My husband and I were sitting at a cafe in Athens, looking at a cathedral and eating feta dip in silence. I felt like a character in a Hemingway short story – maybe “Hills Like White Elephants,” but with all of the grand openness and none of the depressing stuff. Here’s the start of a poem I’d like to work on:
Oh, to be an old woman on an airplane To be expected And still spry enough to lift my own bag But creased enough to merit a steadying hand on my arm
I feel like lately, with offices and bars and theaters reopening, people are out, but they’re out with giant wounds – the kind of wounds that show sinew and bone. Some people have emerged with an extra thirty pounds, a stack of unemployment checks, a mental health diagnosis or two… Some people have emerged alone. I have emerged awkward. The lack of chit-chat in the aisles of the grocery store, and the fact that I didn’t have to flash a perfunctory smile at a dozen or more people a day have left me wooden and stammering. Here’s a poem about how I fit into this new scene… Or don’t.
How Can I Help You
So far I’ve gotten by
On good wine
I thought that divorce was
One of those things,
You know it’s out there
But you don’t bump into it
In the checkout aisle
You don’t worry about it hurting you or yours.
It’s for real housewives of various cities
And that aunt you avoid at Thanksgiving
You don’t rehearse what you’ll say
If divorce breezes in the door at a house party
Or if it tells you that your blouse looks nice.
You don’t know how to put someone’s divorce
Into the box with the other forbidden dinner table topics
Like hemorrhoids and that football player
Who either does or does not disrespect our country.
I cannot give out advice about divorce
Because I cannot even write a good poem about it
Happy anniversary, The New Yorker! How has the world treated you for the past year, when you weren’t opening my submission? You don’t have to tell me you don’t give a damn, love – that’s what the “Submissions” page on Submittable.com is for.
Some good news, though: my writing partner, who has watched me barf without a shirt on and get married (NOT in the same day) had a poem get published on The Voices Project – here’s a link http://www.thevoicesproject.org/poetry-library/funeral-rites-by-taylor-grueser#comments Try to leave a better comment than mine, just try! Alright, it’s not much of a challenge. But seriously, this poem is so meditative and raw.
I wanted to put a poem in this post, but I feel that it would detract from Taylor’s accomplishment and the New Yorker’s insult. Here’s a haiku, as a compromise:
What am I to do
In a world that cannot hear
Having found my voice
Were you, reader, ever the younger child? Did you have to watch your sibling get a training bra, go to prom, pick out a college first? Did it hurt? Or, more simply, were you ever grounded? Did you have to watch through stained-glass tears while your parents carted away your Gameboy or your stuffed dog, with the assurance that you’d have them back in three days, four days, a week?
My sister got married
And set atop a high shelf -
I was grounded from her.
I waited and stared impatiently
As she moved North,
Took semi-annual international jaunts
Wore the latest fashion
And left her tabs open
She barely decorated her mansion
And found every excuse to come home
But by then there was nothing to talk about
No common wire to perch on
Two years and a torrent of abuse
Locked my sister behind glass
While I continued to stand below her shelf
To catch her
Now, though – I hear it in her voice
A storm is coming
I throw out my arms.
I’m sure all two of you who read this blog have noticed my absence. I have run myself so ragged that even my sister has squawked at me to “slow down!!!” I’ve been doing a poor job, but I did stay in on Friday. I watched Super Troopers with my dog. It was a totally unremarkable evening, and I would like to have more just like it. Anyways, here’s a poem I started about this whole thing.
I'm supposed to be getting better Resting Rebuilding my strength But what is vitality If not a volatile currency A fickle, use-it-or-lose-it force?
A week or so ago, I sent my husband a link to my two personal essays published by Sleet Magazine. His response was merely that the first one, “Bodies,” made him sad. My self-absorbed ass wanted to hear about what a great writer I am, how my husband understands some critical, previously-unobserved part of me, how I am an old soul or some other corny shit. But no, all he said was that he was sad. This, of course, propelled me to new levels of wallowing and self-absorption. I emailed E. Jean Carroll, one of very few people I can confidently call a role model. She congratulated me on getting published and told me that she makes a point to never show her writing to family or husbands. Damn! I grew up reading E. Jean’s column in Elle, so I really would trust her with my life. For several years, her advice column was the closest thing I had to guidance, while my mother was busy working 60 hours per week and doing what mothers do – “seeing about things.” Anyways, here’s a poem for my mom. I’ll never let her read it.
For My Mother, For Father’s Day
I am not half the woman my mother was
Though she never wanted me to be.
Mom fled across the old South
From slick men and robberies
Tenements and community college
To a burnt-out Camaro and a basset hound
Who bayed at my young sister and I
Unable to express his love otherwise
I never knew an eviction notice
Or a too-tight school uniform
Although my mother’s thin-soled sensible shoes
Whispered about budgets and bounced checks
Store-brand food and impending mattress springs
Mom’s eerie foresight and vicious budgeting
Did not account for grit
I would sleep on a thousand floors
To inherit her ramrod spine
The other day, driving home from work, I found a new Spotify playlist called “POV: You’re the Villain in Love With the Hero”. Whoever “Rowan” is, they did a great job curating this bad boy. It’s sultry, playful, and just dark enough. It got me thinking, though: we are each the villain in someone else’s story, like it or not. What lengths do we go to to insist that we’re the hero, blameless and clean? And what does it take to admit that, sometimes, being the skeleton in someone else’s closet it reassuring in a way? Anyways, here’s “Twist”.
We'll meet, I'll say it was your eyes That got me hooked We'll talk I'll stay up late and say Like I always do That I'm in love with your mind
We'll walk through the trees And kiss by the creeks I'll let you call me yours Later, I'll call you another twist In my spiral You'll watch me discard you like the rest
Did you know that most poetry publications will only accept your poem if it’s not been displayed on any other website? That reminds me, in a way, of the dire warning my mom gave me regarding my V-card when I was a girl (Mom was wrong!).
So, when I post a poem here, that means it’s either been published, or it never will be. Happily, the below poem has been published by Down in the Dirt Magazine. They published two of my poems, actually – if you want to see the other, there’s a link at the bottom of the post. Down in the Dirt is actually the first to display my work online, though Sleet Magazine was the first to inform me that they accepted something of mine (that issue of Sleet will be out very soon). What are your favorite firsts, reader? Bonus points if you tell me in haiku form.
Good morning My name is Cora Replacement for Olivia Who didn't make it to term
My name is Cora and my mom Only wanted two kids So if Olivia had made it I never would have been
My name is Cora But my mom almost named me Ruby After a cleaning lady Mom worshipped as a girl
Ruby is a bright name, a deep name But then that damn song got popular And Mom didn't want any jokes About me turning my red light on
My name is Cora But my name would have been Ross If I had been a boy. Ross Lee. Mom only wanted daughters, though
The last Cora was my grandma's grandma No one remembers what she was like. There's only one picture of her She wore a smirk ahead of her time
The last Cora, hell, the first Cora Lived on a farm, and had a herd of cows All I have left of her is her lead milk cow's bell My name is Cora and I ring, ring, ring
Down in the Dirt link (select “Cora Taylor” in the left-hand column [no, that isn’t my real name])