An Evening with Pulitzer Prize Winning Poet and Writer, Maxine Kumin



I want to thank everybody for joining us tonight and I would especially like to thank our sponsors the Creative Writing Program here at UNC Asheville the cultural and special events committee the literature Club the Center for Jewish Studies the Women's Studies program and rivendell magazine would also like to thank malaprop's who are selling books out in the lobby tonight also the literature Club is holding a raffle for the literacy council the drawing will be May 2nd and tickets are being sold in the lobby for a minimum donation of $3.00 our guest poet Maxine kumin is the author of more than 13 volumes of poetry including the long marriage connecting the dots and upcountry for which she won the Pulitzer Prize she is the recipient of the poet's prize the icon Taylor prize as well as the e Lilly poetry prize she served as the poet laureate of New Hampshire from 1989 to 1994 and was also consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress a position later renamed poet laureate of the United States over the past semester many of us have been reading maxine human's poetry on more than one occasion i've read some of her poetry aloud to my friends who have to my surprise sometimes responded that her poetry is not the most uplifting they've heard and i have to disagree on this point it is precisely the startling imagery the quiet shock of her work that makes it uplifting and in response and for those of you who aren't so familiar with Maxine cuman's work I've put together sort of a primer for this evening's reading we must relinquish everything to enter into her presence all the iron truths we know listen only to the peculiar bent of our hungers named under her spell find bliss and her belief and exactitude intensity technique she smacks to stun us not to kill part anger part wonder sharp as gravel gathering our words tallying our losses our heart and bone taking both parts she measures us let it stick in the throat rattle a pain in the mind a thud and bump of our longings she is putting a dream disquiet in our heads we might think she brings us and herself to grief but for an hour in this time and place she will bring us to words instead which means we are all of us to be rescued can you please join me in welcoming Maxine kumin to UNCA thank you first of all I have to say like Wow I mean it's wonderful to see a room filled for poetry and I'm very happy to be here I feel as though I've been taking very good care of we had a wonderful Q&A earlier today was quite lively and Rick just took me out for a dinner I couldn't eat as much as I would have at if I hadn't been reading tonight but still it was it was it was wonderful I'm gonna start I think by reading a found poem from the selected it's called you are in bear country and it's a poem that I didn't really so much write myself as I did put together from a pamphlet that was passed out in all of the provincial parks in the Pacific in the Canadian Pacific Northwest it was a pamphlet on how to stay alive in this situation and so the title of the poem and the title of the pamphlet are the same I just want to check and make sure is the sound carrying to the back yes yes good you are in bear country the poet comes in at the end but virtually everything else in this poem comes out of the pamphlet they've been here for thousands of years you're the visitor avoid encounters think ahead keep clear of berry patches garbage dumps carcasses on woods walks bring noisemakers bells clap hands along the trail or sing but in dense bush or by running water bear may not hear your clatter whatever else don't whistle whistling is thought by some to imitate the sounds bears make when they mate you need to know there are two kinds versus arctos horribilis or grizzly and Ursus americanus the smaller black said to be somewhat less likely to attack alas a small horribilis is difficult to distinguish from a large americanus although there is no guaranteed life-saving way to deal with an aggressive bear some ploys have proved more successful than others runnings a poor choice bear can outrun a racehorse once you are face-to-face speak softly take off your pack and set it down to distract the grizzly meanwhile back slowly toward a large sparsely branched tree but remember black bears are agile climbers in which case a tree may not offer escape as a last resort you can play dead drop to the ground face down in this case wearing your pack may shield your body from attack courage lie still sometimes your bear may veer away if not bears have been known to inflict only minor injuries upon the prone is death by bear to be preferred to death by bum under these extenuating circumstances your mind may make absurd leaps the answers yes come on in cherish your wilderness that was written that was written well before the war with Iraq or should I say the war in Iraq hardly with this next poem picks up where that one leaves off with a man on the ground it's called in the park and it I like to read this to academic audiences because it discusses the difference between lie and lay which I believe George w is declaring obsolete this year in the park you have 49 days between death and rebirth if you're a Buddhist even the smallest soul could swim the English Channel in that time or climb like a ten month old child every step of the Washington Monument to travel across up down over or through you won't know till you get there which to do he laid on me for a few seconds said Roscoe black who lived to tell about his skirmish with a grizzly bear in