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Evocation

 

Reading "The Kiss Takes Confession" by Tess Gallagher, I always think of her late husband, Raymond Carver. It's like the way I read the last two books by Donald Hall that are full of Jane Kenyon. The poems slide between joy in their shared lives and the sadness of the illness that took them. But even the poems that are not overtly about Carver and Kenyon are caught up in my mind with them. This is, of course, my own defect - one I must share with other readers - brought on by knowing something/too much about the poet's life.

How do we separate the poet from the poem? Reading poets we have never heard of is one way. Chop the author's name off the poems is another approach I have seen used. Still, I love knowing who they are and how they lived and why they wrote what they wrote.

If I imagine Ray Carver, dying of lung cancer and being cared-for by Tess in their Port Townsend house, and her sitting down to write this poem, it helps me. Maybe she wrote it before he was ill, or before they met, or after he died, or about someone else. It doesn't matter to me. But it helps me to approach the poem.

I like the kiss personified in this poem - the one perched on his knee. Nice personification. So different from the examples I recall from school of the wind crying and freedom calling.

I was going to use another poem called I Stop Writing the Poem for this prompt and in that one Ray is right there too in that big empty shirt.

Evocation. A good word. Could you try to evoke someone you knew who is no longer living through some object you might come across in an ordinary day? Perhaps it was theirs once, but that might be too easy. Could you also try to personify this object in some way?

Tess Gallagher was born in Port Angeles, Washington, where she now lives. Her books of poetry include Moon Crossing Bridge and Amplitude: New and Selected Poems. She also co-authored two screenplays with her late husband, Raymond Carver, and wrote the introduction to A New Path to the Waterfall, Carver's last book of poems.


Alone, Grey Evening in October
Conjuring Ghosts

I.
Before I curl into the couch
with a weak cup of tea
I pick cornflower yellow
from the pile of afghans
my Nana has knit for me
since my grandfather¹s death.
Wrapped around me from behind,
it folds me in its arms, comforting,
in a way I doubt he ever held her.
After her girls were grown, she took up
knitting to calm her gnarled nerves, to forget
how he sometimes followed her
in a borrowed blue car when he
should have been at the factory.
He always kept her
from knitting in their Newark apartment,
saying the tickety click
of the needles interrupted
his newspaper reading or the TV.
It was just another small penance
she had to pay for having
once loved someone else.

II.
These things still remind me
of someone else I once loved:
wind chimes, porch swings, rain.
For years, I tried to hold him,
Like hands grasping at a river:
It was the wrong gesture.
I always had such thirsty lips.
When he finally left,
over a decade ago, I cried
out "The Last Poem" and then swore
I'd never write another
about him. In fact, I rarely
think of him now, but here I am
with the wind chimes and the rain
whispering his name,
the empty porch swing
swaying.

III.
Even after the adoption, the name change,
my mother¹s face must have been
a constant reminder to Pop.
She never looked like his
other daughters, and she smiled
more. For decades he swayed
between doubt and rage.
He once confessed to his priest
that he was put on earth
to crucify his wife for her sins.
But stalking the woman
he possessed (even if by circumstance)
was the wrong gesture too,
and ultimately, she survived him.

IV.
The truth is that his jealousy and suspicions
fueled her own secret thirst, summoning
memories of the love she couldn't keep.
She had long forgotten the unpaid bills,
the playing cards, the beer cans, even
the other women.
What she held onto was how his hands
had made even flowers more beautiful.
Ultimately, their love was fleeting,
he was fleeing the law, or his wife,
(or her?)
the story changes, but in the end, the fact
of my mother, with her ghost face,
remains.

V.
Shaking off ghosts,
I settle into the woolly afghan's embrace,
sip my sweet tea, and turn the page
of a favorite book. Home alone,
husband and lover long lost,
my Nana knits,
her needles singing out their tickety click.

L.A.C.


PRAIRIE ROCK CROSSING

It was at the bottom of the rock pile
Covered by soil and later arrivals
The smell of sweat and aches
Raise like a spirit from that heap
Old Philip was under it all
A support that all us family got.

Russian wheat and Deutsch
Sent west to replace a bison herd
With pointed steeple and iron cross
Thus Peter became the new rock
Where prairie stones descended
To anchor a family made manifest.

