Grief; Magnolia; The Modern Temperament
By: Emily Kingery
It didn’t have teeth, at first,
and I held nothing in my palms
to feed it in the yard. A breeze
twisted my mother’s hair
as she stood pinning sheets
to the line. I knew the soft
tuck of hair behind my ears,
the reach for hard candies
to quiet me. The voice with
feathers, words that carried
like a bell. In spring, her ashes
were ready to spread. Spring
when I felt it come alive, this
thing of muscle and instinct.
I thought too late to hasten
home on its back, to bury
my hands in its mane. I saw
the trees had been felled
years ago, and my father was
selling the house. The animal
reared, as if hearing a pistol.
I heard only the swing
of a bell with no tongue.
I’ve been jealous of trees
blooming in your view:
the saucer magnolia
from the front window
when we were children,
when my blinds opened
to the sticky rot of fruit,
the sidewalk a palate
for crushed skin and
flies all summer while
luxury fell to the lawn
for you. That blushing,
brazen elegance, goblets
full out before any leaves
could hold them, or
hide them. From what,
only you know. I crept
to the buds I could reach
in early spring: fat, silver
pouches, furred like seals
or house mice
that couldn’t run
from my hands or
squeal, say spare me
before I drove my nail
in deep, felt the soft push
against my thumb,
the rush of a secret
death mere weeks
before you noticed
fewer blooms that year,
less perfume snaking
in the breeze to you.
Your breath grows
short these days
absent the lungfuls
I stole from you,
the buds I dropped
like waste, like
vermin shaken out
from a trap.
The Modern Temperament
after Francesca Woodman
On American mornings, modern women
wear the rumpled oxford shirts of men
and drink coffee from stolen mugs.
They use mattresses without any frames
or headboards, centered on living room floors
at unorthodox angles. The coils rupture.
They are piled with rumpled drop cloths,
souring towels, all the whites of invocation.
Modern women don’t smell the sweat, need
or remember how to run a vacuum. They eat
crust from oily boxes and moan when they
chew, flush with primitive meaning.
Where modern women resign to rooms
with men, there are hard, friendless chairs
orphaned by tables. Always there
are white doors, their frames to employ.
It is known modern women can’t feel blood
in their fingers, gripping tight the edges
like heroes in film. In America, men hang
in easy crucifix shapes. They grow bored,
shove over their chairs to help
the women try it. Say: Here is my shirt.
Hand me the camera. See in the exposure
how you cannot resemble a savior.
Emily Kingery is an Associate Professor of English at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa, where she teaches courses in literature, writing, and linguistics. Her work appears or is forthcoming in multiple literary journals, including Burningword Literary Journal, Eastern Iowa Review, Gingerbread House, High Shelf Press, New South, PROEM, Prometheus Dreaming, Quercus, and Telepoem Booth, and she has been a Pushcart Prize nominee. She serves on the Board of Directors at the Midwest Writing Center, a non-profit organization that supports writers in the Quad Cities community.
Interview with the Poet:
Cathexis Northwest Press: How long have you been writing poetry?
I think I started as soon as I could write at all. I remember in second grade we were introduced in school to poets like Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky. I loved their humor and precision and started to imitate them—mostly poems about how much I loved flowers or chicken nuggets, that kind of thing. But I still love in the poetry I read today much of what I loved in the poetry I read when I was little, and I’m thankful my teachers were so responsive and encouraging to me (special shout-out to Mrs. Clason, the first person to call me a poet). CNP: Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry?
Not exactly, but I do remember the in-love feeling in my first poetry course in college. Until then, I had thought only formal poetry was “real” poetry (I suppose I thought of free verse as too “anything goes”—really, I was probably just unsure what to do with it). I don’t remember anymore what prompted it, but my professor lent me Olena Kalytiak Davis’s And Her Soul Out of Nothing, and I drank it up. It was the first full book of poetry I’d ever encountered that sparked something in me I didn’t recognize, but wanted to know better. CNP: Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems?
So many! A few stand-outs I’ve spent time with recently are Mary Oliver, Tony Hoagland, Nick Flynn, Ada Limón, and Kiki Petrosino. I also adore Kathleen McGookey’s prose poems. These are all contemporary poets, but when I think of specific poems I love, I’m often drawn to older ones—poems by the British Romantics, or Gerard Manley Hopkins, or Rainer Maria Rilke. One all-time favorite poem is “Sunday Morning” by Wallace Stevens. It stuns me every time I go back to it. CNP: Can you share for us a little bit about your writing process? Any specific rituals that get you in
I do a lot—I mean a lot—of daydreaming. Nothing beats a good upstairs window with a view to some trees. The actual composition process is mostly associative, like walking down a long hallway and opening doors to see what’s there. Where does this image lead? Okay, where next? I try to wander until I land on something startling or a little bit “off”—an image or phrase or uncomfortable memory—and then I see what I can make of it. CNP: 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?
That’s a tough question. Sometimes I start with form—deciding, for example, to write in couplets when the look of them seems to match the feeling or idea I’m working with or to help the poem unfold at the right pace. But I usually don’t prioritize form as much as I do structure-- how to work up to, or away from, or around that image or whatever it is that sparks the idea for the poem in the first place. CNP: Any advice for poets who have yet to find their voice?
I sometimes think the way we talk about “finding a voice” makes it sound like a writer’s voice is hidden or lost, waiting to be discovered in some eureka moment, and once it’s found, there you have it. But I think it’s more about growing your voice than finding it, which means you have to put in the work of helping it grow. Write as much as you can, and stay open to possibilities in revision—that’s where the magic happens. And find a good reader or two you can trust. They will tell you what your voice sounds like outside of your own head. CNP: What is your editing process like?
Well, I start with the intention to put everything on the page, then go back through to cut, rearrange, and fine-tune, in that order, but it rarely goes as neatly as that. I usually end up revising a lot as I go, from big-picture revisions to line edits. It gets messy. Sometimes I copy the whole draft onto a new page so I can play around with a couple versions at once. Sometimes I get too wrapped up in the piece to see it clearly, so I stop and come back to it later—maybe in an hour, maybe in a few months.
CNP: When do you know that a poem is finished?
These may not be his exact words, but a mentor of mine once said to “beware the high of completion.” It feels awesome to finish a draft, right? But that doesn’t mean the poem is really “finished.” It’s a slippery word that depends a lot on intuition, I suppose, but I like to work on a poem until it feels like there’s nothing more to do, then put it away and come back to it when it’s not rattling in my mind anymore. When I read it again, I ask myself if I’d be willing to hand it over to someone right this minute or if I need more time to decide. That’s how I know. (And I usually need a little more time to decide.)