Poem Without Glasses On; Mother; Majestic Congress
By: Kate Kearns
Poem Without Glasses On
These words are stand-ins
for themselves, imprecise
letters made from muscle
memory, like a meal
with too much gravy, blended.
The far-sought world
is mottled, close as a pillow, edgeless
and faded like the dream,
unfinished, of a train station,
which in dream lore is a goal,
but felt like celestial navigation.
Wherever my glasses are,
they’re refracting nothing. Could
get up, could go find them,
but in this blur, hairy legs,
the motley lawn, unmowed,
are gone. Hungry cats, too.
Clean laundry not yet folded
arches beside me like a body on
my husband’s side of the bed.
Too easy, waking blind,
to fabricate him there.
I’m starting to lose what I woke up
to say. Were they on my face,
the lenses would push the sun,
its beam, through the window ‘til
it burned the page like a leaf.
Even so, dapple breaks the sill
like an atheist’s gratitude—
unfocused, open, spreading
all over, every which way
the unabashed light takes it.
Pummeled her bedroom door with open hands—
closed the door behind her and beat and beat,
must’ve wailed, must have splintered her palms,
kept striking ‘til the nails bent within some essential latch.
Didn’t know how doors were made but knew this one
wouldn’t open again. She couldn’t get out. One small
misfortune, one more ash-light setback atop all
the others, exactly what none of us remembers,
split her. My sister and I laid little in our beds,
waited for whatever this was to pass. We couldn’t
grant her a private fury, couldn’t let this fade with
the good days memory dismissed. She must have
quieted, must’ve called, soothing, through the walls.
Someone came, must’ve come, some honorary aunt,
a god with hand tools, to pry loose the mangled
hardware, to lift away her door from its hinges.
Begin in light and cross into prickly spruce shade.
It isn’t raining but has rained.
There’s the resinous smell of a book
seasoned with many readings, each page
a ruin, bound wild.
Resist meaning, a human projection.
Remember we too
sprouted from the sea—first moss, ferns, trees,
then others to need us.
The living are their own creators,
their own afterlives. Remember there’s each other’s breath to breathe.
Begin in light. Light
breathed through leaves, their thousand mouths,
becomes sugar. Sugar pushes fiber into fiber
through the heartwood center.
Linger on minutiae.
Remember to branch down into the mantle for every inch of height. Listen,
there is no death, only a shift in being.
The underworld is alive
and rowdy with messages.
Fungus—an ugly word—tangles itself
into roots, all of them for miles,
and spirits the trick of a straight trunk
from parent to sapling,
warns the collective to turn bitter when beetles bite and,
keeping some for itself, carries sweet water
to the elders who,
when they fall, do not stop living.
Kate Kearns is a Maine poet with an MFA from Lesley University. Her chapbook, How to Love an Introvert, is available at Finishing Line Press. She’s circulating a full-length manuscript, whose contents have appeared or are forthcoming in Salamander, Maine Sunday Telegram, Northern New England Review, Sugar House Review, Literary Mama and other print and online journals. Learn more about her work at www.katekearns.com.
Interview with the Poet:
Cathexis Northwest Press:
How long have you been writing poetry?
I’ve written poems since high school. I was lucky to go to a high school that offered a creative writing workshop, and I caught the writing bug there. Nothing like teenaged emotional selfishness to get you writing, then a poetry workshop to force you to listen. That class was an early exposure to revising and developing an awareness of the reader’s perspective. I went into college and grad school knowing I wanted to stay in the poetry world, and was blessed with phenomenal mentors and teachers who still influence me today.
Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry?
I’ve loved poetry since I read children’s poets in elementary school, but my first grown-up favorite is Elizabeth Bishop. I can’t remember a first poem, but that creamy coral collected volume, with her painting on the front, is the first poetry book I ever bought.
Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems?
I’ve been staring paralyzed at this question for too many minutes trying to choose a selection from all the names that flooded my mind. I try to read as widely as possible, and there are so many stellar poets out there. If I stop thinking and let my fingers do the talking for a minute: Marie Howe, Ocean Vuong, Ada Limon, Tracy K./Danez/Maggie Smith, Tommy Pico, Rio Cortez, Janet Sylvester, Lucille Clifton, May Sarton, Natalie Diaz, Li-Young Lee, Fernando Pessoa, Luiza Flynn-Goodlett—I’ll stop there even though I could go on.
Can you share for us a little bit about your writing process? Any specific rituals that get you in the zone?
Reading poetry always gets that part of my brain warmed up. I don’t necessarily need quiet, but I do need a time and place in which no one needs my attention so I can listen to my brain uninterrupted. I have a young child, so if I’m particular about a writing ritual, I’ll never do any writing.
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 don’t usually start with a form in mind. A poem goes through a few hand-written drafts before it starts to take on a shape. It’s a very intuitive process.
Any advice for poets who have yet to find their voice?
Read more than you write. Find an environment where you can spend time with other writers. If there’s a poet or poem you really respond to, it’s ok to imitate or respond to that work for practice. If you are going to try something new or make a change, do it because it intrigues you, not because someone else is imposing their style or preferences on your work.
What is your editing process like?
I write by hand for many drafts—small sections and the whole thing over and over. Every time I write the poem out, something is added, removed, refined. I read aloud as part of the revision process, too. For me, that’s how I identify any issues or possibilities in the syntax and cadence. If a line is flat, you can hear it better than you can see it.
When do you know that a poem is finished?
I think it’s less knowing when it’s finished and more knowing when to stop revising. There’s a balance between bringing out its best and making it sing, and over-revising it so that the original impulse gets the air kneaded out of it. If there’s too much control, the surprise can get squashed. Some poems don’t veer far from the original draft, and some change a great deal over a long time. Reading a lot of poetry helps you develop the instinct of what a finished poem feels like.