Glacier Park he laid on me not doing anything I could feel his heart beating against my heart never mind lion lay the whole world confuses them for Roscoe black you might say all 49 days flew by I was raised on the Old Testament in it God talks to Moses Noah Samuel and they answer people confer with angels certain animals converse with humans it's a simple world full of crossovers heavens and airy somewhere and God has a nasty temper when provoked but if there is a devil but if there's a hell little is made of it no long-tailed devil no eternal fire and no choosing what to come back as when the grizzly bear appear elie lays down on a theist and zealot in the pitch-dark each of us waits for him in Glacier Park at the back and read um well I think I'm gonna read this is a young Shakespearean sonnet that I was moved to write a long long time ago when my daughters were maybe 10 and 11 and we went to see a rare and we went to see a production of Romeo and Juliet performed by the Old Vic repertory company that was visiting from England and it was a Saturday matinee and the audience was all high school kids who had been brought in from prep schools or we're local and they were mostly eating popcorn and rattling handling candy wrappers and nobody was paying very much attention to what was going on onstage except for me and I sobbed audibly during the fifth act which you will remember is very sad with the suicide scene and when the lights came up my daughter's went out either side of me to the aisle and pretended they knew not who I was and on the way home the kinder one said to me it was only a play mother and the less kind one said I have never been so humiliated and so I took that incident and I wrote a Shakespearean sonnet about what might have happened had Shakespeare written Romeo and Juliet as a comedy that is to say a play with a happy ending instead of the tragedy that we all have and I called it purgatory now I do have to gloss one rhyme word the word is room it's RH e um and it's an old-fashioned word for a bad cold purgatory and suppose the darlings get to Mantua suppose they cheek the Crypt what next begin with him unshaven though not I grant you a displeasing cockerel there's egg yolk on his chin his seedy robes a flap he's got the room poor dear the cooking lard has smoked her I another Montague is in the womb although the first babes bottoms not yet dry she Scrolls a weekly letter to her nurse who dares to send a smock through Balthazar and once a month his father posts a Perce news from Verona always news of war such sour years it takes to write this wrong the fifth act runs unconscionably long the next poem as you can see I am an unregenerate formalist I love working in rhyme and I find it isn't for me at least it is an enabler and this one is written in rhyming couplets this is one of my water poems it's just called morning swim but it goes back to a time in my adolescence when I had I had every fantasy that I would make it as an Olympic swimmer and toward that end at summer camp I was swimming a mile before breakfast each day morning swim into my empty head there come a cotton Beach a dock where from I set out oily and nude through mist in chilly solitude there was no line no roof or floor to tell the water from the air night fog thick as terrycloth closed me in its fuzzy growth I hung my bathrobe on two pegs I took the lake between my legs invaded an invader I went over hand on that flat sky fish twitched beneath me quick and tame in their Green Zone they sang my name and in the rhythm of the swim I hummed a to four times slow him i hummed abide with me the beat rose in the fine thrash of my feet rose in the bubbles I put out slantwise trailing through my mouth my bones drank water water fell through all my doors I was the well that fed the lake that met my sea in which I sang abide with me no I promised I would read this is always a problem where could this be here it is I promised I would read the excrement phone so if there are any miners here who have not heard the word Shi T please cover their ears this was inspired of course by our own manure pile which I have written about extensively I have a poem called the brown mountain this is an earlier version the excrement poem it is done by us all as God disposes from the least cast of worm to what must have been in the case of the brontosaur say Spore of considerable heft something awesome we we evacuate survivors that we are I think these things each morning with shovel and rake drawing the Risen brown buns toward me fresh from the horse oven as it were or calling the alfalfa green ones expelled in a state of ooze through the sawdust bed to take a serviceable form as putty does so as to lift out and tire from the stall and wheeling to it storming up the slope I think of the angle of repose the manure pile assumes house sparrows come to pick the redeliver drain how inky cap Capri nice mushrooms spring up in a downpour I think of what drops from us and must then be moved to make way for the next and next however much we stain the world spatter it with our leavings make stenches defile the great formal oceans with what leaks down trundling off today's last barrow full my honor for saying we go on the next poem I'm going to read providing I can easily find it well there's another way to do this there's an index back here don't do that I see what happened is I gave my I gave my nicely thumbed and an annotated paper back away to somebody at the last reading after the last book of and soul and so I'm working from a you know a new one and I it doesn't doesn't have any creases