For today, some poems by just a tiny few of the contemporary lady poets whose work I really enjoy and by whom I feel both influenced and bettered.
by Kathryn Cowles, from Eleanor, Eleanor, Not Your Real Name
Interviewer: I'm going to ask you a question. There is a right answer, and I'm very serious, and I want you to answer seriously. Seriously, but also honestly. Here is my question: What do you do if you find a dead cat?
Eleanor: Name it.
Interviewer: Wrong. What do you do if you find a dead cat?
Eleanor: Mouth to mouth, depending on the newness of its deceasedness, the likelihood of revivification, and whether or not it's an ugly cat.
Interviewer: Wrong again.
Eleanor: Was the cat on my property or my neighbor's?
Eleanor: Is it summer or another season?
Eleanor: Put it in the freezer to buy time.
Interviewer: No, no, no.
Eleanor: Light its cigarette.
Eleanor: Ask it to light my cigarette.
Eleanor: Brush its black, or grey, or tawny hair out of its eyes and shed a single tear.
Interviewer: Stop it. Lies, all lies.
Eleanor: Kill another cat so it has a friend.
Eleanor: Show it photographs of my children.
Eleanor: Actually, I have no children to show.
Interviewer: This is not at all what I had in mind.
Eleanor: Chalk a line around its silhouette for future reference.
Eleanor: Of course, I'm assuming the dead cat is on the ground. Really, it could be anywhere.
Eleanor: Up a tree, or nailed to the side of a building.
Eleanor: Utilize catnip in creative ways until it stops playing dead, that old trick.
Eleanor: Wait for Jesus to come.
Interviewer: You never say what I want you to say.
Eleanor: Halo its head, lend it my wings.
Eleanor: Are you listening?
Eleanor: Do you really want to know?
Eleanor: You can learn a lot about a person by asking.
“I am in love, hence free to live”
by Vera Pavlova, from If There Is Something To Desire, There Is Something To Regret
(trans. Steven Seymour)
I am in love, hence free to live
by heart, to ad lib as I caress.
A soul is light when full,
heavy when vacuous.
My soul is light. She is not afraid
to dance the agony alone,
for I was born wearing your shirt,
will come from the dead with that shirt on.
by Claudia Keelan
Though the photograph deceives
The viewer is drawn to its light,
Vision itself a device
Where the world becomes
An animated drawing.
The lover, for example, is hollow in the middle,
Standing beside the skeleton bones
Of a 19th century hoopskirt.
And though you can’t believe it,
The Door Opens
by Martha Ronk, from Vertigo
One painter put a thick white line
where the door opens into the dark room
and women make beads and light stripes the floor.
Each time paint becomes light, we are asked to believe.
The requests come thicker of late.
They say one painter asked them to stand there,
hands out, the light coming in, for a long time
that is never long enough.
Key Episodes From An Earthly Life
by C.D. Wright, from Tremble
As surely as there are crumbs on the lips
of the blind I came for a reason
I remember when the fields were no taller
than a pencil do you remember that
I told him I’ve got socks older than her
but he would not listen
You will starve out girl they told her
but she did not listen
As surely as there is rice in the cuffs
of the priest sex is a factor not a fact
Everything I do is leaning toward
what we came for is that perfectly clear
I like your shoes your uncut hair
I like your use of space too
I wanted to knock her lights out
the air cut in and did us some good
One thing about my television set it has
a knob on it enabling me to switch channels
Now it is your turn to shake or
provoke or heal me I won’t say it again
Do you like your beets well-cooked and chilled
even if they make your gums itch
Those dark Arkansas roads that is the sound
I am after the choiring of crickets
Around this time of year especially evening
I love everything I sold enough eggs
To buy a new dress I watched him drink the juice
of our beets And render the light liquid
I came to talk you into physical splendor
I do not wish to speak to your machine
On Walking Backwards
by Anne Carson, from “Short Talks”
My mother forbade us to walk backwards. That is how the dead walk, she would say. Where did she get this idea? Perhaps from a bad translation. The dead after all, do not walk backwards but they do walk behind us. They have no lungs and cannot call out but would love for us to turn around. They are victims of love, many of them.
There are so many more people whose work I wish I had the time and patience to type in and represent here – I have a stack of books in front of me right now, Eleni Sikelianos, Danielle Deulen, Brenda Shaugnessy, Elizabeth Willis, Jenny Boully, Olena Kalytiak Davis, there are just so many amazing women writing terrific stuff it would be, I am happy to report, quite impossible to even make a semi-partially-sort-of reasonable list of them, let alone share poems from each and all. But please, please, tell me who you love!