When I fell for one of Ben Lerner’s recommendations in New Yorker Magazine’s The Best Books of 2013, Part 2, Geoffrey G. O’Brien’s poetry volume “People on Sunday,” it was partly because I haven’t read poetry for two months, and partly because Lerner wrote he and O’Brien “argue over every line of each other’s poetry.”
But O’Brien’s book isn’t available as an ebook yet. And for poetry, I like the almost-weightless experience of ebooks, of being able to step easily into one volume, then step easily into another.
It’s not that I’m fickle. It’s just poetry seems a profoundly natural thing, something like wind, always there and ever-varying, something I experience best when sheltered by a veil of twilight, reading shyly, respectfully, taking the words in small doses, then letting time and life hold my hands as I assimilate the work. Carrying a few printed books around feels too anchored, too discrete, too obvious, to me.
So, for now, “People on Sunday” is on a wishlist and I’ve asked that Amazon ask the publisher to offer it as an ebook. Buying it in printed form would almost dictate I wouldn’t read it, something that surprised me, the reaction strong enough not to be knocked down by a hunger to read new poems.
Like I want to close my eyes and sleep past the end of time right now, that’s how Macy felt, at the point where my story of her begins.
To see her then would have been like watching one of those dinner scenes they put in movies.
Directors think these scenes work, just because we all eat. They mix in some words and grins, some shallow viewpoints switching back and forth, some pauses, raisings of eyebrows, chewing (especially in English movies), and maybe a choking on liquid. Maybe, too, a face surreptitiously watching another player. They are non-action scenes.
That’s what it seemed like with Macy. Here’s how her story played out that day:
Macy fell onto her bed. She curled into a C.
On the table, she’d put a bowl containing a handful of plums. Both bowl and fruits were plum-colored. The fruits were gold-speckled, too. Macy was going to bite one later. It would be yellow and juicy inside.
After dozing a little, Macy reached backward, feeling around for the bowl. It was heavy. She pulled the O of the bowl into her C. The bowl felt cool. If you had been watching, you’d have thought she slept, then.
You’d have missed the bite she took. Too tired to chew, she swallowed a small chunk of flesh whole. Juice stained a corner of her mouth and dripped sugar into the shadows of her fatigued mind.
You’d have missed the hunter who rose from that golden bite to hover over Macy.
An unjessed gyrefalcon on her shoulder, the hunter had a bow in hand, and a quiver of arrows, fletched by herself with kingfisher feathers, bound to her cantle. The hunter’s toes touched Macy and took sustenance from her.
The hunter rose like a miracle out of Macy’s dream, and stepped forward to search for water. She would have been utterly delighted to find a table already set with a carafe and two silver mugs, and, nearby, some fruit.
But when she stepped forward, she lifted her feet over the sweet-sour gold-speckled plums nestled in the bowl around which Macy had curled, and strode away.
Should I darken you
with me, sluice
over you like water
spilled from a vessel
kept in the center of
my heart, to justify
you say I stain your
Should I loosen
my words and
like Angel Falls, they slide
held back by no
ten different ways
and more, y mas,
again, y otra vez,
what I hold
Should I shimmer
my double wings at you,
and catch and smear
across your brow,
Can you hear a quiet
one that binds me to a
a land I walk, my feet
When I write:
their stems like brothers
dark sweet hearts
can you see narrow stems
joined (by a scar) to form
star, airy blossoms, crooked
branch, ancient tree (a cousin
to the rose), un-thorned,
yet fierce when taking soil, sun
and storm to mold
five ox-blood-colored hearts
that hit my tongue
containing lots of cool,
a lot more sweet,
a little tart,
A basket slung over my shoulder
by leather straps, its belly
shaped like a plum,
wove of three kinds of grass —
holds a stone,
a shadow-self that comes and goes,
I touch the ground,
a river, a sea,
the hot-metal sun,
the frigid moon
in a blue-black sky,
a walnut (or two), brinjals,
an apple tree in bloom, in fruit,
and how one night
I dreamed your name —
its cursive strength.
I came and touched
your face, buried my fingers
in your hair, swallowed
your wine. We talked,
and kissed between the words.
