Ritual Each night at dinner, in lieu of grace, my mother lit the center candle on the table. We children were allowed two fingers of wine from the icy jug that was kept cold out on the front porch. The seven of us shared bread and casserole on our full plates and the light filled the room with luster. Each of us had a task: clear the dishes, wipe the table, snuff out the half-melted candle, its smoky trail reaching to the ceiling like fingers folding into prayer. When the washer was full, we’d stand by the sink, my mother and I, her hands plunged into the soapy water, mine holding a dish towel, removing the dripping pans from the drainer, and wiping the water away, to expose the shine. We’d stand there in the evening hour quietly perfecting every keepsake minute. Later in life, I stand in class, by the desk in front of students as we discuss short fiction, plunging into emerging themes. A daughter and mother in one story bathe together in a tub infused with herbs and bark. The same characters travel to market to gather bread, butter, and fish to prepare together later. The mother preserves the daughter’s childhood in a trunk: plaid dresses and yellowed blankets, mementos aired out and refolded again. In capital letters, I write ritual, chalk powdering the folds of my slacks. Together we learn that these acts are connective tissue that bind our muscle to bone. Though pages away, miles, or even years, we, as characters break bread, fold hands into each other’s, light the light that will unblind us. from Four Blue Eggs
Today’s poem comes from Four Blue Eggs, which won the 2013 Poetry Prize from Homebound Publications. It’s available now in its second edition (with a new cover).
The universe has banished us;
fragile gauze hair on tiny forearms
succumbs to renegade heat waves
and celestial currents, which now and again
sabotage our bones, flaking and peeling skin
like pastry dough. Until we forgo
our ambulant nomad ways, return
to fur, or learn to play possum, our doom
will find us roasted and sagging.
we should find our treeness, wear thick bark
and leaves that canopy over necks.
With years symmetrically bubbling
out of a center trunk, each milestone
would bear another ring of flesh
to shield the hemisphere’s burley snarl.
Losing the Summer
Winter enters the body and it collapses,
the blood cells attack, the fever leaves
the brain with its patterns of coils
and discs like a red stovetop,
an alphabet of rivers and branches.
This landscape, contoured for activity, settles
into animal hibernation,
while remnants of ancient languages howl
from the hospital monitor.
Like dried sap on a tree,
crusted, yet viable, a small scar has left itself
after the coma – such a thing is not
a deformity, but a bud:
a seed replanting its succulence,
an isthmus back to the world.
Come see me at Byrd’s Books on Sunday, June 3rd for a Book Club discussion of The Comet’s Tail: A Memoir of No Memory, which chronicles that lost summer. “Losing the Summer” is from Four Blue Eggs, which was a finalist for the 2013 Poetry Prize from Homebound Publications. The 2018 Poetry Prize is now open for submissions.
I have to admit that before the Barnum Museum in Bridgeport Connecticut invited storytellers to participate in their first PechaKucha night, I had no idea what PechaKucha was. It’s simple to describe: a slide show of 20 slides which progress through 20-second intervals–so a story in 6 minutes and 40 seconds. More than the slideshow, PechaKucha is an opportunity to gather with others and share. Developed by an architecture firm in Japan, PechaKucha translates loosely into “chit-chat” in Japanese. It’s taken off worldwide and the U.S. is starting to catch up.
I was happy to participate as the Barnum Museum hosted its first (of many) PechaKucha nights earlier this month (May 9). I told the story of how writing helped me recover from a coma–a story that I share in more depth in The Comet’s Tail: A Memoir of No Memory.
Annotating the Self: Writing and Recovery (or click the image below)
I’ll be at Byrd’s Books again on Sunday, June 3rd for a Book Talk about The Comet’s Tail. Support your local independent bookstore and join us.
With A Brief History of Time occupying the top spot of my pile of bedside books, I’ve had space and time on my mind lately. So, four poems (small input, I know) toward a unified theory of the universe.
The Sky’s Version of Truth
So what about the laziness
of light, taking its sweet old time
getting to the eye. The sky
having no reason to be false
teaches memory, a peek
of what old people must have seen:
Cassiopeia learning to dance, Orion
earning his bow, Taurus deciding
to charge. A navigator’s dream.
What the eye catches is an old light.
What we rely on most is thriftiness.
Whatever speed it takes,
the open road is just dotted lines
a tree’s last goodbye to summer,
just lament. It’s a different kind
of blindness—seeing too much
seeing with the heart, light alone
or a blade of grass.
