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This is a poem I've just written, which I plan to read at the open poetry reading at the Yellow Sofa in Northampton Tuesday, 1/20/09. The reading starts at 6:30 pm.

Read more... )


May. 27th, 2008 09:33 am
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  • I stayed with my younger brother and his family in Austin, and he took me out in a boat on Ladybird Lake, which I loved. We saw many large turtles gathered on the little sandy islands around the supports of one bridge, and he took me under the Congress Street bridge, famous for its millions of bats that appear at dusk. We were in early evening sunlight and didn't see any bats, but he cut the motor, and we could hear them squeaking invisibly overhead. Later, in Marfa, a bat circled above me a few times as I walked home from the Cinco de Mayo festival.

  • Calf kicking in the morning, running out the train window. Lots of sheep. An ostrich in amongst a herd of goats.

  • Antelope, including one with a newborn following at its heels. Mule deer. White tail deer.

  • When we were eating lunch at the house in Marfa, we heard a thud. A white winged dove had hit the window on the door, dropped to the porch, and was quickly no longer alive. I took care of the remains, but didn't realize until days later that it had left a white, smudged outline of itself on the glass, just like my forearm covered with sunblock had earlier.

  • At a viewing site in Fort Davis state park, a guy told us that the the birds were just dripping out of the trees, and he was right: Montezuma quail (a rustling in the grass), scarlet tanager, western tanager, woodpecker, sparrow, blue-headed grosbeak. More than I could begin to list, and I only know the names of most of these because a rapt and informed person on the bench next to my mother told her a few. She couldn't really hear the whispers, but I kind of could.

  • So many hummingbirds.

  • Also, vultures. Soaring and feasting, both.

  • Coming down from the star party at the MacDonald Observatory, on a twisty, night mountain road, we saw three low, grey shapes: javelinas running across the road.

  • There were tiny frogs hanging onto the side of the motel walls under the door lights in Fort Davis, watching all the insects drawn by the light. Also, on the ground, a lizard.

  • In Lajitas, a weird ghost town ghost resort (which my dad couldn't recognize from the 1950s), we stopped at a really nice environmental center. Going up the low steps, my dad disturbed a huge, red coach whip snake, three feet long, that went rippling along right where I was about to step with something in its mouth and disappeared into the sand. It was huge! It was close! It was fast! Its mouth was full! The fact that I was so impressed with this snake was considered by my folks to be an indication of how long I've lived in the east.

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I guess that the major celebration is 28 miles away in Alpine, the town with the big grocery store, the Amtrak station and Sul Ross University, but on Sunday afternoon, May 4th, Marfa had a Cinco de Mayo festival, sponsored by the Rotary Club, on the lawn of the grand, peach courthouse. I walked down for it, and it was pretty great. There were tons of kids running around breaking dyed eggs filled with confetti over their friends' heads: cascarones. I bought three: I put my thumb through the tissue paper on one before I understood what they were; one broke in my pocket when I sat on the ground, and the third made it back to the house nestled safely in my cleavage. When a dad broke one on his son's head, confetti blew all over me, which was lovely. I also saw them being broken, gently, on what seemed to be flirtatiously chosen heads.

There were tables full of women playing lotteria, chicken bingo, a pinata, tamales from a cooler, a dj, Mexican Cokes (long neck bottles, more sugar). There were hipsters, one with a poodle with a pink and blue dye job on its puffs of hair, and also a goat. I got a frito pie, for which, to benefit the local high school scholarship fund, a snack sized bag of fritos was ripped open along the side, wolf brand chili (no beans) was ladled from a crock pot over the fritos, cheese was added, plenty of jalepenos, and then I got handed a fork and a napkin to eat it out of the bag. They were going to reenact a battle and also show a movie, but, after a few hours, my knee was stiffening up and I felt sated, so went home.
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When I was in Marfa, I also saw mesmerizing sculptures by Donald Judd at the Chinati Foundation. If you follow the link (and I hope you do -- it's is a write up with pictures from a tour guide of the whole morning tour I took), scroll down to get to some beautiful photos of the aluminum boxes in the airplane hangar (especially, I think, the two detail photos of boxes) -- they were unforgettable.

