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Meditation in an emergency

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Meditation in an Emergency
Wendy Noonan
A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the
requirements for the degree of
Master of Fine Arts
Creative Writing
Thesis Committee:
Michele Glazer, Chair
Primus St. John
Tracy Dillon
Portland State University
UMI Number: 1482577
All rights reserved
The quality of this reproduction is dependent upon the quality of the copy submitted.
In the unlikely event that the author did not send a complete manuscript
and there are missing pages, these will be noted. Also, if material had to be removed,
a note will indicate the deletion.
UMI 1482577
Copyright 2010 by ProQuest LLC.
All rights reserved. This edition of the work is protected against
unauthorized copying under Title 17, United States Code.
ProQuest LLC
789 East Eisenhower Parkway
P.O. Box 1346
Ann Arbor, MI 48106-1346
A poem should embody contradictions; it should give form to what
can’t be described in prose. In the fast-paced, stressful world of
contemporary America, poetry allows a person a moment in the day to be
silent, to sit with thoughts and feelings that might otherwise simmer under
the surface, without voice. Poetry must be a gift given to a reader, an
offering, and a successful poem is one in which a reader can take and make
her own.
In Meditation In An Emergency, it is my aim to put words to dilemmas
suffered by mothers. A mother places her child’s wellbeing above all else,
even, at times, her own body. Of course, to nurture others, one must find
the time to nurture oneself, and this is a conundrum in today’s economy.
There is not enough literature to support mothers in their darker hours, and
poetry can give voice to feelings of incompetence, guilt, frustration, and a
love that sometimes feels impossible to utter. Poetry should operate as
singing voices at a wake—a last resort to a grief we must bear witness to
before moving on.
Table of Contents
Loom, Luminous—3
Halloween Breakup—5
Ode to a Four Year Old—6
Single Mother—7
Season of Regeneration…..10
Season of Regeneration—11
Beautiful Kim—12
New Baby—13
Indecision in my backyard—14
Astonished Cowboy—15
When I peel the fruit—16
Forgive me, but Please—18
Tomoko ate Fish—19
Star-nosed Mole—20
What they didn’t tell me when I signed up—21
In that trunk she keeps many pieces—22
Shacking up—23
Season of Regeneration—24
Vow of Silence—25
Season of Regeneration—26
The Short Story of Difficult Habitats…..28
Meditation in an Emergency—29
Transit Tracker—30
Special Diseases—31
Season of Regeneration IV—32
Snare of Snares, my sisters—36
Difficult Habitats, Noir—38
Lay it Down, Girl—39
Grow old together—40
The Slug—42
The short story of difficult habitats—43
Poor Woman Home Birth—44
Terminal References—45
Together now,
each tucked into
the other’s shroud,
and you smile
—elephant, crane—
as if lion weren’t
one hot breath away
from this place.
Leopard and Yak
are as close as bedfellows
now, but Giraffe’s eyes
are looking off
to the side….Hippo
has no tusks.
His pinpricked eyes,
if they were
any bigger, might
say too much.
Loom, Luminous
There’s the platter of meats laid out for our guests;
wine, deviled-egg sandwiches; and the open field,
scrubby and littered, under the fire escape
where the kids go to smoke; there’s the broken down
Toppys furniture truck in that field, and the old men
walking up Mississippi smelling like cigars and fifty years
of dumb hope. There’s Bruce in his blue leisure suit, waving,
the horizon no longer far away: Mother toiling
with the family room— walker in a corner,
a rack of coats that go back sixty years.
For once, the mucked repetitions of home
don’t loom like no-end streets, nor does the riff
of the beating heart, ahem, ahem.
Our guests sit at small plastic tables eating the food
we’ve laid out for them, their conversation,
the dog barking next door I’ve set my life against.
Grandma’s in the bathroom rolling up her sleeves –
the rag in her hand, her husband in an urn
no longer yelling for her.