Loving the blindness, the eye sees a pattern:
the round dome of sky,
the traffic of night, ad infinitum.
Connect the dots the sky is saying.
I see a banjo, the spokes of a wheel,
the claw of a crow catching me. Maybe
a duck-billed platypus playing the trumpet.
I can almost hear a star’s last sigh.
Perhaps legacy is spelled out
the way memory returns to you
so many years later: you remember
the leaves, the rain, the sound
of a breath stopping three rooms away.
The summer after the diagnosis
we visited their beach house on the Cape,
taking the route through those warped
highways, drawbridges, and rotaries
made for delirium.
What to talk about with my mother’s friends
but the growth of children and the palace
of sea breeze, while the bug zapper
murdered hordes of bugs. What to say
of radiation treatment? What to say
of closure, that our meeting here
is the beginning of goodbye.
That night I met neighborhood kids,
joined them for bonfire and beers,
and dreamt of snakes.
After the First Kiss
Venus enters the fourth chamber,
meanders like a comet
through the claret landscape.
Finding it pleasantly blood filled,
she maroons and takes in the scope,
settles where the black holes leading
to outer galaxies close and open
mechanically, leaving no light.
Reclining with the boon of ancient history
pulsing like a red giant around her,
it’s no wonder she feels safe here
in the calibrated darkness. It is time,
she thinks, to postulate the theory,
time to introduce a little magic
into this hollow topography.
And with the red shift, she exits
taking with her tales of time travel
and the red fire of oxygen.
Slipping past the mouth’s gate,
she exchanges the good air and leaves
the secrets of human love.
While Constellations Sleep
I press my lips against your cheek,
brush a loose strand from your head,
and fold into midnight blue slumber.
Night watches over its sleepyheads
as a dim light trickles between the slant
of the curtains—perhaps the moon,
perhaps a lonely streetlight peeking in,
searching for companions to embrace.
The kittens tiptoe in, waking me to gaze
silently out the window. But I cannot see
the stars tonight; Orion’s belt brightens
someone’s sky beyond the clouds, beyond
the glossy shell of New Haven’s bubble of light.
The dippers are out of reach, the dragon
has slowed his brutal tail, resting above
the horizon. But I see the constellations
of your face even as you sleep. Wishing
to rescue light from the galaxies you dream,
I trace the pattern of your eyelashes and
telescope into the nebula of your love.
Watching the documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop, I again considered the junction between permanence and artistic expression. The film which is about, among other things, street art, made me wonder about the image (or object), the artist, and about what happens to both when the image is done. Gone or preserved. Momentary, like the croak of a frog or lasting like the croak of a frog through the forest of time.
For a while now, Eric has been encouraging me to see the origami I make as more than just folded paper. I know origami is much more than folded paper; it’s ancient, expressive, precise, colorful, intricate, disciplined, beautiful, worrisome, elegant–both object and idea. My pieces mean a lot to me, and I save them. They’re made, crafted with skill (varying levels in my case). While I’m following a pattern, each piece is built with my choice of paper and pattern, creased by a few sensitive fingers that create mountains or valley folds, which become cranes, boxes, pinwheels, decahedrons, fish, turtles, and flowers. Eric thinks they’re amazing. What to do with them?
First, we thought of photography as a means to document and also preserve them. (I’ve also tried lacquer, but not so good). Then the photos become art too. Or do they? What about creating a new art form? How . . . maybe why? So far, I’ve come up with versigami–combining poems, shapes, and photography. It’s a work in progress. Here are some of my first efforts.
Poems “Accountability” (crane) and “Losing the Summer” (box) took shape when I printed the text onto the paper then folded it. New? Maybe.
As part of the process, I had to figure out how to get the text to anticipate the folds, not as easy as I thought it would be. More to the point, I had to start to see ahead to the folds. Where the words appeared on the paper was important. Without the dexterity of a good design program, this proved more complicated than my four-o’clock self really could handle. After a few print outs (and font fun), I could find a balance between words and no words. My poems are more permanent to me in print–for this project I want typed words, not handwritten ones.
There was also the matter of what the actual poem says. I want the words to mean what they mean as a stand alone poem, but also in this new manifestation of versigami. “Losing the Summer” worked well because it’s about, well, loss–the missing pieces. I liked that as a visual theme as much as a written one.
I would like to experiment more with shape, text, process, and finality.
Amy Nawrocki was on summer break from her freshman year at Sarah Lawrence College in June of 1992 . . . [Read more
Origins. Versigami, transience, permanence, folded and unfolded. “Such a thing is not /
“Such a thing is not / a deformity, but a bud.”
