Expectation Days

Expectation Days

by Sandra McPherson

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Overview

From movie making to medical misadventures, meditations on widowhood to feminist protestations, Expectation Days is a dazzling portrayal of instances in Sandra McPherson’s life. Her autobiographical collection uses peculiar and exact language to reflect on a wide range of activities that include grouse hunting, going through airport security after 9/11, and climbing a coastal cliff. From being an unintended child to ceremonializing a lifetime “served,” McPherson speaks in both clear and distressing voices from the state of speechless fear that is bereavement.

     Will the little figures ever reach the monument?

A doctor orders me to be on watch.

     Will the mist pass over their cheeks

     and clear the strollers’ eyes?

If so, I’ll see it. I’m on watch.

I train my eyes on paintings

to see if there is any change.

--from “On Suicide Watch”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780252074752
Publisher: University of Illinois Press
Publication date: 09/28/2007
Series: Illinois Poetry Series
Pages: 104
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Sandra McPherson is a professor of English at the University of California, Davis, and the author of numerous poetry collections, including A Visit to Civilization.

Read an Excerpt

Expectation Days

Poems
By Sandra McPherson

University of Illinois Press

Copyright © 2007 Sandra McPherson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-252-07475-2


Chapter One

Grouse

This water flows dark red from alder tannin: boot-stain river

between white rocks. An ouzel, flannel-feathered, sips the current up.

Mossgatherers spread their patches across a dry, flat turnaround.

They seem embarrassed, want to shelter in the dark. A coyote running in broad day;

stumps ruffling with sulphur polypores woodsy to the tongue,

woody to teeth. Early yellow leaves paste river to its bed; blackberries drop, the last,

many out of taste and stri-ctly smudge. Puddles loop in the road:

Bottomland- the foolhen waits there for

the fool gun, gray throat-down free in a burst, the pose, the afterslump.

Carcass beside spirit. O come to my hand, unkillable; whatever continues, continue to approach.

Beach Journal, May: Dune Census

"Is di-stance necessary? If you said yes, You no longer live where you grew up ..."

Or so I dreamed, adding that the furlongs Of early explorers fulfilled a need, wet and scratchy

Distance on a horse, Turbid nautical miles.

I had been poi-soned, disjunct from amicable mind, The body I crouched in and pummeled with rough wishes

Profaned by medicine, hands secularized in work, The wind in my pine-cool eyes checked

Without meadow light Or sea glare.

When I survived, I leaned to the window In time to see blue plumage fly

Down into the sea-fig's cresset. I was in the real world: hundreds of shoreline shrines

Low to the ground or airborne in an osprey's hooks, Quail parishes, sand churches, holy shrubs, furtive godsons of fog.

There were farnesses of dune grass Woven by wind into mounds, acres

Of baskets rolling right up to the house, Their lading salt-air.

"Is di-stance necessary? If you said no, you're a snuggler,"

Health, wanting to stay, claimed sleepily. I went out: in the bank of the bleached sand road

Broken armor of a crustacean age; earthenware chips Between manzanita roots;

Miner's lettuce, Its sake cups

Moored to leaf 's center by ruddled, bronzed umbilicals; Blue-eyed grass tapped by poppy in a ditch.

Questioned from outside the sky, Who answers well? White strawberry vibrates slightly

In a force that convulses trees; I barely stand higher

Than cow parsnip, tall as a calf; I stew over minor pimpernel, look into

The painted peal of a foxglove bell. Maybe I'm quizzi-ng it. And I, so far away, can hardly hear that bell

Until I take up the lens ...

"Through Lace Curtains, Ravens" (Pasternak)

"Sunshine" and "Summer in Norway," the childhood piano sheet music, the roaming ghosts of family pets, a geranium rug, a bear-brown pelt-pile couch.

And, in the kitchen, spilled sunburn of southern-exposed tomatoes, frank leukocytes of cucumbers. Off linoleum burnish, a refrain of feeding those spectral cats.

Then, di-screet almost Quaker alcohol eked out into nearly invisible jiggers to toast the family elders in their graves across the window's river in the rose-barbed hills.

Something in the woman practicing ideal fingering of songs remains her age at her first birth-giving. The man washing dishes, though, feels he

always counted, before even the flutter of a first son. At sunset there are other rooms the phantom darlings find, a cellar where scheming cartons

store maternity smocks, baby-smelling toys, up against the rain-sopped, fern-rooted foundation, in case the couple's aging daughter-

whose husband has made even everyday deliberations difficult by going mad, his mind, all he knows as self, a lace curtain

through which a powerful raven seems entangled, mosaicked, netted, snowflaked, a stenciled crow- chooses motherhood.