Look - there’s me, there's me.
Halloween Breakup
I should not have made the costume out of yarn,
should not have wired the wings to my chest
after flipping a tripped breaker, and finding the room
still dark. Then I didn't wear my red minidress,
some dummy left it in charge,—
so it was, the woman sloshing whiskey on her son
dressed as a sack of missing parts.
Those deep Southeast rednecks crashed the party—
they drank too much, sang too much, their bouts
of laughter scattering the girls they wanted to love.
I put Miles in a coatroom, tried to pass that torpid bird-eye
as part of the original. Who was biting heads off bottle-caps?
Holding shell to ear not listening for waves?
Heart, you troglodyte in skintight leather—
when you said goodbye, I couldn’t find a cave
to lay my head for forty days.
Ode to a Four Year Old
Your voice pitched an octave above sanity and
like my wallet dropped in a puddle in East Skidmore—
there’s no way I’m going back now.
Your filthy knotted hair, the thing in my chest that worries;
will you grow into a happy moron that knows where to find love?
Your boyhood, your obsessive peddling of death
by-fire-by-torture-by-limbs-skewered every toy
a Lazarus and you're a tenacious full-time mystic
shrieking in a park under arms of a great oak
because you don't know how long an hour is.
1. Monsters
2. Other mothers with glasses & baggy sweaters
3. Your boogers
4. Sour milk gummy teeth
5. Darth Vadar
From the top bunk you complain imperiously about my lack
of pajamas.
Single Mother
A Siamese twin would rather die than see
his monster brother severed.
If his arm gets cut, he doesn’t know
if it’s his or his
confused pain receptors.
Is it one body or two?
Definition of the verb confuse: to mingle
so that it becomes
impossible to distinguish the elements.
I have been told nature is brilliant.
That is why
he is so beautiful, his big eyes
and fatty thighs protect him
from me.
This subject is so—
When he’s crying, I dangle him
out the open window
so that everyone will hear that pure shrill
that in cartoons breaks glass.
My neighbors leave food outside the apartment door:
jars of soup, cooked berries.
Whenever Mother calls I choke up,
too proud to move back home,
but she could come, I ask
and she tells me she could never come,
not even for a Grandson.
I feel my face
glaring out at the world,
This morning, he lets me sleep five hours
in a row, amazing how the sky
gapes at us from the window.
I jimmy the bolt.
A piece of me has migrated.
And who will give it back?
Season of Regeneration
- 10 -
Season of regeneration II
Rocks shaped by the chafing river.
Like the discriminating eye
sifts through—culling the view.
Let go of a snake and it will wait for you
in a hole, Mother said. Better to kill it
by bashing its head against a rock. I make
the waiting snake a sleet god, call it Fortune.
When fortune sheds her scales, the diamonds
are unrecognizable, and we begin anew.
- 11 -
Beautiful Kim
She is beautiful like
the belled sleeves
of a very ugly woman
priest who walks from
her cabin to the outhouse
naked, shouting curses
to the hedgehogs and will
dedicate entire afternoons
to the study of plant mold.
I say plant mold but
it doesn’t matter what,
so long as her obsession
weaves its way in
to the daily habits
as supplication.
The scar where her
left breast was is
touched by the sun,
rain & wind & now
when she looks in
the mirror she has
something better
to confess her
lies to.
- 12 -
New Baby
The stitches in my belly have healed,
leaving a deep red line. I do not
understand the women who rub oil
to make the scar disappear. But still
it is hard to be empty. Now your voice
in the house is strands of cocoon
gripping a leaf. Grandmother said
too much water washes the spirit
away. But you are a baby. You can't be
washed away. When you sleep, tucked
into my elbow, fingers reaching for
the interesting air, snow piles on branches
and cars like spreading mold, the beauty of it,
the possibility something might cave without witness.
- 13 -
Indecision in my backyard
For a long time I wondered if I'd done the right thing.
