PUT A PIN IN YOUR COY; MOON GATE; ALL FOR HIS
By: Katherine Gaffney
PUT A PIN IN YOUR COY
Plum blushed to see you, dear. Just a moment,
while I tease out my tuft of dainty and weep
my waist into place. I’ve got a dish of dawn
gone numb braising in the oven that will time
out as perfect for a quick fork in the sheets.
Yeah, been in a terrible drought of greed lately
can feel my body ready for some. Some what?
you ask. Put a pin in your coy, we’ve got work
to do and it’s not the sort of uninvolved distance
of slow brews, it’s like twisting hot candy or
removing a wasp’s nest bare handed. Afterwards,
we can sit in bed and I’ll let you braid a hoop
of coriander and sage into my hair, a humble
crown and until it falls out you will call me king.
Really what I’m saying is fork wisely. I mean
there should be an honesty to the braid for if it falls
to the floor with one curtsy I’ll be the emperor
in new clothes and then you’d place a mild coat
over my shoulders and then where would be? Eating
our braised dawn hot out of the oven so our mouths
burn with greed? That’s only romantic in film,
in reality it leaves cuss words on untasting tongues.
I’m calling to request construction,
an installation in the coming months.
I have a pea in the pod, I’ve watched
the rabbit die, I’m in the pudding club,
eating for two. I’ve swallowed
the moon, and soon my lunar body
will no longer obey thresholds, doorways, vestibules,
however you want to put it.
I want not to feel a rocket
threading a needle’s eye, a fat rat
collapsing itself to enter a hole
in weathered brick. Such feats of space
and passage are already penned down
in my fate and, for now, I’d like to feel
a Great White in the sea, a normal-sized me
in a first-class train compartment.
These are my reasons, now for the shape
—a moon gate, with all its wisdom and mythologies
to caress my ballooning frame, for guests not to question
my double body. My body doubled
in size and number. A frame that suits me
now and when my body’s achievement can toddle
by my side through the gaping gate
I will tell her of its construction,
how much power she held even before
she’d touch this world. I will call her Helen,
though that will not be her name and she
will never respond to it, but I will know she
moved stones and men before they saw her face.
ALL FOR HIS
He doesn’t go far from bed,
just to work, where he sleep
-talks ice bags and unshelled
shrimp. I about fell out when
he asked me to pass the boiling
pot, check out back to see
the cows are fat and sassy.
I about believed him, but
the drapes shivered in the summer
night and I knew better. I am
to know better, it’s my crisis,
perpetually sewing seams back
closed, praising my way
to the shed’s cracked foundation,
turned hive for brown mice.
I do so for his dishy face,
buttery and unstressed in sleep,
whose lines I author then,
draw question marks on
his eyelids, thank you’s
behind his ears, dot sugar
crystals on his lips so he
wakes licking a sweet smile
from his face, like a dog’s
musty yawn. It’s all I can do
to orbit around this bed of ours,
but because it’s part of my code,
daughter, sister, daughter,
sister, wife. It’s devotion
to learning. He now
never fully cooks my penne
and I am sure to buy pulpless
juice. He silences the hall
candle before joining me for sleep.
Mornings, I blanket him again
as he’s kicked them, sheets and all,
to the bed’s foot—all for his escape,
not of me or this house, but
whatever it is we all want
to get away from on occasion.
My waltz, my orbit, when
one night, maybe, I’ll go out
back and pat those black
and white hides he keeps
singing about in his sleep.
Katherine recently finished her MFA at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her work has previously appeared and is forthcoming in jubilat, Rabbit Catastrophe, Nimrod International Journal of Prose and Poetry, Kettle Blue Review, Meridian, the Tampa Review, and elsewhere.
Interview with the Poet:
Cathexis Northwest Press:
How long have you been writing poetry?
I have been writing poetry more or less seriously (whatever that means) since I was about 15 years old. My family went through a really difficult period and I found writing helped me through it. I wasn’t writing poetry specifically, or really any genre, I was just letting my mind wander, which is where I think the healing came in — I found I was able to transcend my context. I had a great mentor in high school, Dr. Michael Bassett, and then was lucky enough to work with William Logan and Michael Hofmann in during my undergraduate program at the University of Florida. It is thanks to those mentors that I started and haven’t stopped writing.
Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry?