so all right 141 this is a little a little poem I wrote it for my mother's 82nd birthday it's called birthday poem but it's really it's really my what should I call it it's my sexual misinformation poem because any it's an obsolete poem because any bright two-year-old now can tell you where babies come from but when I was a child there was a quite elaborate mythology surrounding this subject and I took what I was given as you will now hear in the poem birthday poem I am born at home the last of four children the doctor brings me as promised in his snapshot black leather satchel he takes me out in sections fastens limbs to torso torso to neck stem prized Mama's navel open and inserts me headfirst chin back I swim upward up the alimentary canal by passing mouth and nose holes and knock at the top of her head to be let out where for her little bald spot today my mother is 82 splendidly bracelet it and wigged she had to go four times to the well to get me I always loved that you know being being sort of hauled along and meeting a an old friend of my mother's who would then say is this your baby and my mother would say yes I had to go four times to the well to get her I always loved that well I'm gonna try to get out of this book but I'll read nurture which was the title poem of a collection long sense out of print and mostly reprinted here it's not true about the wild child incidentally there never there has never been a documented case there's been a lot of literature but it's none of it is true nurture from a documentary on marsupials I learn that a pillowcase makes a fine substitute pouch for an orphaned kangaroo I am drawn to such dramas of animal rescue they are warm in the throat I suffer the critic proclaims from an overabundance of maternal genes bring me your fallen fledgling your bummer lamb lead the abused the starve wings into my barn advised the hunted deer to leap into my corn and had there been a wild child filthy and fierce as a ferret he is called in one nineteenth-century account a wild child to love it is safe to assume given my fireside inked with paw prints there would have been room think of the language we to say man not same might have constructed sign scratch grimace grunt vowel laughter our first noun and our long verb how see if I can depart yeah I'm going to depart the selected I'd like to go back to looking for luck you're not supposed to have a favorite book but I'm very fond of this book because the matically it seems in a way the most put together to me it it's so much about looking for luck and often finding it so I'm going to read the little title poem called looking for lucky and Bangkok this is perhaps no longer true in the city which has become very westernized but you don't have to go very far outside the city to an open-air market to find precisely this scene looking for luck in Bangkok often at markets I see people standing in line to walk under an elephant they count out a few coins then crouched to slip beneath the wrinkly umbrella that smells of dust and old age and a thousand miracles they unfold on the other side blessed with long life good luck solace from grief unruly children and certain liver complaints conspicuous Caucasian I stooped to take my turn the feet of my elephant are stout as planted Pines his trunk completes this honest structure this tractable tusk and deeply creased endangered shelter I squat in his aromatic shade reminded of stale bedclothes my mother's pantry shelves of cloves and vinegar as if there were no world of drought no parasites no ivory poachers my good luck running in as his runs out you might ask yourselves whether there will be elephants for your children or your grandchildren and this is a little self-indulgent but I'm going to read this poem called praise be was our next to last of the ten foals that we raised her sister hallelujah followed her the following year when we were expecting a foal I used to move down to the barn and sleep on top of the sawdust pile I would go down a week before a due date and I had a trouble light that I could hang up overhead and I usually had a flask with a little coffee well laced with brandy and a book to read and this particular occasion the gestation period I should say for a mayor is 11 months but this mayor hung on to this baby for two weeks past due date so I was 21 nights on the sawdust pile and that that gets pretty old and then contrary to normal events she fold in the daytime so my husband came in and said she's in the first field and there's a leg sticking out and I said is it a front leg or a hind leg and he said I can't tell and she followed him in and her stall I hadn't cleaned her style yet which was the big falling stall so she went into the one stall I had cleaned and that's where this poem starts praise be eleven months two weeks in the womb and this one sticks a four leg out frail as a dowel quivering in the unfamiliar air and then the other leg cocked at the knee at first then straightening and here's the head a big blind fish thrashing inside its see-through sack and for a moment the panting mayor desists lies still as death I tear the call look into eyes as innocent as skittery as minnows three heaves the shoulders past the hips emerge fluid as snakes the hind legs trail out blistering the whole astonished filly still attached draws breath and whinnies a treble tremolo that leaps in her mother who nickers a low-key response let them prosper the dams and their sucklings let nothing inhibit their heedless growing let them raise up on sturdy pasterns and trot out in light summer rain on to the long