Breech; Poem from the 59th Street Subway
This is what I’m made of—stars,
and a stumble of first lines
with requests to begin again.
Like a child holding a pencil,
my story began on a night
that stretched beyond the stars
into the next galaxy—
the one God
hasn’t found a name for yet.
Beginnings are good. Each one
has its own theme song.
And to each I bring what I got
from the others, that after a storm
the sand sparkles with colored glass—
deep blues, and greens
as neon as the kelp leaves that wave
to you from their watery forest.
Call them treasures,
call them detritus, either way
you can turn them
into jewelry and sell them
on the internet.
I don’t know what my parents said
the night they held each other
close and made me, only
that I was pushed into the world butt first
on a frigid December morning
and have been doing things backwards
ever since. A ball rolling uphill,
a nimbostratus cloud
over the desert, trying to hold
all its rain, trying to keep sand
from becoming the sea.
Poem from the 59th Street Subway
I believe Canada geese have the right idea
when they creep forward on the lawn at dawn
tasting newborn grasses; if a falling moon
hits you with a beam, you might bleed
quiet light. My boyfriend’s eyes get shifty
Monday mornings, rise on an updraft
and fly west. His socks tell me things his lips
wouldn’t dare. My socks won’t talk
at all, not since the day my mother left me
in a crowd at Saks. I saw her stepping on
the down escalator, her silk scarf covering
those blonde curls. I still dream of her
in the makeshift life I’ve found
with the community of lost—
her mocha-colored eyes beneath dark lashes,
how her hand felt when she let me go.
Isabelle Walker is a writer and teacher based in Santa Barbara, California. After 18 years of newspaper writing, she enrolled in Antioch University Los Angeles’s MFA in Creative Writing program. Isabelle’s work has appeared in The Tishman Review, Western Art & Architecture, The Santa Barbara Independent, The Ventura County Star, among other publications. One of her poems received first prize in the Seven Hills Review’s 2018 Literary and Penumbra Poetry Contest. Isabelle teaches writing to high school boys serving commitments in a juvenile detention facility where she is also a substitute teacher.
"I began writing poetry as a sophomore at UC Berkeley. But my creative impulses shifted to theater arts by the time I was a junior, when I dropped out to pursue acting. I began writing poems again in 2008, right after my marriage ended. Poetry was the perfect outlet at a time when I was literally reinventing myself, and grieving the loss of a dream. I was so lucky to find a great therapist who was also a poet. (Actually the former Poet Laureate of Santa Barbara, Perie Longo.) After each session, she sent me home with a handful of poems to tape to my kitchen and bathroom cabinets, as well as some prompts. But it was years before I liked anything I wrote.
A year or so ago, I came across the following quote from the poet Robin Coste Lewis.
The world wants to know what I’m made of. I’m trying to find a way to answer her.
I loved this quote. I loved its challenge to summon one’s essence, one’s strength, and then offer to the world as an answer. Right away I began writing, but nothing remotely interesting came to me, so I forgot about it. But a year later, working on a totally unrelated prompt, I wrote the first stanza to Breech. I think my unconscious was hard at work on the Lewis quote the whole time, while I was busy with other things.
I don’t have a single process for writing poems, or writing anything. I have a folder full of prompts, and when I go to write, I flip through it and wait for something to speak to me. Or, I pull out something old that never came together. Sometimes ideas bubble up, and ask to be written. These are the gifts. I also enjoy going to museums and writing poems in response to art. Sometimes, you have to walk through a gallery slowly, looking at each work, until you get to something that speaks directly to you. Maybe it’s a memory, a suppressed longing, a tug of empathy, . . and you start from there. "