I could have kept you; I could have put ribbons in your hair.
But all I can see is what I need to fix: fed up with repairs,
I bury you eternally.
Osiris, Muscle of the underworld, weighed the Egyptian's hearts
against feathers, to see who got to pass to through the veil
and enter anew.
How small the feather must have looked in the pan of the scales.
I would have asked he grant me the quill of a buzzard!
- 14 -
Astonished Cowboy
For Moe Malmo: 1914-2008
Since sepsis turned his blood to resin, Grandpa’s grown soulful.
Thank you, he now says to the women of the house,
and falls into pursuits on the commode for hours.
I’ve never done this before, he confides, watching my son
play in the tub, holding on, that body of his too old to heal
infection, so when she didn’t notice the toe
it became like a man in a dark room, repeating a word
over and over until the word grew talons.
I’d heard mean people won’t die because they don’t sow
their insides with self-doubt. While Grandma
changes the gauze he holds a pretend fork, mimes
eating food off a plate: fresh meat, peas from the vine,
but he won’t eat the real thing, and when she dumps
his roast duck in a doggy bowl, she’s punishing him for dying.
The same mouth that cursed his name those fifty years he never
said I love you curses him still.
He waits for her to turn away, and begins to tenderly
unwind the bandages, exposing that bitten fruit left to rot.
- 15 -
When I peel the fruit
I can’t help myself I get
the salt. Jekyll didn’t want
to eat the apple; Hekyll made
him. Strapped him up
to a machine. This always
makes me hungry. Bits of
skin stay on like an imprecise
man who’s just shaved. The
mouth is my favorite opening.
Next would have to be
the body, the way it opens
in rooms that allow it
to, the way it opens
improbably. With
a paring knife, I
knick the surface.
- 16 -
The impulse to reach for you, to grope
towards what needs me doesn’t come easy.
I can’t help but imagine you as taxidermy—
your head on my wall as I smoke cigars
in a red dinner jacket. The sour musk
of your scalp, your chest’s resilience
to what I throw at you aspires to my
eventual upending. And then you keep
coming back. I could push you off a cliff
and you’d come back, smiling through the rose
in your teeth. You’d say, talk about it.
The voice in question is unnervingly soft
butI can’t reason with planks of flesh.
I like to look you in the eye when you’re
satisfied like any beast in the wood. I like to
look you in the eye and think I’ve tamed it.
- 17 -
Forgive me, but Please
There is a kind of thief
who makes invisible the stolen item
and makes nothing
from scratch.
Forgive my tongue
that knows its job.
Your friends in the frozen river won't talk, and I’ve decided
to give them names—nutria, otter,
— are the closest I can get.
Your sweetness,
a delicate pelt sewn with tongues in the ear
of someone else’s longing:
I don't want back what you took from me when I sing.
But I still wouldn’t mind a bit of your malice
to fasten about my waist.
- 18 -
Tomoko ate fish
-After W. Eugene Smith’s photograph, Tomoko in her bath
When I wash my daughter,
it is simple
with my hand at the base
of her back.
She does not thrash against it,
but fixes her eyes
on light that cracks through
the high, square window.
With her breath she guides my hand
where she wants it to go.
Your economy of habit –
a roof, a morning bus,
a moth to carry letters
to your last best love
is nothing like surrender.
A body wrung through
childbirth surrenders.
And what bleeds into the river
stays inconspicuous
as we to what erodes us.
Why do you pity my daughter?
She would not know
torment. Only humans feel a thing
then say it was stolen from us.
- 19 -
Star-nosed Mole
Most emotion
when spoken
but the kind
that goes
into unqualified
fierce description
- 20 -
What they didn’t mention when I signed up
A butcher drives by a field, its flock of sheep,
thinks scrag, chump chops, and also sees them
stunningly, complicit creatures nuggling the green
grass in their scared, sheepish clot. At dawn, he’s
smelled a smell so foul it sticks on his tongue, tasting him.
