Gloss; Overtime; Dawn
By: Syd Shaw
The house shines as if new-born,
delivered by the sky. Once, you fell
over each word; now you nod off
on the sofa, reciting the groceries,
welcome a life of matching towels and tablecloths.
The house on the hillside was once his father’s;
now pastorals and florals hang on the walls
to ground you. No plants grow in the rocky yard.
Washing your husband’s mother’s fine china,
hands red and slick with suds,
you find comfort is not the same as sustenance.
That night the future strains
against the cottage walls,
threatening to throw the dishes down
and stir the curtains into uprising.
For months you dust the clock
each morning; you wane
like the moon. Home
is a concept you wrestle from the earth
and tame like fresh herbs on the windowsill.
Each day you dress up and scrub clean
for dinner, filling yourself and the kitchen
with hopes and dish soap.
You have harvested deeply and the soil
is barren. Put on some music and scour
the kitchen, hang the wedding portraits
from when you shone like new silverware.
You are stretched on the bar floor
howling like I never heard you cry,
viciously and vicariously alive.
Each time I cheer the Bears I become the ball,
ungainly and absorbing force
as if it were my purpose. As if my suffering
could contort enough to contain us,
improbable geometry like broken fingers wrapped around a ball.
You preach violence with pride; bent-knee, broke-skull,
and the dreamers’ club of could’ve-gone-pro holds court on the sticky countertop,
the only sort of group therapy you’ll ever bear.
I’m begging the tune of the battered wife again.
You berate me for speaking
during the game
and the hurt compounds,
passes between us,
echoes after each touchdown.
We build a microcosm on two ripped barstools
and a thousand miles away,
they keep playing football.
Tonight you stumble home
smelling of wormwood and bitter victory,
recite the names of players in your sleep like rosary.
I hold my breath for a good season; a warm one
where the Bears win
the snow stops
and for one night we can rest.
A child hides
under a pine tree
goosebumps and breath rising
in the air. A white-tailed deer
picks across the lawn
rump matted with dried blood.
She tucks the hem of her pajamas
into her snow boots, huddled
in the silence of morning.
The house is stifling with his presence;
she considers cupping a handful of snow
against the bruises, packs the snowball
and lets it burst on the hard ground,
decides it is better to stay warm.
The lights come on all at once.
She stirs on sleeping legs and stumbles,
watches him cautiously through the window.
In his domain his hands are steady, eyes
on the countertop, his coffee,
the coat left by the door.
He places his cup on the end table,
still sideways and covered in broken glass.
Tonight he’ll call the police
as usual, report her as runaway.
For now he leaves a bowl of froot loops
on the counter, washes his hands,
turns up the heat, waits. Soon brutal cold
will bring her back to the cramped kitchen,
dripping snow and snot and apologies.
Today she stalks among the deer, defiant,
scanning the treeline for danger
as prey animals must.
Syd Shaw studied poetry at Northwestern University. She has previously been published in Snapdragon Journal, The Nearness Project, Eclectica Magazine, Panoply Zine, and The London Reader. She is currently a reader for Voyage YA and Passengers Journal. Her passions include witchcraft, 80s pop music, and running. She lives in California.
Interview with the Poet:
Cathexis Northwest Press:
How long have you been writing poetry?
I’ve been writing poetry since I was a kid; I won a limerick contest in grade school and it was the highlight of my career.
Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry?
I really loved Edgar Allen Poe as a teenager, I was pretty morbid. I didn’t really start reading contemporary poetry until I got to college, so “Annabelle Lee” was the beginning for me.
Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems?
Louise Gluck, Ocean Vuong, and Tracy Smith are a few that I always come back to. Right now I’m reading a lot of small journals and the poems that stick with me aren't the ones you would expect. I love finding hidden gems in online lit journals, stumbling upon the kinds of poems I wish I’d written.
Can you share for us a little bit about your writing process? Any specific rituals that get you in the zone?
I’m trying to be more conscious and deliberate about my process lately, instead of just writing whenever the inspiration strikes. I don’t have a strong ritual around it, but I try to write for a little bit each day and see what comes out of it.
How do you decide the form for your poems? Do you start writing with a form in mind, or do you let the poem tell you what it will look like as you go?
I’ll start with a form sometimes, as a challenge to myself, but I think the poems usually end up finding their own form. I’ve written sonnets and other formal poems before, but it often feels like I’m sacrificing content for form-- and that’s a sign for me to break out of it. If I did have to choose a favorite form, I do love pantoums.
Any advice for poets who have yet to find their voice?
Keep writing, and keep reading poets you admire. Obviously don't plagiarize, but I think it is helpful to do poems “in the style of” well-known poets as an exercise to practice manipulating voice. Practicing writing in any voice will give you the tools to shape one, and eventually help find yours. My other bit of advice would be to workshops when you can, even if it's just you and your friends. I think being in writing workshops has improved my poetry more than anything else.
What is your editing process like?
I write things on paper, put them away for a while, and then type them up. I don’t have much of a solid process each time; sometimes poems come out fully formed and other times I write them chunk by chunk and stare at them for a while. “Dawn” was one of the trickiest for me, I spent about six months messing with that poem until it finally felt right. I’m trying right now to have a more conscious process, because for a long time I just wrote when inspiration hit, but blocking off time to write has gone a long way in helping me create more often.
When do you know that a poem is finished?
This is my biggest weakness; I don't, really. When it feels mostly formed I’ll send it out, but I’m always tinkering with them. I think there are a lot of poems that have been published “incomplete” for me, because even after they go out there I keep messing with them and finding ways to improve.