When I say this is an older poem, I really mean it. I wrote it in 1989, when I was (yikes!) 28 years old. 1989 is also, coincidentally, the birth year of many of the folks entering college this coming fall as freshmen. (To those of you who suddenly felt really old there for a second: yeah, me too.)
Anyway, this was published in Prairie Schooner (Fall 1993), which makes it one of my "biggest-name" publications. Despite that, it doesn't seem to be making it into any of the manuscripts I try to put together. I won't go so far as to say that I don't believe in this poem anymore, but it feels ... distant, now. When I wrote it, so long ago, I think I still kind of bought into the notion that one must feel some kind of suffering in order to write, and I think the pain in this poem is sort of manufactured. ("The taste of my own blood" indeed. How goth!) Still, it has some images I really like, and I'm fond of the three-part contruction, how it gave me the freedom to write three sections that didn't follow upon each other in any kind of logical or narrative way -- but that do feel connected, and they do feel like they're in the right order, they're not so independent as to be interchangeable. So there are still things I like here, even if it's not a poem I'd probably want to write now.
I also feel a little disconnected from this poem because it dates back to before the writing hiatus I began (unintentionally) in 1994, when my life got just a little nuts. I was starting to get some good publications, and had a couple of chapbook manuscripts that were finalists in various competitions, and then I stopped for about six years -- barely writing at all, and sending out almost nothing. When I came back to it -- after grief, love, more grief, and library school -- it felt like starting over, in so many ways. I'll write about that someday.
Anyway, here it is, just for grins.
* * * * *
Telling Stories, The Evening Star
I drink strong coffee to wash
the taste of blood from my mouth.
I tell myself stories as I fall asleep
to banish the taste of blood
from my dreams.
One blood is mine,
one someone else's.
I bite the inside
of my cheeks sometimes
to stop myself from speaking.
Venus glitters, evening star,
like an idea I might have had.
In the morning
the waning moon will cast
pale light on crusted snow.
I walk outside in these times
of half-light, trying to name
the colors. The names elude me
and so the colors fade
into night or into day. In the west,
past twilight, Venus sinks
imperceptibly lower each moment,
a piercing light that makes the sky
look darker, that gives bare branches
the fierce clarity of knives.
My breath is a pale cloud, descending.
One morning I wake with a stiff neck.
Nothing helps, not heat, not stretching.
All day I stumble clumsily, trying not
to turn my head, gasping with pain
at any sudden movement.
Feeding the cats, I lower myself
slowly to the bowls; folding laundry,
I am careful not to jostle.
And I think, how we arrange
our lives around our pain,
the care we take.
I step out into stars and snow,
but stiff and sore, I can't look up.
I take the evening star on faith,
its steady light slipping westward.
I don't need faith for the ice underfoot,
the crunch of the snow's crust,
the cold that numbs my feet.
The taste of my own blood
warms me. My breath
rises like the end
of a question,
like a story I'd tell.