Tuesday, March 23, 2010

AI 1947-2010



I discovered AI between the time I left graduate school and when I wrote steadily for ten years before I published anything. That fun period--let's call it, oh, 1999. I taught three comp courses at Emerson College, and two at Northeastern University, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The other days of the week I worked at Trident Booksellers on Newbury Street, and it was during that time, most likely stocking the shelves, I found her. It wasn't just what the Poetry Foundation bio calls her "uncompromising poetic vision and bleak dramatic monologues which give voice to marginalized, often poor and abused speakers," it was the sheer flux of her line, the skin-slipping dramatic monologues and the unabashed sexuality. Why is that women are more frank about sex and better able to write about real sex, as opposed the sometimes dreamy, sometimes porny world of male sex-writing? Question for another time. In any case, I immediately fell in love with her poems, and  I always remember the first poem by a new poet. Here it is, with another one I like nearly as well:



Twenty-year Marriage

You keep me waiting in a truck
with its one good wheel stuck in the ditch,
while you piss against the south side of a tree.
Hurry. I’ve got nothing on under my skirt tonight.
That still excites you, but this pickup has no windows
and the seat, one fake leather thigh,
pressed close to mine is cold.
I’m the same size, shape, make as twenty years ago,
but get inside me, start the engine;
you’ll have the strength, the will to move.
I’ll pull, you push, we’ll tear each other in half.
Come on, baby, lay me down on my back.
Pretend you don’t owe me a thing
and maybe we’ll roll out of here,
leaving the past stacked up behind us;
old newspapers nobody’s ever got to read again.

The Kid

My sister rubs the doll’s face in mud,
then climbs through the truck window.
She ignores me as I walk around it,
hitting the flat tires with an iron rod.
The old man yells for me to help hitch the team,
but I keep walking around the truck, hitting harder,
until my mother calls.
I pick up a rock and throw it at the kitchen window,
but it falls short.
The old man’s voice bounces off the air like a ball
I can’t lift my leg over.

I stand beside him, waiting, but he doesn’t look up
and I squeeze the rod, raise it, his skull splits open.
Mother runs toward us. I stand still,
get her across the spine as she bends over him.
I drop the rod and take the rifle from the house.
Roses are red, violets are blue,
one bullet for the black horse, two for the brown.
They’re down quick. I spit, my tongue’s bloody;
I’ve bitten it. I laugh, remember the one out back.
I catch her climbing from the truck, shoot.
The doll lands on the ground with her.
I pick it up, rock it in my arms.
Yeah. I’m Jack, Hogarth’s son.
I’m nimble, I’m quick.
In the house, I put on the old man’s best suit
and his patent leather shoes.
I pack my mother’s satin nightgown
and my sister’s doll in the suitcase.
Then I go outside and cross the fields to the highway.
I’m fourteen. I’m a wind from nowhere.
I can break your heart.


You can find surprisingly little written about her life or death on the interwebs, though I'm going to point you toward what I've found so far.

1 comment:

  1. The first poem? In a cliche' --> it blew me away. Thanks, Rusty, now I have to quit what I'm doing and incessantly research this for a while. Stop making me go off track...
    -Val

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