Gosh, that is a hard one. The poet oddly enough would be Dorothy Parker — I had to memorize “One Perfect Rose” for a poetry recitation competition when I just started getting into poetry. I admire her humor, the sardonic tension she is able to create in a tight space. I think Parker also challenged my conception of what a poem could do — she broke rules and expectations and I wanted to explore that more. However, I don’t really see Parker informing my current work — in terms of what might be more in line with my work’s aesthetic, I would have to say that “Morning Song” was also an early poem that set my jaw dropping. I still circle back to the opening line “Love set you going like a fat gold watch” often when I am struggling in my own work.
Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems?
Favorite anything’s are so difficult! For work, I recently did a favorite movie ice breaker and it felt like choosing a favorite child — I would say my favorite comedy is Blues Brothers, my favorite musical is The Sound of Music, and I then would say I love It’s a Wonderful Life, but that’s my favorite Christmas movie. To circle back to poets and poems, my favorites change so much and I think we need different poets in our lives for different occasions and different life stages. One poem I circle back to is “Poetry” by Marianne Moore and another would be “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop — both fairly classic, but I find I get more and more out of each poem with each rereading. But truly my favorite poems and poets change all the time as I continue to read and there are so many wonderful contemporary poets creating poems that are juicy and crunchy and just make me excited to go off and write.
Can you share for us a little bit about your writing process? Any specific rituals that get you in the zone?
I write best in the morning, especially if I can get up before the sun rises - something about the world being incredibly still entices me. I feel like I have stolen time or the quiet is a candy I have just found that I left in my pocket a great while back and am lucky enough to have the sweetness as I write.
Coffee is essential, quiet, but being around my animals (I have two dogs and a cat) is pretty important to me too — something about the way they communicate nonverbally helps to me to find words, it gives me the energy of interaction without the clutter of verbal communication. Before I write, I read. I read poetry in the morning generally and novels at night - unless I am really hooked on the novel then it might sneak into my morning routine. Ramona Ausubel’s No One is Here Except All of Us is one of those novels that crept into my morning routine. I also do not press too hard, if I get a couple of lines wonderful, if I keep writing for two hours fantastic as well, but I do not try to rate the quality of my writing based on how much time I spend, I take each as important days in the long-term scheme of the writing process.
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?
Form is something I am very attentive to, I am a very visual person, but I would not say I am very experimental about it. I let the language tell me where to break and then also let the form dictate the language — it is a bit of a symbiotic relationship between form and language. Form dictates pace, so considering the emotional gravity of the piece or the tone of an image will help me find the poem’s form and shape as well.
Any advice for poets who have yet to find their voice?
Read, read, read, read. When I was younger and trying to find my voice I just wanted to write it all out and while I did read it was secondary to my writing — now I think I am quite the opposite. I read a lot, old, new, classic, experimental. Your local library is your friend and if they do not have contemporary poetry, request they buy some, libraries truly want to hear from you about what you want to read. I also find reading fiction and nonfiction is important too. Getting a sense of what is out there in poetry is vital to writing poetry, but I think hearing other voices and cadences that are not just contemporary poetry is also essential. Also, reading truth can create odd moments of inspiration for a poem — whether it is how sheep give birth or the history of pepper. And for further truth, I believe I am still working to find my voice, my tenor — it is changing all the time and so reading constantly to keep up is really essential.
What is your editing process like?
I was told early on to be ready to put your poems in a drawer and abandon them for a while. After initially writing, I might fiddle for a few days, but I am also always prepared to put it away and try to forget about the poem for a bit so that I can return to it with fresh eyes.
However, too much editing, another mentor told me, can be the death of a poem. I am not sure I have found an algorithm, but there are poems I will take a chance on and try to get them out into the world without too much editing. In striving for beauty (or ugliness) we can be our worst enemy, so letting poems breathe and not be overly manicured can be key, but that is a sense you will have to develop for yourself.
When do you know that a poem is finished?
This question is very much in conversation with my response to the previous question, where sometimes it takes putting it away and reading it again after a while to get a new vantage point on the piece. With others I have to take a chance on it being rawer.
Where that impulse comes from I think is a matter of getting to know your own poems as their own little creatures that you have to feed and water and learn where they love their pets — whether that’s on their chest or behind their ears. The other piece of advice that has always stayed with me was from one of my undergraduate mentors Michael Hofmann who passed on the advice that if a poem is like a drawing of a circle, you don’t want your pencil to just meet the start of your line, you want it to go a bit past that starting point.