Here is an invitation to the books you are about to order: “Book Club” appears in Four Blue Eggs, which is now conveniently available directly from me. Find the “Buy Now” on the “Purchase Signed Copies” menu tab. Pull up a chair, grab a cup of tea, and make your purchase (through PayPal) today. I’ll be happy to personalize messages and get your copy to your mailbox asap.
In the months before my father died
he joined a half-dozen mail-order book clubs.
The hard backs with their sturdy resolve
arrived week after week
as his own pages dissolved in vinegar.
After, the packages clogged the front step,
waiting for idle new eyeglasses, waiting
for a heart, bruised and bypassed,
to decipher conquests and romances,
to find that it was not unlike others—
full of the blood that would betray it.
I pull up to the long driveway
and find, rubber-banded to the post,
this month’s arrival—The Oxford
Companion to World Mythology.
Instead of scribbling cancel
on the invoice, I crack the spine
in order to breathe in the crisp pages,
to decipher the stories that will have to fill
the spaces where my own heart failed.
As always, you can also buy unsigned copies and e-books through Homebound Publications. Add a couple other titles to your cart while you’re at it.
Here’s a poem that appeared in Reconnaissance, published by Homebound Publications in 2015.
A good snapshot stops a moment from running away. ~Eudora Welty
The dilemma is not
about choosing between
architecture or faces,
panorama or close-up,
indirect light or flash
the print’s future frame
and the quiet immobility
of reflection—of just sitting
and being, not worrying
about whether any of this
will be preserved digitally
and remembered in twelve
or thirteen years. Chances are,
tomorrow I will struggle
with recreating the bird
swaggering near my feet. Maybe
in some somnambulant day dream,
I’ll re-see these tiny
daisy-like weeds and hear
the passersby crunch gravel
under lazy sneakers. I might
be able to gather pieces
of foil and flattened cigarettes
from a mind cluttered
with fading poppies
and the leaves of a tree
I cannot name
blowing in a breeze.
It would be easier
if I didn’t love
every single pigeon, this one
with his spooky eyes and orange beak—
a single brushstroke
of white and teal beneath his neck,
and if the fence’s shadow
wasn’t so dappled and transient,
if acorns would stop falling
mid-distance between dawn
and dusk, long enough
to preserve their posts
in my mind. If forgoing
the shot and closing my eyes
would be enough to argue against
some future self
who will be too old or sad
or something worse
to remember this.
Check out these other great titles from Homebound Publications including new fiction by L.M. Browning and Eric D. Lehman, poetry by Andrew Jarvis and James Scott Smith, illustrated children’s literature by Elizabeth Slayton, and nonfiction by David K. Leff. Add Four Blue Eggs and Wildness: Voices of the Sacred Landscape to your book bag and you’ll be set (for a while)! Support independent publishers and writers who want to make a difference in the world. Save 20% and receive free shipping on orders over $35.00 with coupon code: SUMMERREADING20.
Babci’s recipe, mom’s hands, Amy’s poems.
I eat the bread with raisins and some butter
remembering how I first learned to knead it.
My mother’s hands would shape the bread
in careful mounds, the counter floured
in a dusting, light as graying memory.
I mix the dough with raisins and some sugar
moving the moist glob with my hands.
She’d warn me not to knead too gently,
her hands would show me how the bread
should give and tug, like elastic,
then surrender; let the yeast begin
to tease the bread with flavor and some nurture.
Standing in the kitchen, the light streams in;
the heat takes over with deft precision,
my mother’s hands would ease the bread
into awaited sleep. She tells me now
to let it sit, give it time, watch it rise.
I eat the bread with raisins and some butter.
I long to see her hands rising in my own.
~published in Potato Eaters, Finishing Line Press, 2008
The Beauty of Faces
We hold tightfisted to the beauty of faces
because photographs have no sound
unless we tap into the orchestra behind them,
try to hear the family’s voices piped
and whistling the day they were recorded
as we can only imagine how glaciers
moving in and out of the landscape
create sound spacious enough to crack
the horizon. So, too, the hiss and spit
of the northern lights must be dreamed
because our ears are inefficient
as old telegraph wires.
So the house
on South Colony Street carries
children’s laughter up the front stairway
sloping toward the kitchen
where Josephine’s peeled oranges hum
like music from the Victorola
filling the heart with remembrance and history,
pulling toward a place called home.
~published in Four Blue Eggs, Homebound Publications, 2014