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At the heart of this unusually accomplished and affecting first book of poetry is the idea of the hinge—the point of connection, of openings and closings. Maggie Dietz situates herself in the liminal present, bringing together past and future, dream and waking, death and life. Formally exact, rigorous, and tough, these poems accept no easy answers or equations.
By turns humorous and pained, direct and mysterious, elegiac and elegant, the poems trace for us the journey and persistence of the spirit toward and through its “perennial fall”—both the season and the human condition. Cumulatively, the work moves toward a fragile transcendence, surrendering to difficulty, splendor, and strangeness.
— David Kirby
— Aimee Pozorski
Copyright © 2006 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.
Three Dog Night I I held the retriever in the dream like a bouquet of lilies, the yellow weight of her will-less. In my pocket, a flap of ear-another loved dog's- a broken-off paw. "See," I told the man at the scale, "it's been very hard." I argued that the dogs once weighed more than the parts I'd managed to keep. "Not enough," he said, as the sun began to rise. "You see your girl is coming back to life," and sure enough, the dog fell from the counter flopping like a fish, unfolding, glowing. "I have suffered," I said, hushing the dog who was now standing upright, holding my hand. "Not enough," he said. "Your other dead?" "I have photos," I told him. "You will have more." "Dogs?" I asked him. "Dogs just get you in the door."
II In the cage: a guinea pig, a hamster. At the bottom a small mole, soft and cold. Later I hear the stirring, pretend to sleep through the birth. (In the first grade ... Maureen McCarthy, her gerbils' pink babies, her sisters' extravagant earring trees shaped like ladders.) Something good is happening in the dark. When I open it, the cage is filled with hay and lying there is a tiny jaguar with round ears, a roundedface and elaborate black patterns in his deliriously soft fur. Warm weight. Small beauty. I am happy but will need a bigger house.
III I'm walking down Lakeshore Drive in Milwaukee and a complicated form descends. You are there, changing identities. "A bird!" you say. "An eagle!" It carries some struggling prey that tumbles from its clutch in front of us. A haggard terrier, with dark eyes like my nephew's. I lift it up; it nuzzles my elbow, coughs. The cartoonish bird, its eyes like plates, is angry, pacing about like an eighteenth-century gentleman with brown knickers, yellow tights. He charges, undeterred by my humanity, tries to snap at the dog in my arms, who yelps and squirms. Then he drives his beak into my leg-hard-my arm. Burning with pain, I kick his face. You don't know what to do or have gone away. I run to the couple leaving their car. "The dog," I shout, and they let me shove him inside, then lock the doors and leave. No eagle in sight. You take my hand. But wait-I want the little dog! No, that's not it. I want to be thanked for saving him.
North of Boston
Hoarfrost coats and cuffs the playing fields, a heyday of glistening. So there's hope in my throat as I walk across them to the woods with my chest flung open, spilling its coins. The light so bright I can hear it, a silver tone like a penny whistle. It's fall, so I'm craving pine cones. Hundreds of maples the color of bulldozers! But something strange is going on: the trees are tired of meaning, sick of providing mystery, parallels, consolation. "Leave us alone," they seem to cry, with barely energy for a pun. The muscular river crawls on its belly in a maple coat of mail. Muddy and unreflective, it smells as if it too could use some privacy.
The sumac reddens like a face, holding out its velvet pods almost desperately. The Queen Anne's Lace clicks in the wind. A deaf-mute milkweed foaming at the mouth. Back at the field I look for what I didn't mean to drop. The grass is green. Okay, Day, my host, I want to get out of your house. Come on, Night, with your twinkly stars and big dumb moon. Tell me don't show me, and wipe that grin off your face.
When She Asked I Said No You Cannot Play with It I really don't mind but that the dolls are so fragile- wire and fabric with plastic heads, hands and shoes. My favorite the one with the dull yellow braids, a present from my godmother who last month had a breast removed and the same breast built again. The doll wore a red skirt, which I long ago lost, but her bloomers can pass as shorts. When her legs unraveled she sat in my father's dresser with his change and his comb and the bills for months until, finally, one Saturday, I begged him to fix her and he sutured the felt-skin to the doll's bones, cinched it into her shoes with a manicure tool and some superglue. Our neighbor, Mr. VandeLoo, built the house for me. There are only two like it-the other his granddaughter's. He's dead now. We paid him forty dollars. It was made of plain wood so I elaborated, labored for hours, gluing the wooden siding lip over ridge and affixing hundreds of cracker-sized cedar shingles to the roof.
I peeled bit prints out of wallpaper books and used the pinking shears to make curtains, hung on toothpicks, for the windows my father cut from the walls with a jigsaw. On Easter Sunday my niece was pleased by our similar dresses, hers pink and mine blue, both long and flowered. And I took her to the park though I was buckled with cramps and gave her chocolate before dinner. But when she asked about the house I told her softly no, and no I said to the thumb-sized toilet and frosted sink, the pewter apples and silverware, the wooden plates, the blank-paged books, the brass roses greening on the mantle over an endless fire. No to the gingham bunkbeds, to the false-doored china hutch and no to the yellow-haired delicate doll, though I know she would gladly be broken again to be touched.
