Cathexis Northwest Press
SNAKE; WHAT'S LOST; A FATHER IS ONLY AS GOOD AS THE TREEHOUSE HE NEVER BUILDS
By: D. Dina Friedman
No one believed my brother when he saw the black one writhing its evil in the grass.
This was before hallucinations, before the copperhead sunbathing on the dirt road.
Our neighbor, the environmentalist, told us to run it over. Twice, to make sure.
Poisonous glint of gold flattened to a splotch on the road Death shine like moonshine. Life
throws curves. A metal coil warned us at the start of the Rocky Mountain trail. Rattler so lifelike, we almost turned back.
My brother limps through a maze of corridors, reversing course at the locked exits. On bad days, he might still see snakes.
“Did you know it’s a slang word for penis? We’re not supposed to talk about that.” He babbles about Adam’s rib,
Eve’s disobedience. “But I’m not sexist. And I can still have children. I’m capable.”
What have I learned from snakes? If you don’t like your skin, molt. Swallow the rat slowly.
Digest. Regurgitate. Break down into manageable parts.
You’re always falling down subway steps though you never break
a tangible bone. The damage, like dirt in the grout
of the tiled walls, invisible. There’s a man by the turnstile, sleeping in his own vomit.
You never see his eyes, only the hot dog pieces still pink in the yellow slime,
the smell hurling off the pillow the neck you didn’t break
in subconscious cascade. What’s lost? Freud says these dreams are sexual. He says that about everything
that matters: the frantic careen down flights of dirty stairs to search for something
or somewhere more symbolically sunny, slide of heel, stub of toe
suddenly stopping the trajectory. Your fall is never a splat, just a moment of forsaken balance.
Bones float off your body like Ezekiel’s vision, reversed. Gravity exerting its evil
over boneless bodies suspended before folding
like that wet newspaper crushed under boot headlines bleeding into the tread.
“A FATHER IS ONLY AS GOOD AS THE TREEHOUSE HE
(after “Tree House,” by Nick Miriello)
If he had built it, you might have locked yourself in, invited him for manly things—coffee, booze, frothy brews from tribes with second sight that leave residue on the philtrum, invoking visions, tigers clawing the bark that holds your home in its skin, the days he rocked you, cheek against cheek, hollow hum in your baby ear. He might have taken you hunting, but he’s never had a gun. Instead, he offers to buy books on Amazon. “I’ll read them first and pass them on.” We can drink the words together. He drops the hammer. You begin to wonder when you’ll be left, lonely in the unfinished frame tiger pacing through the 2 by 4’s, winds howling through the half-hung door.
D. Dina Friedman has published fiction and poetry in many literary journals and received two Pushcart Prize nominations for poetry and fiction. She is the author of two YA novels, Escaping Into the Night (Simon and Schuster) and Playing Dad’s Song (Farrar Straus Giroux) and one chapbook of poetry, Wolf in the Suitcase (Finishing Line Press). http://www.ddinafriedman.com.
Interview with the poet: Cathexis Northwest Press: How long have you been writing poetry?
D. Dina Friedman:
I think I started writing poetry when I was around 8, and I was pretty serious about it as early as high school. I met my husband at an open poetry reading in Greenwich Village when I was 21. So, since I’m “old,” now, it’s been a very long and lovely journey.
CNP: Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry? DF: There wasn’t really a particular poem, but I saw very early the potential of poetry as a means of exploration, both external and internal, as well as a playground to experiment with the sounds and rhythms of words. CNP: Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems? DF: Whoa, another hard question, because there are so many poems and poets that I love! I find myself particularly drawn to the poems of Pablo Neruda, Martin Espada, Carolyn Forché that address social justice (though I love nearly all of the Neruda poems I’ve read including those that aren’t political). I also like the playfulness of poets that lean toward the absurd like Charles Simic, Zachary Schomberg, and Russell Edson; and the confessional gut-punching work of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. And I love the way poets like Mary Ruefle and William Stafford use imagery to meld the inner world with the outer natural world.
CNP: Can you share for us a little bit about your writing process? Any specific rituals that get you in the zone? DF: I am a pretty disciplined writer and try to do some extended writing for at least 5 days in a 7-day week. Sometimes I’m working on longer fiction or creative non-fiction pieces, and that takes over my process. For poetry, I love working with prompts, or responding to lines of poetry from other poets. My first draft is usually a total dump of my subconscious, and from there I see if I have anything to build a poem around. Often, there’s nothing, but other times I’m surprised by the way dissociations of my disordered mind can build on each other. Then it’s a process of separating the wheat from the chaff. I tend to revisit a poem I’m working on every day for a while, adding and subtracting content, then listening for rhythms and sound repetitions until I have something I’m relatively satisfied with. Then, I might put it away for a while to revisit later, or decide that it’s finished. The process could take days or weeks or months. Many attempts get abandoned, others I continue to noodle with until I feel ready to send them out, though often I’ll look at a poem again at that point and revise it more. As for rituals, I usually like to do something mindless but time-contained to relieve the stress of having to “produce something” every time I sit down to write. Lately, that’s been Spanish drills on Duolingo. And my cup of strong black tea is essential. And I like to write in the morning, before my mind gets too full of the day’s detritus. 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? DF: I almost never start writing with a form in mind, and I often play with a lot of different forms as I revise. Reading my poems out loud helps guide me in how I want to set them out on the page, because to the extent possible, I want other people to read them the way I hear them.
CNP: Any advice for poets who have yet to find their voice? DF: Trust the surprises in your subconscious and don’t try to “sound poetic.” Strive to tell the truth and be as authentic as possible. Listen for language and read your poems out loud over and over.