© 8 Dec 2007, Heather Quinn, all rights reserved; edited 9 Mar 2013, 16 May 2013.
Thomas Hardy girl-woman, spiritual sailor, seasoned hunter. That’s me. But I won’t tell you this. When I was a kid, a parent blew the magic away from an improvisation in a chair. That taught me to keep my stories to myself. You will think you know me, but you’ll misinterpret me in any number of ways. The visible surface of my life has been edited leanly. You’re welcome to reclothe it from your imagination. You can think of me as a paper doll or some such. Unless you have heart, curiosity and much patience, that is. Most people summon one or two of these characteristics, but it’s only the rare person who is all three. So pretty much, my secret’s safe with me.
You want to know anyway? Without taking tests or accepting challenges, without putting the work in? Well, here’s a brief rundown: There are “done” facts: I’m a Mom. I draw and paint. Then there are “would’ve” facts: I would have liked to dance, and be a doctor — a psychiatrist. And then there are “now” facts: I do tech and design things to make money. The rest is nobody’s business.
Do I have “if” facts? Yes I do. Those I can detail, because they don’t belong to me yet. If I had the time, for pleasure I’d be a beach girl. I more than like the ocean: I can’t live far away from it. I can accept an inland ocean — remnants of seas that rose up as plateaus, and folded into mountains that weathered away, leaving limestone strata riddled with caves, filtering rainwater into underground aquifers, the water pressurized, tasting sweet from dissolved minerals, welling up from springs that pockmark worn-down slopes dressed in blue-green meadows decorated with stands of ancient tannic-barked trees, the old fissures softened to valleys hidden in the mornings by ever-present mists: old oceans like New York’s Saratoga County, Kentucky’s Bluegrass Region. Near a living sea, or upon an old one, I’d dance, and have a horse and a couple of dogs. Maybe two horses.
And that’s it. Except: when I’m coldest is when I’m not. When I’m quiet, something’s boiling inside. And when I’m noisy, I’m feinting. For what, and why? It’ll take you years to figure out why, not to mention what’s involved. Just like everyone, I’m an imperfect mess (sic) of contradictions.
Lord, have mercy on us. Ameen.
She was smart, lost and afraid of being both. Hunting for allies. she tried to catch me by leaning against a doorway to chat for a quarter-hour every day. “Come, sit,” I’d say. When she would came in, she’d pick up my son’s photo, a basket of pebbles, a dish, a pen, anything not connected with work, examine the object, replace it, then bend close enough to whisper, ruffling my hair with her breath. She didn’t talk about either of us. It was all gossip. She wanted to hear and make noise, to distract herself. I felt a sisterly concern for her. That should have been a warning.
Brought into the firm by the CEO, she was not as protected as she thought. Seemingly oblivious of this, she’d do restaurant lunches people earning four times her salary wouldn’t do, come back late, throw up in the bathroom, then walk around visiting, letting her work slide, trailing a tequila sharpness, or a rum fug that reminded me of slow-burning sugar. She projected fragile enmity, a paradox that made others feel superior. Out of shame and compassion, they wanted to love her. You could see them trying. I tried too.
I was an urban cowgirl. Most of us in the firm were like that — city cowboys and cowgirls, independent, hard working, in debt to no one — tech workers, very much in demand. We were building a new industry in New York, though we didn’t realize it then. We each had a particular style of dressing — the same only in that we were all different. As pioneers, you see, we were making things our own way. Because I had used to design clothing, and our company produced software for the fashion industry, I dressed with deliberate wit, sending messages through textures, fibers, cuts and colors. My style drew others to me, yet also made a little barrier, a test — could people get past my packaging and figure me out? It was arrogance. Nothing ominous. I used it to keep the evil eye away so I could focus on my life and job.
I can see now how this must have maddened her. I was questions, mysteries, while she was hungry for answers. I must have seemed like a challenge to her at first.
She tried. But nothing she did could engage me the way she wanted to. I didn’t care about her beach weekends with the CEO and his boyfriend. I love Fire Island, but weekends are mine. Her boozy casual dinners for large groups made me shudder. I like eating alone. I like tangled walks through the city night with a boyfriend, after supper and beers.