Gospel Disinclined

The baritones and tenors simply will not sing. My Wurlitzer's mistakes of hand sound very loud. Their heads lean either down (but are not bowed) or back (but not in ecstasy of gaze upon the Lord). The sky's rise wavers dusk before the evening food. (Something about that semi-light distracts: Is it rays off lemons blunted, mulled? Ascent of walnut smoke? Dried duffels of purple grapes? Seedpods rattling on a catalpa tree? Sky candlelight?) Now won't their senses sing to them? The mission heavens lighten one degree with corner lamps. Someplace-a ceilinged sermon-to faint into, to live cut out for. Is each man a solo, solitary? Or surrounded by a season's end of the sloppiest best-of-friends? Who'll dare to mouth a hymn? Forgive- my favorite key's D flat. By devotion of a sexton the garden sleeping grounds pacify, embraced by vines and trees. Earth, our deluxe van, keeps its route around the sun. Urine runs. One brother dawns or pales. I play by ear for all the stumbling voices still to hear.

I Was Young and Working by the Ship Locks

The boats used to float upward to us. Skippers who, I knew, had not fallen from cliffs rose from their sinking to the base of what was now our precipice.

Once, I went through the locks. The boats were afraid to touch each other. Captains yelled across their decks and up their masts, then fell quiet, tense and forbearing in the lay-by:

Our portly red fenders scrape coarse concrete walls, scratch silken algae arras. We drop as low as we can, then overwhelming gates open to the sea.

Back at evening, we stalled our hull at the foot of the clenched chamber; the whole wide Sound tapered to this compass point between mole and breakwater.

I thought our crew would never be as light as the gates' eyebrows, never lift as easily as cynic foreheads raise.

The doors were not rococo. If anything, they were stubborner than the dead Messiah's stone and they intended to box Him in.

Eventually they gave every moody voyager permission to ride up and be freed, airy and lightsome, to the lake. No more narrowings.

Yet I need more. I want locks on the stairs and out in the street, at a door to an obedient office. Latching. Transferring me there

where I cannot, by my own floating progress, my own ark-like cheer and sporty flag, and salvatory nature, advance, face those draining places.

Officer and Gentleman and a Small Heroic Order

Watching a re-run of the movie favorite Where a dejected naval would-be hero Hangs himself in a unit of the aquamarine Motel (right over the starfish and tide), I recognized where I spent my first marriage's Wedding night (I'm sure the groom thought The moon, if not his pregnant honey, looked fine), Where we awoke to an unwakable battery In the just-bought old used Bug. The re-run Oppressed me for a day or two Until I remembered how I saw them filming One of the scenes, a martial arts match In the hangar. The star wandered among our crowd And told us nicely to be quiet soon- Oh, happily-and it took so long, Waxed repetitious reshooting the takes Because you can't count on every nicety Working no matter how ardently Everyone tries. What we see on screen Is not the way it feels to make a thing, And even with the suicide, Probably, I don't know, they just had to keep Trying. Probably the movie's joyous outcome Had to be undertaken many times In case the players weren't happy enough At rightly-lit moments, in the gradations Of apparent emotions and real weather. I know the climate, am used to its drizzle (Tormenting to some). But when it opens up You can see all the way out of your own country And into a completely different dominion, Vast Canada, as if there actually may be A boundary strip of astounding clarity out there, Blowing around above whitecaps or paddling To stay afloat. And sometimes a real Winged periphery forms By orange-billed word-of-mouth, by rank Still called wild, a fine-cut file of puffins, Uniform, polished, as if they were trained To dive and disciplined to drift.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Expectation Days by Sandra McPherson Copyright © 2007 by Sandra McPherson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

I Grouse....................3
Beach Journal, May: Dune Census....................5
"Through Lace Curtains, Ravens" (Pasternak)....................7
Gospel Disinclined....................9
I Was Young and Working by the Ship Locks....................10
Officer and Gentleman and a Small Heroic Order....................12
Precipice, Rush, Sheath....................14
Two Young Trees Bending in Strong Wind....................15
On Being Transparent: Cedar Rapids Airport....................16
Lucid Dreaming: Oxycodone....................18
II Containers....................23
Living with an Urn....................26
Bereavement: Leaving the Radio on All Night for Company....................27
Bereavement: 1919....................28
Pre-Op Room....................29
Muses for Panic....................31
Suicidology....................34
Mourning, Ninth Month....................36
Post-Op, Medical Humanities....................37
Fox: A Memory of My Husband....................39
III Cabawaguni Scarecrow, Dang Region, Nepal....................43
Do-It-Yourselfer's Ghazal....................44
Expectation Days....................45
Blossom River Drive....................46
Children of the Village....................47
Schoolchildren, 2000 and 1848....................48
The Mexican Acrobat....................49
IV Virtue Study: "It was his first"....................53
Virtue Study: Pastoral....................55
Virtue Study: Samma Vaca....................57
Virtue Study: Teachings....................58
Virtue Study: HappyHour....................59
Virtue Study: Blues Society....................60
V Chicory at Night....................65
Diary: Day of Rest....................69
To a Book of Needles, 1918....................71
The Bat by Porch Light....................73
Hibakusha....................75
Poem for a Late Birthday....................76
How to Read an Aerial Map....................78
On Suicide Watch....................79
Autumn on a Small Tree....................80
Surfaces, Central Valley, 109....................81

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