lazy unfenced fields of heaven I'd like to read one other I think poem from this early book should open right to it there it is it is folks a double villanelle and I'll never write another one I had done cut a tape for Joe Parisi at WNYC in New York and we went out to lunch and he regaled me with the tales of his boyhood in parochial school in Chicago and the terrible terrible nuns and I who had grown up in a mildly Jewish household next door to the convent of the sisters of st. Joseph in Germantown PA where I attended kindergarten and first and second grade and probably would have gone on except in third grade I stole a rosary and my parents decided I would be better if I went to public school so I wrote this double villanelle really for Joe and I offered it to him for poetry magazine and he said no thanks I could never publish a poem that had darling nuns in it so here they are the nuns of childhood two views one oh where are they now you're Herod and nuns who thumped on young heads with a metal thimble and punished with rulers your upturned palms three smacks for failing and long division one more to instill the meaning of humble as the twig is bent said your harridan nuns once a visiting bishop serene at the close of a mass through which he had shambled smiled upon you with upturned palms because this is my feast day he ended you may all have a free afternoon in the scramble of whistles and cheers one Herod and none fiercest of all the parochial coven sister Pass gala without preamble raged I protest and rapping on poems at random had bodily to be restrained o God's perfect servant is kneeling on brambles wherever they sent her your Herod and nun and throned as a symbol with upturned poems – oh where are they now my darling nuns whose heads were shaved under snowy wimple who rustled dryly inside their gowns disciples of oxydol starch and bluing their backyard clothes line a pious example they have flapped out of sight my darling nuns seamless as fish made all of one skin their language secret these gentle vessels were wedded to Christ inside their gowns Oh Mother Superior Rose arene on whose lap the privileged visitor lulled by at age four with my darling nuns with sister Elizabeth sister and AM offered to Jesus the Jewish child next door who worships your ample black gown your eyebrows those thick mustachioed twins your rimless glasses your ring of pale gold who can have stolen my darling nuns who rustles dryly inside my gown actually I'm gonna come back to connect lips to connecting the dots at the end so I'll go and read a couple of poems from looking from the long marriage which is just out in paperback I'm happy to tell you I mean I got I was sent a copy my editor said fresh off the press but my package of the other 14 have not yet arrived so since this is such an educated audience and all read some of the Romantic poets I'm going to read skinny dipping with William Wordsworth and there are a lot of quotations from intimations of immortality and preludes and I'm just going to go like this when I come to a quote okay you'll hear it anyway we had this discussion about can poetry changed the world for the better that was part of the Q&A today and I said I that I would read this poem in partial answer skinny-dipping with William Wordsworth I lie by the pond in utter nakedness thinking of you will your epiphanies of Woodcock Raven rills and craggy steeps the solace that seductive nature bore and how in my late teens I came to you with other Radcliffe pagan suckled in a Creed outworn declaiming host swatches of intimations to each other moist eyed with reverence lying about the common room rising to recite great God I'd rather be how else redeemed the first flush of experience how else create it again and again no an entire forgetfulness I raise up my boyfriend a Harvard man who could out quote me in his Groton illocutionary style groping to unhook my bra he swore poetry could change the world for the better the war was on was I to let him die unfulfilled soon afterward we parted years later he a decorated vet I a part-time professor signed the same guestbook in the Lake District stunned by coincidence we gingerly shared a room ah will high summer now how many more of these fair seed time had my soul you sang what seed times still to come how I mistrust them cheaters that will flame gutter and go out like the Scarlet Tanager who lights in the apple tree but will not stay here at the pond your meadow grove and stream lodged in my head as tight as Lily buds Sun slants through translucent minnows dragonflies in paintbox colors couple in midair the fickle Tanager flies over the tasseled field I lay my Prelude down under the willow my old gnarled body prepares to swim to the other side come with me will let us cross over sleek as otters each of us bobbing in the old-fashioned breast stroke each of us centered in our beloved veils so that's the opening poem of a section that are almost all apostrophes to poets long gone maybe not so long gone there's Muriel Rukeyser and Rilke and Gerard Manley Hopkins and and many another well having mentioned the Brown Mountain I think it behooves me perhaps to read it I guess you would call this my anti pastoral pastoralism I don't I don't like to be characterized as a pastoral poet so this is this is this is what happens the brown mountain what dies out of us and our creatures out of our fields and Gardens comes slowly back to improve us the entire mat of nasturtiums after frost has blackened them sunflower heads the birds have picked clean the still sticky stalks of milkweed torn from the