Glen Shorts


THE SPIRIT

My daughter wears her clothes
I don’t mind
A long skirt and peasant blouse
And smiles
So reminiscent of her aunt
Who died of cancer.
Her grandfather looks at her indulgently
She looks so good, he says,
Who gives her this sense of fashion?
Her aunt does, I feel like saying.
And your love for the daughter gone
And for the granddaughter who lives
So much like her.

Abha Iyengar


BEST FRIENDS

Do you remember, I ask, and hold her hand.
She doesn't answer, so I go on

Do you remember when we were wheeled in
prams to Central park? We were dressed in
little hats and coats and matching leggings
that zipped up the sides and those dark brown
woolen bloomers to keep our baby bottoms
warm.. And we played our little baby games
and in the park there were only nannies
pushing English carriages

Do you remember, I ask, and hold her hand.
She doesn't answer, so I go on.

Do you remember the first day of kindergarten?
We rode in separate taxis and when they stopped
for a red light they were so close we could reach
out and touch each other's hands right through
the windows. And that awful day the teacher held
up a pair of brown woolen bloomers in front of
the whole class and demanded, to whom do these
belong, and I looked at you and saw your eyes and
didn't say a thing.

Do you remember, I ask, and hold her hand.
She doesn't answer, so I go on.

Do you remember when we read comic
books we weren't supposed to read and
thought that youse rhymed with mouse and
sheriff was schreeff and that afternoon when
Hunter Model School burned down and we
hugged each other and danced around your
room until Nursie said shame shame girls, to
laugh at such a tragedy and we kept giggling
trying so hard to look sad.

Do you remember, I ask, and hold her hand.
She doesn't answer, so I go on.

Do you remember when your Grandma had
a bunch of guests to lunch and I said something
they thought very funny for a child to say, and
how they laughed and said, how clever, and what
lovely curls she has and didn't mention how much
much prettier you were than I and then you cried
because you had no curls so I found a pair of
scissors in your Grandma's dresser drawer and
gave you two of mine?

Do you remember, I ask, and hold her hand.
She doesn't answer, so I go on.

Do you remember when we decided to be sisters
and we had to prick our fingers and mix blood so
we sterilized a needle in the bathroom and when
I pricked my finger out came a bright red drop but
every time you started to do yours you stopped and
said, I can't I can't and I said okay I'll do it for you,
but you kept pulling back and anyway, by then
my blood was dry.

Do you remember, I ask, and hold her hand.
She doesn't answer, so I go on.

Do you remember that summer we spent at
your cousin's Vermont farm and grew lots of
vegetables and walked three miles to get an
ice cream cone even though the ice cream
made at home was better and how we smoked
straws behind the barn and coughed and how you
cut bangs for me and kept cutting and cutting
to make them even 'till I wound up with a
brush that stuck up on my head and I said
my mother will kill me and I'll make her
kill you too.

Do you remember, I ask, and hold her hand.
She doesn't answer, so I go on.

Do you remember when we were fifteen
and you got a jacket of a real fur and I
was mad because I didn't have one too
and you said, well, no one who wears a
a green plaid skirt and a blue striped blouse
together is ready for a fur coat and I said
what the hell do you know and left and went
home and vowed I'd never speak to you again
but when you called and said that you were
really sorry, I did.

Do you remember, I ask, and hold her hand.
She doesn't answer, so I go on.

Do you remember when you first saw my
engagement ring and cried and carried
on because you thought I was deserting
you, and even though I swore it wasn't
so and uttered platitudes like, that's life,
and, things change, and you said that's
the reason that I'm crying and the next
week you got yourself engaged to some
good looking jerk and stayed married
for one whole year.

Do you remember, I ask, and hold her hand
She doesn't answer, so I go on.

I won't even ask if you remember husbands
two and three because those idiots are best
forgotten, but sometimes I wonder if you can
recall how impossible you were to be with all
those years and how many angry tears you
shed and how you raged at the whole world
including me until it was impossible to be with
you and when I stayed away and didn't phone
you got even angrier.

Do you remember, I ask, and hold her hand.
She doesn't answer, so I go on.

Do you remember husband number four, the
guy you were afraid to marry because you'd
made too many bad mistakes before and how I
said this one is different, and you pointed out he
had a really awful temper and I pointed out that
so did you, and you said, hmm, I guess, and
then you married him.

Do you remember, I ask, and hold her hand.
She doesn't answer, so I go on.