When I'd seen images of Donald Judd's work before, or heard a little bit about it, it had seemed kind of cerebral and cold to me, but the aluminum boxes in the airplane hangar and barracks were unforgettable, and anything but cold. The site is an old military base, and the hangar had been, among other things, a workplace for German POWs during World World II: there were still warnings written in German on the wall. The walls are now windows, and the rows of glimmering, mediative, silvery boxes are in conversation with the grasses blowing outside, the mountains in the distances, concrete Judd sculptures out in the field, the other barracks, and, on the morning I was there, a small herd of pronghorn antelope that came up to graze right at the windows. The boxes stretch in long rows, and they make depths and shapes and angles with the intense west Texas sunlight. The play between light, surface and landscape feels something like a conversation (or maybe at places a dance), but also very much outside the realm of words. As the people in the tour began to move among the boxes, they made faint reflections on the surfaces, and so a subdued image of a pair of legs in jeans, or the full bodies people moving slowly down the rows, looking, became part of the piece, too. There was one short stretch in the second barracks, with a far, flat-topped, blue mountain framed between two boxes, and, then, from one of them, the light pouring through in a low, concentrated triangular shape that seemed like the stuff of haloes in old paintings, or just pure thought, or, more what it was, clear light that had been drawn in in a way that let me look right at it, and and I had been let in to do that. It was like that deep, beautiful, open concentration that sometimes comes in meditation or intense work or extreme feeling or prayer. I could have stood there all day.
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Two women, both very young. One fat and Latina, getting on the train; one skinny, butchish and white, with a hoop in her lip, bringing all the luggage. As we waited by the tracks in the dark after the train was announced five minutes away (two hours late). The thin woman was all over her friend, whispering and hugging, while the other one, much more reserved, tried not to give anything away. I heard the thin woman say, "I couldn't have peed faster if I were a boy." There was a palpable thrill in her voice as she said "boy," and she grinned at me after she said it.

Before they came, I was waiting outside on a bench in warm wind. Local cabdrivers seemed to hang out there having their supper inside the station with Jared from the ticket counter, watching tapes of old roasts of Bob Hope and Ronald Reagan on a tv high on the wall. I saw three people wait for the last minute to run across the tracks in front of a freight train. When I got up and walked around a little, I could see, down an abrupt hill, a lit window view from the backside of a building of people doing martial arts. In another window, a man piled up long foam tubes in a pool while a woman and a little girl swam in the water around him. I called my brother in Colorado, who was driving, and told him about what I could see in the windows, and he said, "Edward Hopper for the twenty first century."

I told him that the train had been due in at seven pm (it was almost nine), and that I wouldn't be to Alpine until 1:30 the next afternoon. He said, "Remember, this is the very same train that newlywed Elizabeth Taylor was on in Giant when she said to Rock Hudson, 'We've been traveling so long, when are we going to get to your ranch?' and he says, 'Honey, we've been on my ranch for the last two days!'" My brother said that every train ride was a narrative, and he wanted to hear the middle and the end of this one.
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Praise for the fat old ladies.
Praise our bristles.
Praise our groaning in the morning
as we negotiate our nightgowns,
appliances and pills.

Praise the unquenchable carnality
of our coughs, full of moist depths,
and the way our mouths hang open
and our faces converge in gatherings
of ineffectual concentration
as we give another round of dominoes
our (impure? because, after all,
competititive and human) best thoughts.

We lose, of course, but play again.
The nightgown tears on the seam above the breast,
but we wear it, still, unmended,
while young women make big curls
in their hair with juice cans,
the results glossy and time-consuming,
as if the war were never over and
victory gardens were all lucky girls might sow.

Lake Buchanan, TX 2006

Speed LJ

Sep. 24th, 2005 09:47 am
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Am I constitutionally capable of doing this quickly?

