Sunday, September 20, 2009
Something seems off.
THE LAST SUNRISE
In 1949 the devil appeared in all his glory
with polished horns, scarlet skin, and an arrowhead tail
in the living room of Doris Henningduke.
It was a weepy November afternoon
in Bison, South Dakota, and the snow drifts
surrounding the Henningduke porch
crackled beneath a shell of freezing rain.
Doris sat in front of her busted television
watching the icicles thicken over the front window;
she let her mind grow quiet and the silence swell.
She had no husband to disturb her.
When the devil materialized behind the sofa
clasping his hands over her eyes
Doris wasn’t even aware of her muscles straining
until after she had flipped him head over hooves
onto the cheap coffee table,
where she promptly broke his elbows
and nailed the spike of one of her black pumps
through the center of his forehead.
The devil sputtered a bit, garbled
something about the last mind game
before he lost consciousness and died.
Doris realized the consequences of her actions
and did what any other woman would do,
she hissed a quick prayer of penitence to a God
that was, at that moment, straightening
in His throne, distracted, as if
he’d heard a pair of swallows in the attic.
She dragged the devil out the back door
and, melting a trail of steam across the yard,
propped him up beneath the naked pine
where she began patting snow against his body
until he chilled and the snow stuck to his skin.
If one didn’t look too closely, Doris thought,
he could pass for the snowman of a blind child.
The physical exertion calmed her, so much so
that she was strangely not hungry for supper.
She slumped against what used to be the devil.
The neighborhood didn’t seem to notice.
It was only four o’clock and the sun
hadn’t quite gone down. Only when she could
no longer recall a sunrise did Doris finally weep.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Yesterday, as I sat at my desk grading essay prompts, I wondered if I could get my students to write poetry prompts as well. Too bad it might not fit into the basic composition classroom. Maybe sometime after midterms.
I wanted to write about a woman who'd been robbed. Anne Boleyn. She had her head taken away, for God's sake. Okay. What about this woman? What would she say if she came back? She wouldn't want our sympathy.
Sarah and I were chatting online as I simultaneously graded and composed this prompt. I told her the phrase "Anne Boleyn doesn't want our sympathy" popped into my head for some reason. (Is this from a movie? Why this phrase? Anyone?) Sarah told me it had potential. I was still picturing students writing prompts. I saw more poetry prompts in elementary schools in Alaska than I ever see at universities. A child would be able to write this poem easily.
Don't know if it achieved its potential for greatness, but here's what resulted from the prompt. A young student, Eleanor; her mum; and a hint of dead royalty.
ANNE BOLEYN DOESN’T WANT OUR SYMPATHY
Henry VIII’s life was a love story, Eleanor writes,
even though my mum thinks otherwise.
I wish he didn’t kill his wives. Of course,
he had so many of them, I think he ran out of places
to keep them, which is surprising because
kings live in castles with ample storage.
My mum works at the university and says
she knows more about Henry than Henry did,
but she doesn't sounnd happy about it.
When I ask her what Anne Boleyn looked like
she feels better, in a sleepy way,
like she knew Anne and liked her more than Henry.
She says Anne was the most beautiful queen
since Cleopatra, she had brown hair just like ours
and hundreds of dresses, all in a different shade of red.
My mum tells me one or two things like this
(one day she said Anne had a magic pearl necklace
that she used to hypnotize men with full bellies,
another time she said Anne loved purple peonies)
but then she gets mad again and shakes her head
like she’s waking up from a strange dream.
She says Henry put a lot of strong women in the ground.
When I tell her we should bring peonies
to Anne’s grave my mum says
Anne Boleyn doesn’t want our sympathy.
She says Anne would much rather have her head back
so she could run away with a pack of hunters
like she wanted to so long ago, before the court,
before her first piece of jewelry, before she learned
to count how old she was on one hand.
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Becky is an old, brilliant poet and she says I shouldn’t worry.
My concern is valid, she says, every writer foresees
their last great idea. She sits on her porch swing
with a white quilt spread over her lap. It’s October
but the chill is friendly enough, she says,
still more like autumn than winter. I hate the fall, I tell her,
it makes me feel fat, the way I dream about baking
and bread recipes instead of inspiration and book lists.
Becky is resting this afternoon because she has been asked
to translate a Chekhov piece for Norton
and she is a genius when it comes to pacing herself.
She asks if it will make me feel better, to know
she once spent eight hours writing in a Parisian café
and when she brought her notebook home afterward
all she had written was walnut, Caliban, and lightning.
It makes me feel better. Becky reaches forward like Crazy Horse
and points down the road, a thick gold road made of packed sand
that seems to shoot for miles straight from her stained glass door,
and I follow her finger. The postman is coming, she says.
I had assumed, for that crumb of time between
the lifting of her hand and those words leaving her lips,
she had seen something new in the hedge, a new species of bird
perhaps, but Becky’s face is solemn, almost sad.
On the horizon, a bead of dust is erupting, soft brown globe
carrying a white truck from the city.