Then — Poem by Lesley Wheeler

Then

If my son is a lantern spilling light and warmth
throug the rose panes of his skin

if combustion is a chemical reaction involving oxygen
and if its byproducts are heat and carbon dioxide

if we also exhale heat and carbon dioxide
if we are fire, converting the molecules around us

if the flames banked all day leap in me at night
and if I am too tired to rise and write

if I carry the spark in me, conserving it,
but its bright engine keeps changing the fuel of my life

into ashes, ashes–if the first conflagration is over
and the long deep burn is underway

if I feed with my breath, if I burn hotter,
if I smother it, if I keep changing air into spirit

— Lesley Wheeler
from Heathen

Note: Interview with the poet coming soon.

Robyn Art: Here at Last the Body, Window Cracked Open at the Helm

In recognition of National Poetry month (April) and belated recognition of Women’s History Month and Small Press Month (March), I’ll be posting notices for the rest of the month about (and, wherever possible, links to) women poets from small presses.

From Wicked Alice Poetry Journal, Winter 2008, Robyn Art:

And here at long last the body, its window cracked open at the helm
[…]
stay here all you broke-down
visions, supernumerary impulse-buys and over glutted infomercials of love, stay here
betwixt and between Restless Leg Syndrome, TMJ, discretionary income and the oft-extolled pleasures of the drug-free life, O boggy and efflorescent self, self of root cellars and forgotten tinctures, of mud and excrement and loam, but still at long last
the body, the non-body nearly arrived, relentless, full-throttle toward the irreparable
becoming […]

See full text here (second item on page)

Rita Dove

Rita Dove may have been one of the first published poets I saw as a real human being rather than a sort of mythical demi-god. Sure, Adrienne Rich is still alive, but I’ve always seen her as much more removed and unattainable — in that regard, she’s in the same category as Eliot and Pound and Bishop and Millay. But Rita Dove, for some reason, seems like a real person, someone I might actually be able to meet and talk to one day. Perhaps it’s because she was poet laureate of something or another when I was in college (the U.S. maybe?). Perhaps it’s because I always associate her with a joint project I did with another student, and I still vividly remember that woman’s frustration with me for not being as on-the-ball as her. She also introduced me to those little sticky flag things from Post-It. They cured me of my archivist-horrifying habit of dogearing pages — plus, it’s easier to find a yellow flag than a dog-eared page. I have a package of them in my desk right now.

So. Rita Dove. In an interview in some literary journal, probably conducted because she was the poet laureate of something or another, she talked about learning to leave the end of a poem open, rather than sewing it up with a final sewing-up type line. I think about that a lot when I’m writing poetry. I try to leave room for the poem to breathe at the end, rather than making it a self-contained little jewel. A stale cream puff. Some poems lend themselves to open-endedness more than other poems.

“Daystar” has a lot in common with Rich’s “Orion”, as it speaks directly from the female experience and explores the theme of juggling the various responsibilities of motherhood, womanhood, and artisthood. I hate getting all reductive with the gender stuff, but yes, our society still expects women to be mothers and caretakers and homemakers. Of course, now we get to have careers as well. Which still leaves little time for writing. Or for sitting and thinking.

Daystar

She wanted a little room for thinking:
but she saw diapers steaming on the line,
a doll slumped behind the door.

So she lugged a chair behind the garage
to sit out the children’s naps.

Sometimes there were things to watch–
the pinched armor of a vanished cricket,
a floating maple leaf. Other days
she stared until she was assured
when she closed her eyes
she’d see only her own vivid blood.

She had an hour, at best, before Liza appeared
pouting from the top of the stairs.
And just what was mother doing
out back with the field mice? Why,

building a palace. Later
that night when Thomas rolled over and
lurched into her, she would open her eyes
and think of the place that was hers
for an hour–where
she was nothing,
pure nothing, in the middle of the day.

Rita Dove

From The Longman Anthology of Contemporary American poetry, second edition. Friebert, Young, eds. Longman, New York:1989.
pp 529, 530