  1. The reading filled me with energy. I read after Sally, who is writing a series of funny, wrenching pieces about her father's intense illness, and if I hadn't known that I had to read, I would have been crying. Almost was, anyway. It felt so good to get a piece of the new novel out in the air, and to get response back that let me know that people were getting it.

  2. I made a lasagna (from scratch! with all of the vegetables from my love's garden! started the sauce the day before!), pulled it out of the oven all beautiful and bubbling and golden in its big glass pan and set it on the stove, went into the bedroom to change -- it was half an hour before I was getting picked up for the reading. I was naked when I heard the explosion, ran into the kitchen, and the pan (which I had set on a hot burner), had literally exploded. There were shards of glass everywhere, and the lasagna itself was still burning and sinking down through the burner. I reached from my mop handle -- glass stuck to the handle with tomato sauce. Looked down -- hunks of glass in my onions in the hanging basket. Much glass in the stove, lasagna starting to drip down the front of the over. Glass all over the vacuum, all over the floor, tiny cuts in my hands when I touched a surface. Eeeek. Didn't get it cleaned up until after midnight, but eventually did. Luckily, Sally had tons of salad and shrimp and Janet brought bean salad, so Toni and Janet from Philadelphia -- and the rest of us -- were fed.

  3. I have a beautiful new, bright red, three wheel bike, with a huge white basket in the back and pedal brakes. It's an early birthday present -- I'm turning forty-five on October 17 -- since I was totally shaky getting on and off my old bike (and just got a minor but scary bite from a lunging dog when I rode by.) It is miraculous. I rode all the way to Florence yesterday. I can bring home heavy bags of catfood from the store, no problem. It makes me feel adventurous.

  4. My parents cut down the desert willow in front of their house that my grandmother always loved because it was old and they were worried about it causing damage in winds from Hurricane Rita. They say it needed to be cut down anyway. It's such a small thing in the context of so much loss. My grandmother would sit on the couch in the living room in front of the enormous window and look over the porch at the tree, and down the lane, to see whose truck or car was going by on the road.
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1) You're a really great writer! How'd you get that way? How do you navigate combining identity politics with fiction writing?
Thank you. I've always been wildly ambitious for very specific things -- to write things that are unbearably beautiful in a nuanced, recognizable way, and to write things that linger and sing and matter to the people who read them. So, I want it, want it, want it. That's one thing.

Also, I have an older brother who is this terrific painter, so there was (and is) someone in my family who was an artist. That helped me see the kind of work it takes and to kind of scrape off some of the romantic glow, although I still romanticize the New York publishing world sometimes. I'm getting more and more over that as times goes on, though. So that has been good for practical information (for instance he told me about a six week artists residency in Banff that I went to when I was 19), and also for someone I know and trust to bounce things off.

I was in a writers' group for many years -- the Valley Lesbian Writers Group. Some of us published each other's chapbooks, we gave readings and produced readings for groups from other towns, raised money together to fund our projects, met every Tuesday night in eight week sessions to critique work. So important to me, so sustaining, to have serious, committed peer relationships, and I still meet every Wednesday with another writer who I met in the group -- think I've been meeting and exchanging work with her for fifteen years.

And then there's poetry in the bathroom -- reading poetry a lot and often and going back to poems, especially old, dense poems. There's nothing like it for keeping me awake to language. And also, just trying to tend towards writing, to make the best choice I can see to support my writing, at any given moment. To push and give up things to have time to work, and then use it as patiently and relentlessly as you can stand.

