Tuesday, May 01, 2007

weekly photo assignment: motivation [complete with poems]

Third submission in a week. Simply finding the motivation to send poems out, no matter how bad, no matter what little chance they may have, is miraculous, startling. It's been a long time coming. This is what I've imagined myself doing for a long time, imagined I was already doing but wasn't. And now.

For the
prose poem contest (hoping the postmark will be placed just in time):

The Memory of Water

The mayonnaise jar holds the dying flowers. Resting on a window, the jar becomes a cathedral’s stained glass mimic. The white linoleum captures this browning in patterns like a pool’s slick floor.

At the mayonnaise factory, this jar was forgotten, became filled with rot and maggots; sun bleaches it clean, and a child brings home this prize after picking away the stones, the dandelions, the bits of brush.

The mother craves mayonnaise; this is a gift, this jar becoming a vase. Her daughter glues green and blue tiles along the rim of the jar.

The mother’s stomach expands, an ocean of amniotic fluid, furious spider blue veins spreading like a storm around her waist. She feels bulbous like a tulip’s beginning. Tiny shards of stars cut at the memory of the first birth. Eruptions between her thighs, she has already forgotten the clotting that was her second, her lost—this is her third chance.

The first, her daughter. She won’t forget those swimming lessons. The daughter remembers the suck and flush of her own afterbirth, the sleep that followed.

Leaning to slumber, her daughter draws watercolor suns on brown butcher paper. Left to dry by the mayonnaise jar, the paintings become puddles. There are new mornings of burned orange erasing the deep blue-black of night. Mother touches daughter on the cheek, promises a new beginning tomorrow.

~ * ~ * ~

Summer Coming

Planning a garden, plotting out each square of earth with potential. Morning glories on the fence line, snaking on washed out grey reaching toward now-bright skies. Changing the color of ordinary.

This is summer coming: Seed packets like flags rippling in the wind. The sheen on your back. A blister rising, a pleasure to touch the bulge. Tools lined up in the morning rain, each at the ready, little soldiers at rest. Toes in flip flops, curled, slowly forgetting compact pressure of professional shoes.

And blooming. Flaming heart buds strung up like paper lanterns catching in the breeze. The push and pull of tulip bulbs, sighing when sun is too hot. Our dogwood tree, it has survived the winter, planted seasons ago, a symbol of our first house, ownership now in each other, a commitment.

After, we touch: iced lemonade, small cubes in packets of relief. Slick sweat against dew on glass’s edge. Rough towel to forehead. Dirt brushed into kitchen sink. My hand sliding along your back, making love on the floor, the carpet imprinted on my back. Freedom, our arms wide open to drink it all in.

Tomorrow, we will do it again. Seeds in the folds of earth, then we wait. And hope.

~ * ~ * ~

Honeysuckle, Dogwood, Kudzu

My memory of the deep south doesn’t match that of the myths from outside. I remember the soft curves of the mountains—Lookout and Signal. The tangle of the Chickamauga River and the great dogwoods along the water—dogwood, a tree with translucent white buds, dandelion fluff. This was my motherland.

Along one brace of the mountain there is kudzu. My mother told me stories of how it came from Japan and took over the trees, shutting out the sun. I thought of English ivy in the Cambridge of her childhood, looping along brick buildings and suctioning to glass windows.

The honeysuckle grew in our backyard, along the towering cement stairs. I pulled the stamen through the bottom, so the anther caught the drop of honey. Filling my tongue with sugar, I never ran out of those butter colored flowers.

At twilight we would catch lightening bugs; velvet wings shelter a glowing abdomen. Cup and release—we never would pinch so the guts were like Las Vegas neon night—scientists harvested this luciferin as we slept in our beds.

The fireflies faded as thunderstorms lulled us to sleep. We set fans in the windows and counted the second between flash and boom. After the storm came the denouement of cicadas and crickets, their bodies rubbing a steady hum from green fields as we drifted to blue.

And, also recently: California Horned Melons to Memoir (and). Just before: 42opus. And in December: Water~Stone Review Jane Kenyon poetry contest. I'll let you know how it all pans out. Honestly, even a rejection letter will be a happy thing because it will mean this is something I've worked at, something I've finally become brave enough to do.

In the mail today: a packet of poetry to my Loft poet-friend (now two days late), an application to the local high school (full time, one year position) and the local middle school (.4 part time position), a submission to Mid-American Review, Emily's RSVP for her wedding, and our mortgage check (due today). I wonder if the mailbox knows what kind of hope it holds today.

Also today: my third and final observation with the principal. So many others regard it as a joke: Is he seriously going to put you through that? and Why are they observing you when you are leaving in a month? But I am still employed here. And I still want to improve as a teacher. And I still want to try because I still love these kids.

And me in the room with restless seniors, final hour of the day, sun bright and beckoning. Sweat pooled at the base of my back, formed a ridge along the rim of my lip. The boiler was broken, something mechanical, something I wouldn't care to understand, and the principal could see me push on through that stifling heat. (Our department head ducked his head in and said, "You're right. It's gross in here.") The scent of teenager's bodies left behind. The kindness of my students, knowing it still mattered (there was still the recommendation to consider), being more dedicated than before, making it through the heat without complaint.

The exploration of sensory imagery. The wonderful cafeteria poems that followed. My own reflection on the staff lunch room.

And last night: reading in bed at 7:30, falling asleep an hour later. Tired again today. Zephyr destroying the flowers waiting on the patio furniture for planting. Exhausted at the balancing act of today: getting the cover letter finished (after Emily helped me repair it--I am no technical writer, this is true), putting together the application packets, writing a new prose poem (after all, if I'm paying to submit three, I will write a third, even if it's terrible, which is probably a bad idea, but I'm not feeling well, so that will be my excuse), facing an observation to a job that won't have me, discussing the sixty nine teaching positions being cut over lunch casually (as if I didn't care, all of us quietly one upping each other, student disappointment and petitions and secretly feeling sad about the whole thing).

And a good thing: one of my students told me she loves Eireann's book (motivation). I know how high school students can be--moody, picky, bored, indifferent, disconnected from anything literary. But she loved it (and said it that way, loved) and stayed up at night reading it through (and wanted to borrow it for a few more days). I asked my students, if they wanted to borrow it, to please write reactions in it--communicate with the poetry, have a conversation with the page. You never know if the poet just might talk back.

PS: Quote of the day from a (male) student after talking about costuming: "If you wear tights, reading Shakespeare just gets easier."

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