mimsy and outgrabe //

a record of panic, parenting, teaching and art-making


Five Poems, Five Days: Part V

The Quest

by James Wright

In pasture where the leaf and wood
Were lorn of all delicious apple
And underfoot a long and supple
Bough leaned down to dip in mud,
I came before the dark to stare
At a gray nest blown in a swirl,
As in the arm of a dead girl
Crippled and torn and laid out bare.

On a hill I came to a bare house
And crept beside its bleary windows,
But no one lived in those gray hollows,
And rabbits ate the dying grass.
I stood upright, and beat the door,
Alone, indifferent, and aloof
To pebbles rolling down the roof
And dust that filmed the deadened air.

High and behind, where twilight chewed
Severer planes of hills away,
And the bonehouse of a rabbit lay
Dissolving by the darkening road,
I came, and rose to meet the sky,
And reached my fingers to a nest
Of stars laid upwards in the west;
They hung too high; my hands fell empty.

So as you sleep, I seek your bed
And lay my careful, quiet ear
Among the nestings of your hair,
Against your tenuous, fragile head,
And hear the birds beneath your eyes
Stirring for birth, and know the world
Immeasurably alive and good,
Though bare as rifted paradise.

from Above the River: The Complete Poems, published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux


Five Poems, Five Days, Part IV ( and photos from the Pittsburgh reading)

The Armadillo

by Elizabeth Bishop

This is the time of year
when almost every night
the frail, illegal fire balloons appear.
Climbing the mountain height,

rising toward a saint
still honored in these parts,
the paper chambers flush and fill with light
that comes and goes, like hearts.

Once up against the sky it's hard
to tell them from the stars --
planets, that is -- the tinted ones:
Venus going down, or Mars,

or the pale green one. With a wind,
they flare and falter, wobble and toss;
but if it's still they steer between
the kite sticks of the Southern Cross,

receding, dwindling, solemnly
and steadily forsaking us,
or, in the downdraft from a peak,
suddenly turning dangerous.

Last night another big one fell.
It splattered like an egg of fire
against the cliff behind the house.
The flame ran down. We saw the pair

of owls who nest there flying up
and up, their whirling black-and-white
stained bright pink underneath, until
they shrieked up out of sight.

The ancient owls' nest must have burned.
Hastily, all alone,
a glistening armadillo left the scene,
rose-flecked, head down, tail down,

and then a baby rabbit jumped out,
short-eared, to our surprise.
So soft! -- a handful of intangible ash
with fixed, ignited eyes.

Too pretty, dreamlike mimicry!
O falling fire and piercing cry
and panic, and a weak mailed fist
clenched ignorant against the sky!

from Bishop: Poems, Prose, and Letters, published by The Library of America


Also: Pictures from this weekend's Hyacinth Girl Press and Gigantic Sequins poetry reading at the Modern Formations Gallery in Pittsburgh, PA.

Rachel Mennies, author of The Glad Hand of God Points Backward

Kimberly Ann Schwartz, editor of the magazine Gigantic Sequins and the author of HGP's forthcoming chapbook, efs and vees

Essayist Caitlyn Luce Christensen

Margaret Bashaar, editor of Hyacinth Girl Press, and Kimberly Ann Schwartz, the lovely organizers of the event.


Five Poems, Five Days: Part III

When One Has Lived A Long Time Alone

by Galway Kinnell


When one has lived a long time alone,
one likes alike the pig, who brooks no deferment
of gratification, and the porcupine, or thorned pig,
who enters the cellar but not the house itself
because of eating down the cellar stairs on the way up,
and one likes the worm, who by bunching herself together
and expanding works her way through the ground,
no less than the butterfly, who totters full of worry
among the day lilies, as they darken,
and more and more one finds one likes
any other species better than one's own,
which has gone amok, making one self-estranged,
when one has lived a long time alone.

from When One Has Lived A Long Time Alone, published by Alfred A. Knopf

(This whole cycle, printed at the back of the book, is one of my favorite poems ever, but I didn't feel like I could really get away with publishing all eleven parts here.)