Then after four moves and a hundred Tuesdays I was alone in a house you hadn't seen in a town surrounded by water, wearing a dead woman's rings. It was October again. We'd been through thirteen rainstorms, two fierce winters, a burial and forty hangovers. Your good old dog died that first winter and was burned. I could not remember my dreams, not one. It was as if I never had them. The colors changed, and the traffic. The illusion of season tricked me into late sleep, squash soup, sweaters. No matter what, the tides came in like the packages of used books I ordered from the Internet. The days hid behind the nights, and ten, twenty of them skulked by. A thing about the past: it gets longer, but it never leaves. The seventy-
sextillion stars remain affixed to certain space. What I had: one cotton T-shirt you had worn and left the relic of your scent upon. I slept
with it covering my face until my sweat and spittle steeped the cloth, the trace of you cast out like ash or unremembered dreams or days.
Why I Don't Piss in the Ocean
Once my sister told me that from her summit at the city pool she could see the yellow billows spread like gas or dreams between kids' legs. In something the size of the sea, you can't be sure who's watching from above. Let's say it's the Almighty, twirling His whistle, ready to blow it at any moment and let loose the bottomless Apocalypse: the ocean would make bone of a body, coral of bone. Piss, and a tiger-fish darts through a skull-hole, a weed weaves itself through ribs. You, too, have seen the bulbs flash from the sea. You, too, have felt it breathing down your neck. You eat fish. You've heard that mermaids sing. My dreams are as beleaguered as the next Joe's, my happiness as absurd, but I'm not going to go piss in the ocean about it. No, not in the ocean.
Circle of Horses
Dingy, rough-hided, they were ridden down, round the ring and round the mound, the ponies with giant hooves and faces. The blue-veined tips of their ears twitching, they rocked onward never swifter though the riders hollered "giddy'up" and "ya" and kicked imaginary spurs into their ribs. Tethered as to a maypole, they wore the earth empty, left not a comet-trail but a crater from a donut-shaped meteor: the ground untrodden risen in the middle- a burial mound, or the conquering hump of the funhouse Sugar-Bowl carved of oak. They were old, but almost foals. On Sisyphus, On Virgil. Laborers and guides: digging, showing the way down. In Dante's hell they'd dwell with the poets just across the river: the Ancients, the Unbaptized.
Blanketed in the stables, they slept the sleep of the dead. They rested. They didn't dream of Shetland Isles or the blue-green view from Assateague.
Here where the sun washes The old furniture white and gold, Where petals crepe and sink like eyelids, And in the corner the copper bowl Is decorative that once was used By able hands in making bread And sweets; here in the half-life Of morning, I read that death Undid another come undone, A girl who in the note she left said I am already tired. Already tired And twelve years old and gone. What's here? Some things we think We earned and some things left us, The light that's given whether Or not we want it, whether or not It's appropriate, and touches things That do not ask to gleam. No thing Can hold a human hurt, the heart Endures or doesn't. One wants To offer something, but is tired. In another room, thank God, Good shades, and the rumpled bed Still open, still unmade.
The clouds still differentiate the dark. At nearly midnight, light they incubate makes silver nightshade bloom between the stars. The day I saw a jackrabbit is ending for its only time, so I know more than when these clouds were born a blown time ago. Midnight: the porch hovers and we lean in chairs, with glistening bottles, move our arms, our mouths (but not to kiss, and not to speak). The dog boxes a June bug with his shadow like a fox. It's Texas-now and then a star will blaze a trail past here to where it goes, a bird will summon Chuck Will's widow though she'll never come, as I have called a ghost who's lost, who's lost someone. There is no room for that old desolation here. The house is small, the pasture rough with things to find. The night is kindly lit, and you are kind.
And what will happen is another day. The rain-lily will spring beneath the wheel. The flycatcher will poke its crested head out of the martin house. I know these names, and saw a scarlet wasp above the prickly pear. I saw the place the star made when it fell. I saw you say I love you to the dark, and watched a fast shape dive into the light of the rabbit-hole in Mexico, the moon.
A book a hinge, the page a hinge. The mind, this way and that, a hinge. Your hand, opening the music of the instrument, a hinge. The instrument a hinge. The mood hinged upon the song. The song a hinge. And you and I-o metaphysicians-hinges. The body hinged: the jaw, the lids, the valves. The house a hinge, holding things in and out. The moment opens, closes, opens, closes. The night. The clock. The thought. The heart. The door. The breath.
Back Yard with Figures
In light the color of sand, of the hides of deer, a child bent over a cricket, the shape of the bent child a cricket. The cricket and a woman sang. It was from another time, the song that found her throat as she pinned white sheets to the line beside the house. It was as if the line had brought the song. She pinned and lifted, feeling again the rhythms of the once-
loved, how they'd so often moved. The song or the wind brought salt to her eyes. The sheets were sails, the curtains at the window ghosts as a warm salt draught curled out from the kitchen. Moving to the woman's song, the boy sailed, a bug between the sheets.
