines with her agoraphobia in a sudden burst
of wounding. Someone calls the cops. An Irish cop,
a crooked cop, and a blind cop walk into a bar.
The blind cop says to the crooked cop, ''I'm into the theory
but not the practice of roosters." Everyone laughs
except the woman in back, who writes on her napkin,
"Why do people and animals in jokes always enter bars
in threes?" Just then, a hurricane, tornado, mud slide,
and stapler walk into a bar. She strikes a line
through her question and estimates how many nights
she's spent in this bar or bars just like it.
The stick figure she draws on the napkin
has hung itself with an extension chord from a cloud.
"She has a beautiful smile," the waitress says.
When the woman looks up from gracing the stick figure
with a skirt, she sees the waitress has a halo
and says, "You have a halo." "Yes," the waitress says,
"I have a halo." "I would like a halo," the woman says.
"I know you would," the waitress says, pursing her lips
the way angels do when too tired to shrug.

Bob Hicok
The Gettysburg Review
Winter 2010

The Public Private, The Private Public

Both facebook and the blog give me pause. They presume an importance to my daily whims and fancies that I don't actually have. I would be less than truthful if I didn't suggest that in growing up and reading the diaries of writers, I did not wish to make a certain colloquial art in my writings of the quotidian. I felt that way too about the epistolary form, the gracious hand-written letter that took pains to consider the reader instead of only the wishes for the writer to be heard and noticed. I admire great storytellers and those who can remember and deliver-well a joke. I lack some of these skills, but I aspire, on the writing front, anyway, to keep a kind of writer's diary here. The benefits are many: I can craft things well-enough for a more polished first draft if there is the hidden excitement that anyone at all might drop in for a read. I can make connections that are not strong enough to be an academic paper or even a solid essay but that, in fun, allow me to dip into music, random poems, quotes from movies and daily, tiny events. If something is to ignite from laying all these things down in proximity, it will ignite here and I can scoop it up into a word file and keep working. I can ventillate the smokey, musty, stale rooms of my psyche. I can overlap six issues into a post, and rant to my heart's content. I can wash it all down with a shot of likewise poetry. I can not verbalize every thing that frustrates me, but can instead do what I do to make sense of my world: word it out, here, and mostly alone.

In that mostly lies a world of troubles. The composite is a funny thing. You can write about one event, another person, a mixture of observations and then just a bunch of your own storytelling thrown in to keep things, well, somewhat anonymous. But there's that qualifying again. It is hard to keep a shared intimate space wholly private. The very sharing that makes me feel just enough accountability for an audience, and the fact that after graduate school, finding friends and readers has been tough, married now too with the much prayed-for and finally-found wonderful partner, all leads to a lack of writing community and community in general. At my loneliest points, dear blog, just to call out to an epistolic "you" made me feel less isolated. Certainly hitting "publish this post" brought a world of typographical error and inelegant prose into light in a way that the private recesses of my handwritten writings or my good-intentioned psyche never could.

I have major goals to get this work of mine completed, get it into the light and like most writers, I am my own worst enemy in that regard. So there is this space and from time to time, I try to fill it. And this space, as I mentioned is mostly private. But recently, upon being treated pretty shabbily by someone who has been a great deal of effort and someone who no matter how much I poured into the advice-giving and attempt to comfort, found himself always back to the same behavior and when told frankly, what I (or other alienated friends and family) thought, grew angry and lashed out at them. It is an alcoholism of the heart and it was exhausting. Years of self-analysis made me question not his behavior but my own. During that same period, the holidays occured as did a frustrating few days inside them. I decided to write about a live event and deal with the anger and sense of deep ingratitude of the now estranged friend and his addictions. I wrote in a very veiled way about it and left genders ambiguous. Someone read it and of course, was not happy. It mattered not that the character was not the character I intended, but that the frustration and some of the similar issues were at the heart of things. The year was ending and I wanted as I want now, to focus on positive things and to do the work that makes me feel good about myself. The amount of time and drama unfolding began to make me question why I do any of these things if they are to come under the wrong scrutiny and when they do, to be demanded of me more time and energy explaining. But under all that was the sneaky sense that I had been passive-aggressive and that due to a number of factors, I could not say openly and directly what I needed to say. So after the blog post, I wrote to the party in question and told him all I had to say about the way his patterns (two and a half years of patterns and two before I even knew him) were exhausting, that he wasn't living honestly and I was tired of trying to address it all. The friendship is no more and I am not at all sorry for that. Then a week or so later, I received the second call-out and in that letter I was not asked what I meant or to whom I was referring, or if I wasn't working on both the novel and essays that I work on here. I was accused outright. I pulled the blog into an invitation-only place. M (the partner) wondered at this and asked why I would do that. I said I wanted to be able to use it without self-consciousness and that I felt now, that I could not. I went to bed certain I had done the right thing. But as I lay there and thought of M's discussion with me about post-it notes and the permanent temporary and the way that all kinds of things were rattling around inside me and begging to be written and how I love how when April rolls around all of the poets with blogs who had linked to me and many of whom I only know through the blog would find me MIA, I felt bad. Because I like that other writers link to my blog and that when I post someone's poem, a google search may send that someone my way and that that might make a writer feel not so invisible on a day when that reminder is needed. I like that a couple of students, some old friends, and a few mystery folk wander in every so often and occasionally make a comment that something I wrote resonated with them and that for a moment, I feel completely connected, concatenated really, like those dolls that stretch out in a ribbon of forms and what connects them hand to hand is paper, that desparate necessary friend and foe of any writer.

So in the interest of all of that, I am resposting this. I hope that whatever I write is read in the spirit of understanding that, cliche as it is, "I write to find out what I'm thinking." It's the only way I know, the only way I care to.