Five Poems, Five Days: Part II

In Heraclitus' River 

by Wislawa Szymborska,
trans. Joanna Trzeciak

In Heraclitus' river
a fish fishes for fish,
a fish quarters a fish with a sharp fish,
a fish builds a fish, a fish lives in a fish,
a fish flees a fish under siege.

In Heraclitus' river
a fish loves a fish,
your eyes -- it says -- glitter like fishes in the sky,
I want to swim with you to the common sea,
O most beautiful of the school of fish.

In Heraclitus' river
a fish invented the fish beyond fishes,
a fish kneels before the fish, a fish sings to the fish,
asks the fish for an easier swim.

In Heraclitus' river
I, the sole fish, I, a fish apart
(say, from the tree fish and the stone fish)
at certain moments find myself writing small fish
in scales so briefly silver,
that it may be the darkness winking in embarrassment.

from Miracle Fair: Selected Poems of Wislawa Szymborska, published by W.W. Norton & Co.

ALSO, NIGHT-POST BONUS: This gorgeous long poem by Ryan Black over at Tupelo Quarterly.


Five Poems, Five Days: Part I

Also, unremarkable but pretty Instagram pics of my garden this spring, 'cause, you know, this blog needs some help in the visual department.

Day One:



by Derek Walcott

So what shall we do for the dead, to whose conch-bordered
tumuli our lifelong attraction is drawn
as to a magnetic empire, whose cities lie ordered
with streets and rational avenues, exact as the grid
of our vibrating metropolis? In our arrogance, we imagine
that they, too, share the immense, inaudible pulse
of the clock-shaped earth, slower than ours, maybe, but within
our dimension, our simple mathematical formulae.
Any peace so indifferent, where all our differences fuse,
is an insult to imagine; what use is any labor we
accept? They must find our prayers boring, for one prays
that they will keep missing us when they have no urge
to be ever-remembered, they cannot see what we hoard --
photograph, letter, keepsake, muttered or knitted homily --
as we change flags and houses. We still wish them to serve
us, expecting from death what we expect of our prayers --
that their hearts lift like ours with the surge
of the surf and the cupolas of the sunset, that the kingfisher
startles their darkness sometimes. But each one prefers
the silence that was his birthright, and the shore
where the others wait neither to end nor begin.

from Midsummer, published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

p.s. I cheated. I posted the poem above because I love the last eleven lines especially, but also because I felt like it was more accessible than THIS, which is the poem I REALLY love, for reasons I can't quite put into words, from Midsummer.


Writing AND Running in One Week: A Summer Recess Miracle!

My summer writing group met this week. Three out of four of us met, at least, and it was a good beginning. We did chit chat for a few minutes too long at the beginning (which is against the rules), but then we each buried ourselves in our writing in one of the small meeting rooms in the library. We worked at a table in silence for nearly three hours. It was lovely.

It took me a while to begin, though. I have, as I've mentioned before, several writing projects floating around in my head, but I thought it was probably best to keep it simple and just begin writing a poem. I've been reading poems and reading about the craft of poetry almost every day since school let out, but I haven't written a poem for months. So it seemed like a good beginning point, for both my summer writing endeavors AND my participation in the group.

It was strange, though, writing in the presence of other people . . . and other people I know at that. I'm used to writing in the presence of sleeping dogs (who aren't really sleeping, but rather waiting with their eyes closed for me to feed them breakfast). I managed to get over it, although it did take me almost the entire morning to work on six lines of a poem. I am the slowest m*****f****r when it comes to writing. I mean, like, painfully slow. 

Of course, writing groups come at a price. I felt like I paid dearly for my three hours of writing later in the day, when Little Miss Talkalot had a meltdown after school because I hadn't come to the during-the-day science fair. (Before she went to school I'd told her I was going -- and we did go -- to the after school for-working-parents science fair . . . but I was missed at 11 a.m., apparently.)

In the midst of this the house is still a mess and I'm still really, really slowly getting my work life back on track (organizing, prepping for the fall, planning), and my health is increasing only in tiny, tiny increments (because the stupid antibiotics one takes to annihilate the bad stuff in your body also annihilate everything that's good in your body). But I've actually run twice this week. The runs did NOT go well, but at least they happened. I am far, far less crazy when I actually expend some of my energy in a physically exhausting way. 