They stayed awhile in the old song, the tired light, the smell of supper, as the cricket's singing drew its lines around them and between them.
Altos I Nothing dampened their cries, not the plush air nor the brush under the palms. The mango trees swelled like the mother cat's belly, which by mutation had no nipples but had filled with milk. The kittens tore at the bulges until she bled. We separated them, fed the kittens bread soaked in water we'd boiled on the stove. One of five would survive, and the mother whose milk dried up like the parched arroyos. We kept her cool with damp towels. The shopkeeper's daughter would keep them against her father's wishes, and the name- Chispita-we gave the blue-eyed kitten. The guard saw everything and asked if we wanted mangoes, angling for a tip. What were these if not apparitions? Slight girl carrying a pitcher, grown man climbing a tree. The moon
looked cool but gave no relief from the heat that climbed our limbs, the new need nothing we knew would reach.
The Interview It was like living again. When he retired from the sea, the old man built ships in bottles with needlefish-like instruments. He worked the keel from a log's natural arch, whittled bowsprits and sanded them smooth. His pince-nez resting low, he'd bow to look into the world which bit by painstaking bit he built. The child came often to watch, but could not touch the sails like moth wings, the copper-knobbed topgallant mast (from pennies melted in a crucible). The ships were frail, the bottles seaworthy- corked and sealed with wax. The old man never looked up. "What's it like to be old?" asked the child. "It's like being young. You have terrible secrets." The crow's nest needs a lookout man, he thought, the deck a cannon. Only the child and the man would know the clipper hull was lined with mother-of-pearl.
One day the old man gave the child a bottle painted black. "Is there a ship inside?" asked the child. The old man went on looking in, not up. The child took his prize to the piers.
Old purpose, some hands turned you with old skill Mouth for oranges, onions or warm bread-Open: Echo dome, breast, lens and half-world Outlast us, object, hold another's fruit- The possibility of being filled of being overturned of floating Round, old tool: moon belly skiff bowl skull
Today I heard from him that lives there now that you are dead. When you were ours, your eye wept and head swung lower than the others'. The buzzards led him to the creek bed and there you were pecked open, pink with your spotted hide peeled back and eyeless. The two longhorns still left roam the acres together eating nettles as if nothing happened. They'll have their turns. The brindled one was getting thin. This new guy says he'll bury your skull with salt and resurrect it on the wall. So I may see you yet.
The Yellow House, 1978
The kitchen in the house had a nook for eating, a groove for the broom behind the door and the woman moved through it like bathing, reaching ladles from drawers, turning to lift the milk from the refrigerator while still stirring the pudding, as if the room and everything in it were as intimate to her as her body, as beautiful and worthy of her attention as the elbows which each day she soothed with rose lotion or the white legs she lifted, again and again, in turn, while watching television. To be in that room must be what it was like to be the man next to her at night, or the child who, at six o'clock had stood close enough to smell the wool of her sweater through the steam, and later, at the goodnight kiss, could breathe the flavor of her hair- codfish and broccoli-and taste the coffee, which was darkness on her lips, and listen then from upstairs to the water running down, the mattress drifting down the river, a pale moonmark on the floor, and hear the clink of silverware-the stars, their distant speaking-and picture the ceiling-the back of a woman kneeling, covering the heart and holding up the bed and roof and cooling sky.
Light crested as the leaves moved from green to green, like breathing. From the roof: jungle, cane and sea moved to the rhythms of wind, sickle and tide-various bodies, none more naked than the pink, transparent lizards whose entire workings- gut, muscle and vein-were visible to the naked eye as they climbed the walls visible through them. Evenings, music and the hardworking moon-so many chinks and spaces through which to make patterns. Bodies moved together in patterns toward nakedness. Beneath us, the cats brawled, fucked, and cried like babies, cried so high and deep the music couldn't drown them out. Now and then, a mango fell with a thud or a giant moth made shapes against the flames.
Among the welcome elements not one thing did not hunger to be changed. The heat held still between us.
How could it have been otherwise the year he died? The ice hastened its surprise, one day descended. Apples froze in clusters on the branches, glass apples on glass trees. Any false move would end them. Our mother's heart fell down around her knees, knocked between her ankles, tripping her up. We held her
Excerpted from Perennial Fall by MAGGIE DIETZ Copyright © 2006 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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|Three dog night||3|
|North of Boston||6|
|When she asked I said no you cannot play with it||8|
|Why I don't piss in the ocean||12|
|Circle of horses||13|
|Back yard with figures||22|
|The yellow house, 1978||30|
|Colleen in Sonoma||42|
|Prayer to a suicide||58|
|Speaking for Andrew||59|
Posted December 30, 2009
No text was provided for this review.
Posted December 30, 2009
No text was provided for this review.