A rich and challenging new collection from the young award-winning poet
In those days I began to see light under every
bushel basket, light nearly splitting
the sides of the bushel basket. Light came
through the rafters of the dairy where the grackles
congregated like well-taxed citizens
untransfigured even by hope. Understand I was the one
underneath the basket. I was certain I had nothing to say.
When I grew restless in the interior,
the exterior gave.
Dense, rich, and challenging, Katie Peterson’s A Piece of Good News explores interior and exterior landscapes, exposure, and shelter. Imbued with a hallucinatory poetic logic where desire, anger, and sorrow supplant intelligence and reason, these poems are powerful meditations of mourning, love, doubt, political citizenship, and happiness. Learned, wise, and witty, Peterson explodes the possibilities of the poetic voice in this remarkable and deeply felt collection.
|Publisher:||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Katie Peterson is the author of the poetry collections: This One Tree, Permission, and The Accounts. She lives in California and teaches at the University of California, Davis.
Read an Excerpt
I had a lust for what was distant.
We were in love. We crossed the border in broad daylight and the color of the currency deepened but didn't change. The night before we made love in my sister's bed.
The coastline shivered and the wind picked up. You lit a cigarette inside the car. The potholes made a song of ruin so consistent no one noticed.
Vacation homes more proximate
than gas stations. The language on the radio didn't change.
When I was hungry you took me to the movies.
When I was tired we went looking for a shopping mall to purchase a pair of shoes like the locals
wear — not local. Later we chose a bar because someone shouted at us.
You felt guilty I paid a man to shine my tall black boots but kept staring at the stripper who must have rubbed her breasts
with lotion before she came to work.
The whole way home, I was never sicker.
I drank the water. I thought it was okay.
We talked about people we fucked when we should have been sleeping with each other.
I remembered what it was like,
knowing what you want to eat and then making it,
forgetting about the ending in the middle,
looking at the ocean for a long time without restlessness,
or with restlessness not inhabiting the joints,
sitting Indian-style on a porch overlooking the water, smooth like good cake frosting.
And then I experienced it, falling so deeply into the story line, I laughed as soon as the character entered the picture, humming the theme music even when I'd told myself I wanted to be quiet and not talk forever.
And I thought, Now is the right time to cut up your shirt.
I wanted to be seen. But who would see me? I couldn't think of the name for anything but a flower. The government makes coins that size and shape so your hand can feel safe holding them. The pictures stamped remind us where we are, or how the landscape we live in connects itself, through a common value,
to a different place. On this one, a spinnaker sails past a bridge. On that, a diamond shines like a child's stilled top over a bird, as if the diamond made the rest of the natural world — bird, forest, state flower, sheaf of healthy corn, shining water — out of proportion in relation to itself. I love this. My own state has a bear, so small and out of proportion to me that my lifeline crosses behind it. At last I do not fear that but feel proud the animal can sit in my palm so silently until I spend it. And if I lose it, it becomes even more quiet. Most still just have an eagle,
so, it is as if thirty eagles were passed over from one hand to another when the one charged with arranging things for his Savior's dinner arranged his Savior's death. Heavier the yoke of heat in solitude. A walk uphill does not feel manageable. Who will see me?
The next morning, I tried to remember her face, but her dress sailed into the center of my eye, a ship luscious with sail crossing no horizon but stopping where I knew my nose was, that ridiculous mountain only lovers find right ways to compliment. But then I tried harder to call it back, and my eyes rose to meet her décolletage and her shoulders and the manner in which her clavicle hinged at her neck to sing with such dexterity she could stomach a world of old and rich and earnest admirers.
And so, what I remembered came from a pose I can recall, though his hands were around me in such a way I could only watch sideways and still be loved,
and what I remembered could not be said to appear at once at the top of a tall tree like the endangered condor from a hiding place in some remote part of California, or, likewise, over the ocean like a salt-crusted hawk.
She made the most sexual face I had ever seen when she described why she sold her possessions.
They had decided against it,
but then they entered the field of sunflowers together after some pictures had been taken with a storm in the background,
the shape of a fist, and wrinkled like a raisin,
the color of the strong liquor made from raisins they had yet to taste or buy. They entered the field of sunflowers by pushing through an avenue of stalks.
Her hair blows south-southwest,
the difficult girl who's just been centered by the lens of the easy boy,
and I am in the corner of the picture.
Each kilometer cost more than we knew.
He asked her to translate the American films they watched in French back into English. He wanted to hear the meaning of what she remembered, doubled.
I wanted her to admit she posed for the picture. I could see him beginning to study happiness, how its large blue eyes set limits on pleasure, but my one regret from that summer was not cutting the stalk of at least one sunflower so I could see water ache from its insides.
We were heading towards a vineyard of uncertain reputation. A translation told us to find Street of the Mill.
Street of the Well was all we could discover.
