Cathexis Northwest Press
Lemons; The Flying Glass Gazebo; Siphonophorae
By: Christopher Hewitt
If lead paint chips poison the soil
in the backyard a smoke-blue ten-foot wall encloses—
scraps of plywood topped with curlicues
of razor wire—the lemon tree
surges no less like some unmeltable fuse.
Branches—so tightly knotted the leaves stay
stiff in a breeze—bloom and fruit all year.
Fleshy petals break on the thumb; each loose silk style
uplifts a stigma, the better to powder
with pollen. Too queer for the produce aisle,
turgid or tentacled windfalls bomb
the concrete, soften to mold or toughen to jerky,
save for the ones we tenants squeeze in the kitchen where
a rainbow magnet flags the fridge.
Lemons both endure and produce: they bear
the acid we mix with sugar and ice.
On a glasstop table the pitcher sweats citrines
that slide like us to the night when fairy lights entwine
the lemon crown with tinted bulbs.
The sinner builds a church, the queen a shrine,
and even after the thunderstorm,
when a beam supporting half of the tree snaps,
sweeping the ground with flaccid wood, and when a leaf
turned over exposes citrus whiteflies, lunar
dandruff, the trunk falls not as in grief
for severed, infested limbs but bursts
into fragrant shoots, each lined with two inch thorns.
One day within this fortress appears a hummingbird’s nest— a
teacup woven from wisps of thistle,
floss, tinsel, and down from her own breast.
The Flying Glass Gazebo
Although a thunderclap
rattles the glass gazebo, we’d rather fly
a craft in equal measure transparent and sensitive.
We’d rather keep a nimble clip
through sleet that laminates the columns; rather strive for
a higher altitude and a deeper sky,
hoping we never slip.
However thin the air
we breathe may be, however harsh the blaze
below the dome at noon, the structure we see straight through
to ozone flowing everywhere
echoes a world that grants no destined route, no slew
of angels skiing down a cloud, no praise
aside from what we spare.
Mist whorls in and out,
condensing on the floor to dew, and once
a flock of Canada geese, to rest their migrating V,
commandeered the gazebo, loud
as car horns in a jam, then left in a sweep. Our view
fades in stratus: chill white voids that rinse
our eyes, renew our doubt.
Below us patchwork farms
resemble a puzzle whose unassertive pieces
never align just right. Neighborhoods follow roads
in rigid grids or else conform
to the land, curving as in a fingerprint, then crowd
into a city, a concrete scab that eases
by evening to glitter. Firm
as ice or air we roam
at sunset through rolling hills of cumuli
stained every shade of flame, till the moonglaze silvers lakes
and rivers. Stars upon the dome
sparkle like soda, and when at last a tornado breaks
the gazebo, we say goodnight and occupy
a much more spacious room.
Having met at the game show podium
and won an everlasting
glow stick that lights the ancient subway tunnel, we
emerge on a baseball
diamond, stadium spotlights beaming,
where the batter slugs into left field not
a baseball, as we learn
when you dive-catch a gecko stuck in amber.
While placing it in the glove
compartment I pull out the atlas
and spread open a map where highways
veining the nation lead us
to the beach. No sooner do we rub sunscreen
on each other than the life-
guard megaphones a warning to run
from a swarm of tiger sharks with wings,
so we skip to the graveyard
where a clown sips a Big Gulp while leaning
on a stone cherub that gazes
through lichens like grey-green cataracts,
and why the empty stroller on the curb?
Just as we kiss, our souls leave
and join the helium balloons two ladies stuff
in the car above the cake,
whack-a-moling pink and purple orbs
til they shove us in and shut the door.
Don’t you like their Toyota
taillight as the headpiece for your violet wig?
Almost said violent. After all
it was plucked hair by hair from my head.
Wear it when they scatter us at sea.
Soon we’ll drift as man-o-war
zooids, sharing our blue lung and varicose mane,
passive but deadly, barely
abstracted from our medium.
Christopher Hewitt is a poet and educator. Originally from Dallas, Texas, he holds graduate degrees from Stanford and Cornell, where he currently teaches. His work has appeared in 32 Poems, Riprap, and Porter House Review, and has been nominated for Best New Poets.
Interview with the Poet:
Cathexis Northwest Press:
How long have you been writing poetry?
Ten years or so, with varying degrees of earnestness. I’d say my current, more focused writing
practice is about five years old.
Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry?
Hard to distinguish a single poem, but there were a few poems around the same time, when I was eighteen, that made me realize how words can be pretty cool. One poem was “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and another was my friend’s poem.
Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems?
Like most writers I love a whole bunch of writers, but I’m always reading James Merrill and
Elizabeth Bishop. As far as favorite poems, I tend to enjoy formal poems when I feel uncertain about my future and chaotic poems when I feel more certain about my future. That means I tend to prefer formal poems.
Can you share for us a little bit about your writing process? Any specific rituals that get you in the zone?
Usually I just watch what’s happening around me, collect images that move me, and arrange these images into poems. Sometimes I have a specific subject in mind, like a memory, a bird, a rock, a body of water. I’m a sucker for anything I find beautiful. I think my poems are often just about watching how things change, what happens next. It’s both ridiculously mundane and endlessly exciting. No single event ever happens more than once. If you’re not paying attention, you’ll miss it.
Rituals for getting in the zone… None, honestly. I just sit down with my laptop and type.
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?
Depends on the poem! For poems like “Lemons” and “The Flying Glass Gazebo” I usually collect images and words in loose phrases, consolidate them into a long block of prose, then cut the first several lines until I find an interesting stanza or shape. Once I find that form, the rest of the writing is just letting the poem grow into its body. Then there’s a lot of rewriting and tinkering until the words feel riveted in place.
Pieces like “Siphonophorae” come from a more amorphous process. Basically I gather all the images and things I’ve been noticing or imagining and then stitch them together in a kind of collage. It’s more intuitive and spontaneous.
Any advice for poets who have yet to find their voice?
I’m not sure if I’ve found my own voice, if it matters, or if a voice is something worth pursuing consciously. Most people I know don’t seem to think about their actual speaking voices much more than they think about the veins in their wrists. In my own experience I’ve just tried to let myself love what I love, love what I write, and to trust my instincts and intelligence, for what they're worth, to lead me toward a sound that’s my own. I profit most by just thinking about the nuts and bolts of the language and how to make them beautiful or evocative as I fit them together.
What is your editing process like?
Neverending! Once I settle on a general shape, I smooth or trim the rough spots, then let the poem sit for a while, maybe a month or longer, then read it with fresh eyes. Usually that results in considerable rearranging if not complete rewriting. It’s a wonder that any poems ever leave my private files.
When do you know that a poem is finished?
Sometimes I feel something click in place, so that when I read the poem, it seems to convey its experience with a certain coherence, a life of its own, a miraculous order that fills me with an intensely serene relief. That feeling feels like completion, though it’s temporary and often illusory. Usually I just say “That’s all, folks,” and move on. There’s always a better poem waiting to be written.