Do you remember yesterday I took you for
a drive and bought us chocolate ice cream
cones and talked to you about the ones we
walked so many miles for in Vermont and
how we were so parched when we got back
we just had to have more ice cream and that
time it was the homemade kind and after
many licks we agreed it wasn't one bit better
though we knew it was.

Do you remember, I ask, and hold her hand.
She doesn't answer, so I go on.

Don't you remember husband number four?
This one who's here with you right now? The
one who's taking care of you. He doesn't lose
his temper any more but sometimes he cries
and so do I. We cry because you won't remember
us, not him, not me, not ever. We cry because
you're so completely lost to him, to me, lost even
to yourself. We cry because the you that's you
is dead and gone away from us, dead, although
we haven't buried you.

Do you remember, I ask, and hold her hand
but there will never be an answer.

Pat Regensburg


UNDER GLASS:
FEARS HER HORSE

Nothing reminds us of you now
and nothing remains but these:
a small stone adze
and a scrap of buckskin boot.
It is recorded only
that you sat near fires
but not that you felt the snow.
Your sandstone bowls are gone,
broken by the sun;
you have taken them with you
to an endless spring
beyond that far blue mesa.

Ron Lavalette


SELF WILL

at last i've come full circle in my life.
back to the angry child, impulsive
self-centered, manipulating,
with tunnel vision,
staring into that circle of nothingness they call insight.
it's been all about me,
sort of a self-serving odyssey.
maybe i'm being too harsh
with my self, one might say,
but greed does strange things
to an insecure man.
in the will left behind by
my late father, in a hurry
to get to the hell that surely awaited him,
he stated that his father's old twelve gauge shotgun,
with double hammer lock,
sitting now by the red-faced lawyer's desk
was to go to me, the fledgling poet, writer of sad songs.
Maybe i shall bend the barrel
around the first tree i come within a step of,
or lock it away in some dark closet forever.
or hold it lovingly in my hands and stare down
into the long slender dark tunnel someday and wait
for the sound they say you never hear.
did he?
but is that not the essence of life,
the test of a man's will,
for he alone to pass or fail?

Ray Cutshaw


THE RING

The ring and the placing of the ring-
symbolism we all accept, right?

The feeling when I slide my grandfather's ring
on to my own finger-
you won't believe.

Gold twisted in a rope braid
with a crown of two initials-
his, which my son shares.

Some joining, some circle, some bond
that no metal, even precious, could reproduce-
obviously.

Awaiting a time in a box of oak-
to be harvested by a golden sickle.

Ken Ronkowitz


 

EVEN THOUGH I KNOW YOU ARE DEAD

the back of your recliner in the corner
lines up with the family albums behind
so that two of them form your head
above the rest of you
apparently seated in your chair.
All I have to do is glance in that direction
and THERE YOU ARE.

Even though I know that you are dead,
I turn to your chair
every time some thought occurs to me
that I need to share - ,just like I used to do
mostly to get a rise out of you
(perhaps this time it will work)!

I will do anything,
- anything that I can do NOW -
to deny that you are no more
than the top of a recliner
and two albums mocking me
from the shadows.

Catherine M. LeGault


STITCHING

The pedal Singer sewing machine stands by the window.
It had long stopped producing skirts, pants, and dresses.
But with recipes from her Yiddish newspaper, grandma Jenny was still cooking
Passover dinner for twelve.
Quiet, small, dark haired — dull.
Arriving in America, sixteen, newlywed, and so beautiful, she told me, men
asked to marry my clearly pregnant Jenny.
Dull?
Jenny is long dead, but brought to mind by a white silk quilt.
Blue- bordered with a pale blue moon, sewn fifty years earlier for her
grandson and now passed to a great granddaughter.
Who was grandma Jenny — drudge, chef, femme fatal, lady in white silk,
craftswoman?

Ellen Kaplan


FOCUSED

Those flowers,
those damn fussy orchids
and pale gardenias
sweltering in the hothouse
that made his lens sweat and fog,
even after he wiped it dry with the very
expensive cloth the man in the camera store
who talked slower than those flowers grew
swore would do the trick,
those flowers mocked him as they blinked
the second he snapped the shot or was it a wink
in his direction, as if they knew how out of focus
he always was,
no matter how many times he steadied his hand
and aimed at his subject,
sensed his disappointment when in the finished product
he got the same fuzzy results
each and every time,
Saturday after Saturday mornings,
he’d show them who’s fuzzy
or die trying.

Susan Stewart


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