Find a road and take it, keep some conviction about your destination though the evidence says the whole thing's going south. In the picture,
the girl could be my double, but her chin tilts west towards the storm and I am tacking north, towards a city where a garden named for a smaller country fills with locals drinking golden aperitifs.
SPEECH ON A SUMMER NIGHT
How do I begin to describe what it was? It was a terrible time to be on a horse. It wasn't a family. I had no brothers. No one told me about the wind. The animals kept us honest. I believed most in friendship, its promises and disappointments. I had hopes for it, expectations. I fell in love too late with what I loved.
Dark green water, reflection of the grove of elms and pines, at the end of summer,
with a woman standing in it, a statue of a woman,
and a spray of water rising and falling,
the fiction of a natural spring.
Her arms raised in a pose of remembering some invocation to a god of beauty, and her legs twisted, with the right before the left so her thighs, under her dress, give her hips a pose and give her torso the elegance of intended height.
She laughs the laurel garland off her hair, almost, and since her hair is stone,
the askew of the wreath indicates an unseen wind, the kind that might visit a vineyard in a country
where currency can never be broken into coin, where the midday meal has at least three courses and finishes with the ripest plums, not an assortment but a selection of one kind of good fruit.
But time was made beside the glassy pool,
its sunken keyhole troubled by the motion of its waters,
waters that served as a mirror much clearer than the fountain,
where the woman steadied her laurel
with her left hand, and with her right chose more flowers, small wild white roses, for a garland around her neck. That's where you'd rather be on a hot day.
Each morning she comes here, but some she doesn't rise early from her bower in those trees, the pines
with their outrageous verticals,
their insistence on arranging partial views,
through columns that exclude as much as frame,
cutting off the hillside, amputating some people's progress
towards her part of the landscape. Some days she lies late with her maker there,
though she is stone. He cradles her. There should be a word for when events are natural but their order makes no sense. He falls asleep
with his left hand on her breast, thinking of his chisel and the block of marble he left uncut to attend to this job I suspect he only did for pay. I am happy when I walk down my sloping lawn
to my fountain, in the morning in the middle of the summer, I won't admit we are close to the end.
I am happy, and as you can see, my pride has nothing to do
with anything I ever could have made.
THE MASSACHUSETTS BOOK OF THE DEAD
In Massachusetts, the sun of winter is disappearing behind a fragile field of cloud like Emily Dickinson rising from the bedclothes to fasten her corset and stay inside all day.
* * *
Sun, make yourself a silence on this house.
If my eyes are closed I am not sleeping. If they are open let them rest in between the delicate snowflakes.
* * *
My mother died at nine o'clock at night.
I will be awake past my bedtime forever.
* * *
When a picture of her gets fixed on by my mind, even the fence that separates this blue house from that blue house divides itself into original planks,
reminds me that the tree began as trunk.
* * *
We should not go out when it's like this.
As if not going out makes this a home.
* * *
Still, fresh produce fills the aisles of March.
Even as winter tires itself out.
* * *
What made the scholar remember the name of the black paramour of the white news anchor was what caused her to forget the length of time her lover took to tie her up in leather,
anticipating the denouement of pleasure.
* * *
It is better the Atlantic and Pacific do not cohabitate. Their arguments over the origin of grains of sand made the children think it was their fault.
Thus the flatness of tedious Ohio.
* * *
Abstain from intercourse anticipating storms,
from sex, abstain, she told herself,
looping with a homemade recording the movement of the Schubert sonata she loved most, that allegretto whose architecture tells you how he died.
* * *
He said that when he fucked her he could feel the orchards of California in their lines of absences and branches, and branches.
* * *
The glass door to her office bore a pattern of vines and apples and the shadow of a woman sometimes appeared there as if in a children's puzzle book opened in a doctor's waiting room,
waiting for her eye doctor to turn her eye back towards her nose with a prescription for double bifocals.
* * *
The anguish of the river breaking apart.
Someone told me about it on the phone.
* * *
The graveyard lay a short walk through the wood behind the Homestead. Hale and ruddy,
the Irishmen who stewarded her casket to the gate did not find themselves out of breath.
One wondered, Was she even inside?
Apples on high branches. Midsummer.
* * *
The sense of the past and the pastoral are not one sense. But past the outskirts of the city, the fences fall away:
foundations of a house,
occupied by moss.
* * *
The trunk of the wet pine in the yard crushed the crossbeam of the kitchen,
made hash of the skylight where the rain drummed itself out for decades.
We spoke of the repair in whispers.
* * *
Said of the recluse: she loved music drifting up the staircase that she saw as the only portal to a world whose code of conduct she disdained as minor chords disdain a major scale.
* * *
Her shopping list, years after she was gone.
The pleasure of organizing need.
* * *
Halfway through the entirety of The Great Gatsby
read onstage by actors in the mock office of a dentist in downtown Dubuque,
the scholar fell asleep dreaming of her last Gauloises, before she quit.
* * *
She could see the border from her house.
But where exactly did the horizon end?
* * *
Be decent and put on your moccasins.