pasture coffee grounds eggshells moldy potatoes the tough little trees that once were crowded with brussel sprouts tomatoes cat faced or bitten into by inquisitive Chipmunks gargantuan cucumber's gone soft from repose not the corn stalks and shucks not windfall apples these are sanctified by the horses the lettuces are revised as rabbit pellets wholly with nitrogen whatever fodder is offered the Sheep comes back to us as raisins of useful dung compost is our future the turgid brown melt and steams releasing the devil's own methane vapor cooking our castoffs so that from our spattering xand embarrassments cat vomit macerated mice rotten squash burst berries a mares placenta failed melons dog hair hoof pairings arises a rapture of blackest houmous dirt to top dress dig in dirt dirt fit for the gardens of commoner and king we're gonna read two poems from my three months in the rehab hospital I suffered a near-fatal horse carriage driving accident in July of 98 which is why if you look at me you'll see that I list to the left and I can't turn very well to the right but I did come back from that and that three months in rehab was an incredible experience so I'm gonna read – the first one is called the woman who moans and the title goes on into the poem the woman who moans is not in pain she is making the sounds of speech she drums her heals a child strapped against her will in the stroller perhaps she protests perhaps she agrees in full with the therapists when they wheel her chair to the standing table and fasten her legs to supports that brace her upright see how she clings to the table top whether she begs or or resists release is hard to tell from the song she sings moans that ascends to a black birds warble eventually restrained like a pup on a leash she will learn once again to walk one on each side they will hold her up by her voyage embel but the sounds she emits will not change the fault line in her brain will continue to gate and the bus the 42nd Street bus that caught her mid-step and hurled her aloft will go on transporting the rest of us and this one is called Grady who lost a leg in Korea addresses me in the rehab gym many of you here tonight are not old enough it seems incredible to me that so much of my life is history and that I am part of history but we did go to war with Korea in 1950 and that war lasted until 1954 so here he is a man a man is what a man in his early 50s very early 50s perhaps Oh No maybe he's not maybe he's older even than that anyway Grady who lost a leg in Korea addresses me in the rehab gym he fondles the stump see these hair flaps along the seam dog ears they're called gotta work them down like pie dough with a roller pen get him smooth enough to set against the fiberglass it's light as eggshell Kwan try my leg pick it up never could wear the one they fit me too at the VA mostly metal weighed a ton to cart around but now nodding at another amputee practicing between the parallel bars I'm gonna give it another try Grady calls me parrot head the metal cage that holds my broken neck I call him a hab even though we're little more than fellow inmates in the neuro unit on the topmost floor down here we're life companions making a game of it now those guys over there and chairs they got the sugar diabetes works like a cannibal one leg then the other toes first foot next then the knee and when they got no other way to stop the run they saw the goddamn leg off up to here he draws his hand across his groin can't fit a thing to that you got to have a stump they call him double amputees you see him outside on good days doing wheelies rear and back to jump beside walk curb like a bunch of acrobats making a game of it and once I get the hang of this I'm gonna waltz my way around this gym and then I'm gonna ask you Parrothead wanna dance well let's see what feels readable I guess in a way this is a political poem it's called want I have an enormous prejudice against people who go out and buy pedigreed AKC dogs when we're putting to death millions of dogs every year in this country and because my daughter is with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees I've gotten to know an awful lot of these people who come and go from Oh from Africa from South you know from from various ports of call and invariably they bring back a dog that's the point of my story and that sort of gave rise to this it's called want the world is awash in unwanted dogs look alike yellow curly tailed mongrels that come collared and wormed neutered and named through customs come immunized racketing and rabies tagged to Midwestern farms from Save the Children the Peace Corps come from Oxfam into the carpeted bedrooms of embassies into the Brooklyn lofts of care workers on leave the London Paris Geneva homes of Doctors Without Borders and still the streets of asmara Kigali Bombay refill with our dogs those bred back Savin those bred back scavenging flea-ridden sprung ribbed bitches whose empty teats make known the latest bitten off litter of curs that goes back to the Pleistocene and one of the big headed stick figured children naked in the doorways of Goma Luanda Juba lays hunt or crouched in the dust of haphazard donkey wide tracks that connect the named and the nameless hamlets of want there will always be those who speed past unbe guile there will always be somewhere a quorum of holy fools who wade into the roiling sea despite the tsunami to dip teaspoon after teaspoon from the ocean as you can tell we've had a succession of rescued dogs and maybe maybe some of you have – this is the title poem the long marriage I don't know