Identity politics and art -- oh, that's so hard. I mean, I remember a specific moment in the mid-eighties or so when I realized that I wanted to write about fat, about being fat, that that was full of danger and risk and things literally aching to be articulated for me, things that I was terrified of and drawn towards in equal measure -- really simple stuff, like trying to describe my own body, and running up against so many limitations in language about that. And I was meeting politically-aware fat, queer women for the first time -- I had just moved to Boston from Colorado -- so I felt as if there were going to be some folks who would want to read this work if I could do it -- it gave me a sense of urgency. Lots of gifts in those ways -- including, eventually and still, publishers for my novels from the women's press movement. At the same time, I just want to be read, to have these stories be acknowledged as human stories, of real value to a wide range of folks. Having to deal with narrow expectations and endless looping stereotypes about what my work is supposed to be or mean sometimes feels like trying to eat brick -- not sustaining, not easy on the teeth and gums. I have to keep pushing myself to negotiate these tensions with all of the grace and honor I can muster in any given moment, and it's worth it. But hard.

2) You live in Western Mass, right? How'd you end up there? What are the pros and cons of living where you do?
Yeah, I live in Northampton. I ended up here because of the twists and turns of my long, precious, private relationship.

I love it here. The pros are that I can stroll downtown and see the Triplets of Belleville like I did tonight (yay!). There are so many people I love here. There is a cemetery with 18th century graves across the street from me, and the Holyoke range are these stunning hills that stretch out along the horizon in a way that opens my heart. I like the Connecticut River a lot, too -- lots of available beauty. I do okay without car here, and live pretty cheaply (knock on wood.)
I have access to cities like NYC and Boston, and there is so much more happening here all of the time than there was in Littleton, the suburb of Denver where I grew up. When I got fat hate mail because of an article that I'd been invited to write for the Springfield paper, all I did was walk down the street, telling the people who asked me how I was what had just happened, and a few of the folks I ran into on that one walk (plus some of my beloved friends) formed a working committee that organized a speak-out against fat hatred, at a time when I was kind of reeling from it all. My town -- and lots of folks beyond it -- came through for me when I really needed it.

Cons include a kind of New England insularity or stiffness that can get wearing at times. Things can start feeling narrow or smug. I think fat girls are in general less widely appreciated here than we are in the west. I've sometimes envied the Bay area for energy and the seeming ability to generate really productive communities. Folks who move here from big cities often miss a lot of beautiful food or find people here unfriendly, unwelcoming. If I'm annoyed with someone, the odds are pretty good that I'll run into them. I want to swim regularly, and there's not a swimming pool that I have access to and can get to without a car.

3) What's your story of fleeing Texas?
Oh, I didn't flee. I was born in Amarillo, but left with my family when I was six months old. We moved to Wichita, then Denver. My grandparents lived in Texas, and we went to see them every summer. My brothers both spent the whole summer with my grandparents every year, helping work a very small ranch. My parents live there now, so I'm connected to Texas in lots of ways, but not really from there.

4) What do you do to make yourself focus on your work?
It helps me if I can go to a physical space away from other distractions -- no phone, no email. Sometimes I do some stretches, a few other starting rituals -- although those can get too long and be a distraction in itself. Reading something incredible makes me want to write. Reading stuff I had been working on the day before brings me back there -- gets harder as more time goes by. Don't do it so much any more because my arm aches when I type now, but I used to start sometimes with pages of lavish and specific praise for my own work -- it was pure encouragement, and it also helped me see just what I most wanted to do by that which thrilled me the most when I told myself that I was already doing it. Just starting and keeping going -- even if what comes out at first is unsatisfying -- that's a good one.

5) What kind of shoes do you like to wear?
Since I started having arthritis in my ankles and knees, I only wear one kind of shoes: black SAS walking shoes. Lots of padding on the soles, and they fit. I miss sandals. When I was a kid, my mother had two pairs of shoes that I remember with awe: clogs with white leather straps and polished wooden soles that at eight inches high: they made a thunderous noise against a hard floor, and changed the perspective of the wearer. Also, glittery orange stilettoes, with gloves to match.

Jette's rules:

1 - Leave a comment, saying you want to be interviewed.
2 - I will respond; I'll ask you five questions.
3 - You'll update your journal with my five questions, and your five answers.
4 - You'll include this explanation.
5 - You'll ask other people five questions when they want to be interviewed.


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May 2009



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