* * *
I walked the Eastern Coast with my Western father combing the cumulus for signs of sunlight or signs of rain.
* * *
The young man buys a vinyl for his girl who does not purchase rubbers for them both,
having been prescribed some pills for that.
He recycles her bottle of vitaminwater watching a crested yellow flicker.
* * *
When I sleep fetal I sleep the best.
When I say likeness
I am referring to myself
considered as a form of happiness.
* * *
The difference between disintegration and what was never true.
* * *
I was angry as the tree outside your window split in half by a rusty sash thrown open in shitty weather.
* * *
By this I mean I was like everyone else.
* * *
At the end of all my education about the literature of Massachusetts,
I knew Melville almost as well as Melville knew women.
* * *
We were eating dumplings and discussing whether history could happen without progress.
In the same way a river might appear to hurtle between the walls of a Western canyon neither away from nor towards any source.
* * *
The recluse had a reputation for making delectable gingerbread of a texture perfect for crumbling on a cold afternoon into a cup of tea with milk and sugar.
A good way to make people come to her.
* * *
You could take your revenge on life by living more years of it, sheer persistence.
You could fish the map instead of the river.
You could drink a boiling cup of tea and burn your throat into a sunset.
We were provisioning. I thought we needed more.
The road black on either side, in both directions,
until we arrived at a fragile junction:
stop sign and supermarket: each crossroads brings sustenance and holds an argument.
We stopped at the grocery store for liquor.
Almost letting ourselves be tired,
we continued. The argument concerned
the public and the private.
Where we should live. Snow descended on the windows of the vehicle,
refraining not accumulating rhythm.
The wipers brushed all of it away towards one side and two ranges of mountains.
The older hiding the base of the taller.
The taller the kind that tempts a climber.
I think my father made his peace with death on one of those peaks once.
I think he has forgotten. We could finish the drive up the backside of the Sierra in a day. I loved the names of those lonely places that we passed so much I felt ashamed to let my mouth linger over syllables: Adelanto.
Nothing could convince me anything was fragile. I saw my breath against the windows, towards the last pass,
beginning with the chute that goes straight up towards the first trees of the bristlecone forest.
Then the road turns topsy-turvy before it levels out, a mile-long tabletop summit. Anybody wants to speed there.
If you do, you miss the single boot hung from a pine tree for no reason.
After that the road becomes a gully.
You drove faster than I even noticed.
I noticed. You kept going.
We argued about what we should love.
Beauty must be witnessed to exist.
I took the opposite position.
I took the side of the icicle melting at midnight on a day when work had taken it out of everyone sweet enough to notice.
We stopped looking at each other.
I know your cheekbone and your forehead by the argument they make.
Right now it is two winters later.
January: a fragile domesticity.
I have no idea what to eat.
Two winters. We continued into the valley. We mended the argument. The cows bedded down in the frozen sage with their identical animal children.
You opened a cold beer. The cat had missed me.
The owl found a visible shelter in spite of two handfuls of snow collecting in the juncture two cottonwood branches made into a perch by their separation from a trunk whose isolate location made the owl easy to see.
Two in the morning, you didn't want to touch me.
The next day, you wanted to do everything.
ECHO BEFORE THE ECHO
God wasn't my father, so I kept lookout for him while he went with women who weren't his wife. I wasn't
his desire, so when I got caught,
nothing kept me from punishment, and my tongue
found a new home at the bottom of a river already rich with victims and fish. We were never
as together as the night I lost my voice for hiding his pleasure,
his going so far into the body of a mortal
and coming out, his masquerade of manliness as masculinity wasn't enough.
His fingers on her
watery gown made current of that river,
one rivulet of strap, and then another,
and then the girl was done, the bed of that river unmade,
if you want to keep
that metaphor and I do.
I like a metaphor to stay
conventional, to have been used. I ran to my mother since I'd woken without speaking.
When she looked into my mouth,
she gasped. I saw her open
mouth ringed in teeth lose all its rose and close, her hopes for me dashed. I was past
even a "shouldn't have done,"
past being sent to sleep without dinner. I call
this growing up. You have to pay but never to the right person. She had stayed up all night, waiting
for me. I loved my mother,
but lost my language for a trashy god, and that's the truth.
So I learned to listen again. It meant to translate wildly. To imitate is never
enough for the listener who desires participation. I gained
the power to repeat, repetition became a way of life,
I will always be in school
I became required to reply in exactly the words I heard.
Everything in me, of its own
volition, would strain towards the intonation the words had first time around. My interpretation
meant my wild translation. It would always be inside and against.
You should see a girl's body outside her dress but not be able to say what you have seen.
That is decorum. I can't remember whether my mother said this:
does not copy material but continues it, giving shape to the spirit of its making, as if the mind
at last became a pair of hands.
And if a god said this, remember: I am using my own mouth to say what he has said.
Excerpted from "A Piece of Good News"
Copyright © 2019 Katie Peterson.
Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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