Up to his elbows in pluck, he watches the slender leg stiffen
on its way to mutton. Trying to mother these days
and the Devil courts me, writes his many names
in my journal, my mirror, my mornings filled
with hanging smoke, remorse like swarms
of Hitchcock’s birds. The child learns
by watching and there he makes his home
—of the many human languages, hundreds of words
for love, which one is collecting flies on a block?
- 21 -
In that trunk she keeps many pieces
-for Kim
In the autumn cold chewing bone
for such a long time, silence
after geese cross
hangs like buckshot.
When she walks away
she does not miss
the faithful coyote,
the one who never hesitates
to steal should she ask
or need.
He doesn’t die. He is a God.
He steals for her
even when she calls him cur,
and pretends she never called him
by another name.
- 22 -
Shacking Up
What did you imagine you’d locate when you found me
hanging our clothes on the line?
The moon, some great tit in the sky,
seraphic (to your quixotic),
in my chintzy,
antique slip?
Your squad car runs the beat
nightly patrolling for truth
and beauty —
and you have yet to transform
into what you wanted when you wanted me.
When we first met, I knew you
were stretching
past your means
like anyone Romeo, you were a shyster.
I wanted you anyway.
- 23 -
Season of Regeneration III
Wanting him, do I become
broken legs of furniture
on a pile of city limits trash?
Dimes in a gutter? Do I even
bother to stoop and retrieve?
I’m so bored I’m eroticizing myself.
- 24 -
Vow of Silence
You lost something. You are indented. And where you are
Mother’ words emerge from long hibernation.
Her voice a really tough three year old who runs off
with your wherewithal to respond to anything she says
without revealing your own pettiness, even when she is
dead. What the hell you are doing naked, slaughtering aphids
in her garden in the middle of the night? The curse of a
certain kind of porous loving that forgets to erect mutant
walls is a belief that all can be in order. Pushing away
pushing away. Nor a smile, nor a hug of acceptance
when growls from the cellar make another suggestion.
Now is the time, little love: you’re okay, she’s okay, you’re old,
she’s dead. Okay to learn lessons, even then. She can come
back when you are making mushroom ragout. And tell you
what spices to use. And pay too much attention to
the weather.
- 25 -
Season of regeneration
Now something squalls
that used to
dream, it’s digging
around in the
dirt for a tit.
I could not separate
desire from the hand
on my mouth.
Something said
if, if from
unsaid, and just
like a question,
it grew horns.
Abandon anything
in a box too long
it will become
someone’s problem,
climbing out to look
for shelter, causing
disaster. If only you
would’ve given me
what I asked for.
- 26 -
No fortune, no tangible missing thing, no seeds breaking up through tough
brown dirt, no jetlag to blame all my troubles on.
Jesus you drunken piñata soul, long brown Goodwill coat missing buttons,
where did you go, porch creeper? Yellow eyes peep through my window
but there is no happy parade courting children courting candy, no paddlewacking nanny waiting for you, waiting to enforce your
border —
I can’t hold you in my palm.
This pattern of cracks in the balustrade assures me
feet will flip—I wonder what business did I have
to base my sturdy place on?
- 27 -
The Short Story of Difficult Habitats
- 28 -
Meditation in an emergency
The children are looking at bugs in grass—the magnifying glass
a kind of half-cocked, off tune love that sings: Let us rarefy
the wondrous subject….
The children are not basilisks but they are learning to classify.
I can’t stop thinking you want to sleep with her.
There is no bogeyman, the children say. Stop that now.
Scientists huddle, listening to my pulse, checking for the ease
with which my toes pull off. I could hear you laughing on the phone
with your teeth, happy to be away from this house and me, my bromidic
day to day.