Today I'm meeting my colleague in craziness, M.K., for some more festival planning and then it's back to the office for some earnest prep work. Then it's back home to meet the bus, when my son will bring home with him this adorable little girl, who loves him dearly, for their first play date.  

I am looking forward to REALLY getting to work on my writing, but I feel like I need to get the rest of my house and work-life in order for that to happen, and I fear the summer will be over before my writing gets any real attention. It's only June 12, but at the same time, I'm like, "FUCK, IT'S JUNE 12!!" deep inside me, an anxiety like another spine, something that keeps me upright and moving but, well, it's another spine, it's not supposed to be there, and it's fighting for room and control with the other one, the one that's natural.

I kinda lost control of that metaphor, didn't I? Damn, I'm out of practice. 



A Possible Summer Writing Group, Boo Killebrew's "Miller, Mississippi," and . . . Field Day

At the end of last week I attempted to create a small writing group that will meet once a week during the summer -- to do NOTHING but write. No workshops, no craft talk, just gathering in the semi-comfortable chairs of the local library for three hours, away from the messy houses and the kids and the talking spouses, and attempting to get words on a page on a regular basis. Everyone was in, excited, ready-to-go . . . and then no one could meet this Wednesday. (Including myself, because I fell ill YET AGAIN (read: another/thesamethatwon'tgoaway stupid sinus infection) and had to ply my system with antibiotics.)

1) I am falling apart.

2) I fear this is a sign of things to come. Both my falling apart (more), and the inability of the writing group to get together.

Still, we'll see. 

On Tuesday I saw an amazing reading of an equally amazing play by Boo Killebrew, this year's winner of the Leah Ryan's Fund for Emerging Women Writers. The acting was incredible, and the play, "Miller, Mississippi," is a clever adoption -- but not direct adaptation -- of Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, taking an earnest and unflinching glance at racism in the years during and following the Civil Rights Movement. There were two powerful monologues/moments in particular: one, in the first act, where at least one facet of the mother's 1950s, overtly pre-Betty Friedan behavior is revealed to be motivated by something far more serious and powerful -- though no less warped -- than her gin-nipping, antediluvian upbringing, and in the second act where the Faulknerian "Jason" character of the play, Thomas, excuses systematic incest and abuse with the same reasons white people of privilege give for lazy, less overt (but no less grave) acts of racism. 

I had a moment of doubt about the play at the first hint of incest -- I was thinking, oh no, not in-breeding in the South, not this old trope; but Killebrew did a masterful job of making it new: where in Faulker's novel, the motif of incest indicates a symptom of decline and the result of an insular, dangerously narrow culture, in Killebrew's play the subject becomes metaphor for racism, and highly effectively. The mother's character in the play was a nice mesh of Faulkner's domineering, drunken Father Compson and the simpering, negligent Mother Compson, and the actress who played her, Maryann Plunkett, was fantastic as this complex, sometimes sympathetic, sometimes monstrous character. The John character, too, was an intuitive and empathetic combination of Faulkner's innocent Benji and conflicted, tormented Quentin, and Mark Junek, who played John, really carried the bulk of the play's emotion, taking us from its lightest, funniest moments to its darkest with skill and sensitivity.

Killebrew also forced us -- well, forced me -- to think about the terrible consequences if Caddy hadn't left. I mean, Caddy's fate is sad enough in The Sound and the Fury, but Killebrew's depiction of strangled female ambition and talent, as well as the way less cisgender behavior in both men and women are systematically and completely decimated by the old guard (the old guard represented here by characters both Southern white and Southern African American), was compelling to a degree where you kind of forgot, or didn't see, the ties to Faulkner's characters as clearly, and so the play moves beyond Faulkner-as-metaphor-and-vehicle and into its own significant, insightful delivery of problems that were present in the past, but are still frightfully, tragically existent today.

Fuck, that was a long sentence.

Well, I can't spend much more time on this post today (I'm sure you're disappointed!) because I'm wearing my mom hat for most of it and dutifully attending . . . Field Day. My kids were so wound up before they climbed on that bus this morning. Field Day. Nothing but noise and flailing child limbs for six solid hours. YAY!! (Actually, it's really quite adorable. I really want my kids to stay elementary-school age forever.)