if I need to gloss Glenn Miller but I'll take a chance that maybe I should know white people are shaking their head saying we and we all know about Glenn Miller and how he was killed when his plane crashed crossing the English Channel on his way to play for the American troops in France this is World War two the last so-called good war the long marriage the sweet jazz of their college days spools over them where they lie on the dark lake of night growing old unevenly the sexual thrill of peewee Russell's clarinet Jack T Gardens trombone half syrup half sobbing slide Erroll Garner's rusty hum along over the ivories and Glenn Miller's plane going down again before sleep repossesses them tortious panic of course the Germans have a word for it the shutting of the door the bowels terror that one will go before the other as the clattering horse hooves near I'm going to read the the last poems in this book and then I will go back and read a couple of poems from connecting the dots well I'm going to read three poems the first one is called the ancient lady poets and I guess I should I should say that it's about my relationship early on with Anne Sexton we were best friends for seventeen and a half years until her suicide in 1974 and here we are this was our fantasy the ancient lady poets by who alone survived moved through my old age like a camera in the hands of a hardcore realist bending over knuckle bones on the lawn or the rock of a long dead red squirrel after the snow has melted the landscape of my body up close is one of snags and glaciations you can see the path of a forest fire that devoured one breast leaving the other shyly hanging in space my still abundant hair whitening my almost bald pubis still useful we had planned to age elegantly the Japanese twins who live to 107 could not have outdone us cruising Fifth Avenue in our custom-made shoes our handsome obedient Dalmatians healing beside us hatless earring no sign of scoliosis we'd planned to stride forth block after block well published polished bad girls of the New England Poetry Club our wit and fame up ahead leading a procession of disciples that's the first one the second one is three little vignettes it's called three dreams after a suicide one we're gathered in the funeral home your friends who are not themselves especially friends with you laid out on view in the approved fashion wearing the bright red dress with cut-glass buttons that wink at the ceiling when you spring like a jack-in-the-box from the coffin crying boo I was only fooling – after the terrible whipping you are oddly pleased with yourself an impenitent child the winner it's daddy death who's quit once more you've worn him out from all his lifting and striking his belt lies shredded in his meaty fists three we are standing together in a sunless garden in Rockport Massachusetts I'm wearing the Hat the artist painted you in and suddenly swarms of wasps fly up under the downturned brim Oh death where is thy sting tar baby it is stickered to me you were my wasp and I your Jew and the last poem in the book is called oblivion all of the famous literary well maybe not all but a lot of the famous literary suicides are in this heart crane John Berryman Sexton Plath Hemingway oblivion the dozen ways they did it off a bridge the back of a boat pills head in the oven or wrapped in her mother's old mink coat in the garage a brick on the accelerator the Cougars motor thrumming while she crossed over what they left behind the outline of a stalled novel Diaries their best poems the note that ends now will you believe me offspring of various ages spouses who cared and weep and yet admit relief now that it's over have a Fester the old details held to the light like a stained glass icon the shotgun in the mouth the string from toe to trigger the tongue a blue plum forced between his lips when he hanged himself in her closet for us for us it is never over who raced to the scene cut the noose pulled the bathtub plug on pink water broke windows turned off the gas rode in the ambulance only minutes later to take the body blow of bad news we are trapped in the plot everyone left behind there is no oblivion no I'm going to go back to dots thank you ami Hempel put together an anthology called unleashed and they were all dog poems but the rule was they all had to be written in the voice of the dog and so this was our Dalmatian Caesar Augustus we just called him Gus and the poem is called Gus speaks I was the last of my line farm-raised chesty and bold not one of your flawless show world 45 pound Dalmatians I ran with the horses my darlings I looked at their heels mile for mile swam rivers they forded wet to the belly i guarded them grazing haloed in flies their smell became my smell joyous I ate their manure its undigested oats still sweet kept me fit I slept curled at the flank of the fiercest brood mare we lay a study in snores ear flicks and farts in her stall until she came to the brink the birth hour of her foal then she shunned me cruelly spring and fall I heard over and over skunks were my folly then I was nobody's lover shut out and lonely I rolled in dung and sand late March the pond too cold for frogs I broke through ice skim son danced on the shards my heart burst I dropped out of sight for a week they whistled me home my body sank and then rose like a birch log a blaze of white against spring green now I lie under the grasses they crop my own Swift horses who start up and spook in the rain without me the warm summer rain I guess I have to read chores don't I for those of you who were not at the Q&A today I'll