You’re sick, the children proclaim, hauling out the black bag full of
Mother, Grandmother, Great-Grandmother all had husbands—if one died
or ran off it took them no time at all to find another. I am standing
in pajamas in the middle of the day, faded, children prodding into my
"Wait", I say. "Can't I just live with it?"
I love you, they sing, Now let me pry your legs off!
- 29 -
Transit Tracker
Slouched in a corduroy jacket,
yelling a weather report or what sounds
like that, the woman in the wheelchair
doesn’t make sense—her words emerge
as a net clung to by suckers or some other creature
she doesn’t want. She could live with a creature
and this is the song of a woman who lives with a creature—
but we are all standing here, waiting for the bus.
Whale call as compass needle inspires me, an impossible
pull of bodies across the prehistoric sea and to each other.
In air, sound dies on dead end streets, unmarked trails
that end in brush like razor wire. More is required.
When we board, the driver holds her ticket to the light.
- 30 -
Special Diseases
A hero is a soul
of accumulating afflictions: fang of a
Komodo Dragon in a stuck elevator
forgotten in a post-apocalyptic
world kills by infection,
suffocation, mutant
until he rises from the ashes
able to fly & perform feats & acrobatics. —
You have your suspicions.
The monsters don’t die;
some of your favorite caped guys
wind up in the giveaway pile.
Nightmares turn your Mom into a werewolf.
You shake your head when I want to know
what I do to you in there.
Is this is your affliction?
You're already so certain
of what words can
and cannot save you from.
- 31 -
Season of Regeneration IV
Like Grandpa near the end,
laboring not to be in pajamas
when death called, fighting
over his buttons with his old
man claws. Ask another
question you can’t begin
to answer, Answer it,
something says,
keelhauled under
the boat
and spitting out salt,
something says
— Answer it.
Before he lost his mind,
Grandpa’s throat was a gully
of fetid water, things
floating in it; rasping on
about his sons who came begging
for money & what he’d never
done to make them that way.
I could see in his eyes:
- 32 -
he stopped believing his own
stories and they crept away.
Then, all he would
speak of was fission of plates
beneath us, the mystery
of stars, and the beauty of
my toddler who he believed
was an exceptional baby.
- 33 -
Where’s my heart, he asks
when really he wants his stethoscope,
and loves to put related objects home
in the same word-box.
I don’t know.
In the event that something turns up missing
he always says,
Then it must be on a journey.
On the bridge, a flock of crows erupt,
their shadows fly against the water tower, he cries out—
Mama. They miss me
What does sudden flight resemble to a two year old?
He’ll laugh when I appear
in the flesh like Buster Keaton—
feet tripping over themselves, a parody of nerves—
but his voice always catches on the word sad,
as a bird landing on the familiar thing.
- 34 -
So it was gray inside when I came home.
Did you enjoy your day? I wanted to know
but you were already driving that Hearse away,
its bodies in back adorned in the flesh
and scar wax, that forge only the living
would hoist upon the dead. I was on a unicycle,
grey dress flapping inside a quandary, a crumpled
pack of smokes sealed in rainwater,
a thumb print dusted to locate a culprit
one step left of me. It was gray inside.
I wanted to return home, to hold you to my
moldy bosom. A white moth appeared,
forgiving me, forgive me— your heart,
the only blue in the picture.
- 35 -
Snare of snares, my sisters
-for Tristan
Touched by the snow we creature.
Like houses wear their peculiar fur, bones
their blush. We're etched enough
without luxury
to love—
—a luxury.
The way sorrows begin to
censor themselves.
And a face without lines doesn’t tell,
a kind of splendor we’ve
left behind.
Now the woman who lost her baby
He’d fallen out in the shower and grief,
echolocation; bad stew on the stove;
her mouth broken she prayed promises
to no one I would recognize.
Give him back, she said to me.
To creature is to appear also
- 36 -
I held her for so long.
- 37 -
Difficult Habitats, Noir
It’s pitching in the wind again,
by a house with closed shutters.
The girl in the field plays
with something hard to remember;
stalks of wheat move
as if through invisible fingers.
The dog lopes along ahead,
and she has known him,
has spent many an autumn night
combing burrs from his hair.
The wheat has a secret, the sky
will not tell it. In old photos,
when her words are carried off
on the backs of worms,
the child is more still, she must
still for the voyage of what distills
inside her. By whatever sordid augery
or loss—a voice climbs back
from the well, nails torn, covered
in petals, leeches, she will need
to offer it a gift. Here, the new throat
torn, and the dress sewn for her:
it is a solid yellow. Now she is
calling me Sister.
- 38 -
Lay it down, Girl
In the castle
of somebody’s
malaise, ghosts
accustomed to haunting,
don’t recognize
their own graves.
- 39 -
Grow Old Together
But the dead are so agreeable.
I say things tamper with me and they won’t argue,
nor do I wonder how they’ll take it.
When I leave the room, Martha continues to complain,
as if it were God she gossiped with about the neighbors
leaving garbage on her side of the fence. But God
never argues with Martha. When she sees I’m gone,
she gets upset—I could vanish and she knows it, fingers
pressing the stethoscope to my artery, jotting numbers
on her pad. So my days are numbered. I fill bowls
with water in our yard to collect scum, and she beats her wings
about it. When I say, the bugs make birds come, she continues
to fuss, as if she could muffle the threat of those birds,
as if her voice could pursue me further.
- 40 -
The dead are just about to arrive:
sly and mudsoaked they’ll jangle
your little curses in their pockets,
cry when you cry.
About you the dead will say—
lie close like a wife is a thief:
a rustle, a rip, a ridder of things.
And when you suck on their wrists
like a lemon, the dead roll over,
flushed and dimpled,
giving new names to the animals.
You are Succumb
because that is what you do
to the modest excision
that usually goes unnoticed.
- 41 -
The Slug
I killed the slug doing yoga on a stump, taking a long deep Ujai breath.
The stump, dethroned by what must have been a storm,
was the size of a Volkswagon bus.
The breath, an attempt to connect to the beauty all around me,
was not impossible to fake.
I knocked it down a good twelve feet
going into downward dog.
The slug’s antennae sucked into its head and it curled up
the way they do when you salt them.
I had been watching it earlier in the day eat algae,
and felt more jealous of than pleasured by
its exquisite slowness.
But when I jumped down to see
if it was hurt I managed to land right on it.
If this were a parable, it would be called the woman who wanted.
- 42 -
Short story of difficult habitats
Tiny hairs under my shirt flutter
and wave like an anemone.
Me the widow, the sea—
meaning what is left over
comes to claim me daily—
but his freckled hand,
the idle book he keeps
touching a small blaze
licking its way out of a box.
I want a window, want some
goddamn geese to look at.
Old enough to be his
mother & Mother why
didn’t you prepare me for
my trussed body, the needs
of children silencing
what crooning I could make
made what got under
gutter like luminescent
algae in dark water—Mother;
how do you look away?
- 43 -
Poor Woman Home Birth
Sitting on Juan’s couch for two weeks
a stillness
a large body breathing;
a Texas August with no air conditioning.
Nights I sat alone, watched roaches zip
and unzip the house till Juan came home drunk
to ply me with castor oil, his famous salami
torta. Friends brought gifts of ice, twining
fingers in my hair; tissue forked
inside; I drew pictures of amoeba in pastel
and called Mother to cry.
But you came.
It was a great legged flying horse,
soaked and screaming,
women all around, there hands
and towels working on the spill
that wouldn’t stop. Cut away from me
and still flooding. I have risen from
fire with swollen tits and a nearly dead
infant. I have found a mouth.
- 44 -
Terminal References
Tomoko Eumera in her Bath: W. Eugene Smith, June 2nd, 1972, Life
- 45 -
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