explain that I wrote this poem as a kind of tribute to my husband this is an annual chore the unloading of a trailer truckload of sawdust which we use for bedding for the horses and we always set it up with friends and six-packs of beer and it's a jolly occasion and this particular year we had no advance warning that the truck was coming and our houseguests had just gone down the hill and up came the trailer truck and Victor did it all on his own so this is his poem it's called chores all day he's shoveled green pine sawdust out of the trailer truck into the chute from time to time he's clamored down to even the pile now his hair is frosted with sawdust Little rivers have sawdust pour out of his boots I hope in the afterlife there's none of this stuff he says stripping nude in the late September Sun while I broom off his jeans his sweater flocked with granules his immersed in sawdust socks I hope there's no bedding no stalls no barn no more repairs to the paddock the horses burst through when the snow avalanche is off the roof although the old brood mare our first foal is his horses he spawned of saying make divorces fifty years married he's safely facetious no garden pumps that air no garden pump that's air bound no window a grouse flies into and shatters no ancient tractors intractable problem with carburetor ignition or piston no mowers and no chainsaws that refuse to start or start misfire and quit but after a Bloody Mary on the terrace already frost heaved despite our heroic efforts to level the bricks a few years back he says let's walk up to the field and catch the sunset and off we go a couple of aging fools I hope he says on the other side there's a lot less work but just in case I'm bringing tools another sonnet I talked about this a little bit earlier today it's called cross-country skiing I love to be lured under the outstretched wings of hemlocks heavily snowed upon the promise of Haven they hold seductively out of the wind beckoning me to stoop under tilt my face to the brashest bits that sift through sequestered I think how in the greeny videos of refugees snow thick as flaking plaster falls on their raised villages snow forms a cunning scrim through which the ill-clad bent under bundles of bedding and children appear nicely muted trudging slow motion to provide a generic version of misery and terror for those who may step out of their skis to sit under hemlock wings in all american quiet I guess now we're going to see the grainy videos instead of the snow it'll be the sand I know what I wanted to read okay I'm going to read just I think two more poems I've been here a long time you've been very patient this is called the height of the season and it's this is August probably the end of August in New Hampshire once a time is how the baby asks for a story wandering from person to person patiently seeking a teller of three bears or riding hood to take him in clutching the book he pleads with his nine-year-old cousin once a time have it meaning to solve the mystery of words he has come to love but cannot unlock once when my father's heart was starting to stop I took him blackberry jam and we sat in his cubicle in the Pennsylvania Graduate Hospital spreading its sugar on saltines not so much a study in contrasts as a way safely to touch I was glad that my father died I was glad that my father had died his optimism intact the year before Jack Kennedy was shot and Jackie sat wiping his blood and brains from her suit glad that my father was spared that televised vision in once a time a different language is spoken the landscape is sweet there free of briar or Bracken the animals talk in reasonable tones that children can understand as tonight at the stove three women converse over berries mashing the afternoons pickings with sugar in the pot this is the height of the season ripeness unfolds us my daughters and I remember the absent enthusiast the goddess my mother who saved seeds from gallons of Pope with a fervor we cannot match though we long to extend the continuum meanwhile at the kitchen table a game begins with dice and six counters and a book of questions the categories are constant always sports geography current events history and the arts largely cinema stars the vintage of Liz Taylor a game the nine-year-old is intent on winning while the baby wanders from Player to Player inquiring have it and wax is melted to seal the jars a benevolent reign swells tomorrow's cucumbers and reddening Tomatoes what else must I save as the axis turns spilling us into fall until in tears now with his habit the tired baby will have it all and I'm going to close with I'm going to close with a little poem appropriately called after the poetry reading it really is the voice of the poet Marie Howe who was kind of Sato voce saying this to me as we were sitting together at a poetry reading after the poetry reading if Emily Dickinson lived in the 2000s and let herself have sex appeal she'd grow her hair wild and electric down to her buttocks you said she'd wear magenta tights black ankle socks and tiny pointed paddock boots intrigued I saw how Emma lead master Microsoft how she'd fax the Versa calls that Higginson advised her not to print to miss APR and 13th moon she'd read aloud at benefits addressed The Weavers Guild the Garden Club the anarchists Catholics for free choice welfare moms the wouldbegoods and the Temple Sinai sisterhood thinking the same thing silent we see Emily flamboyant her words for the century to come our pithy oxymoronic her fly buzzes me all the way home you

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