Friday May 24

SpringerJane Jane Springer’s first book, Dear Blackbird, won the Agha Shaid Ali prize (U of Utah P, 2007). Her second book, Murder Ballad, won the Beatrice Hawley award and is forthcoming from Alice James Books in May, 2012. Her other awards include the Robert Penn Warren Prize for Poetry, an NEA grant, and a Whiting Award.  She currently teaches poetry at Hamilton College, where she lives with her husband, John Powell, their son, Morrison, and their two dogs, Walter-Woofus and Georgia. Dear Blackbird, may be purchased through Amazon.

Deepfreeze at the House of Boo—Who Told Me to Meet Her at 6
O’clock So She Could Beat Me Up for Trying to Steal Her Boyfriend
—apologies to Galway
I stood at the end
of a gravel driveway between
flatlands & acres of trailers slapped-up
as temporary housing for migrants
who dreamed they’d stomp enough cotton
to get rich & build two-storied palaces
with satellite TV & in-ground pools—
stood at the end, maybe,
to prove with a punch, without crying, or be a good
I could skin a coon
hunter of men & saw for the first time
a deepfreeze on the lawn—
rain rusted, orange streaked
deepfreeze like the one Voncille Platt stored her outlaw gator-meat in—
I loved the tan-hide scent in her shed, I’d sometimes hear dactyls of rats
gnawing through boxes of baby clothes—she’s gone,
where Doris Barnes snuck in & cursed daddy to hell for beer-battering
church-supper fish, then gifted us with bags of corn already locked
in her own airtight box so long they tasted less food than gifts of
freezer-burn—she’s gone,
where Candy Burnside went after school & learned to aim a gun because
back then girls with degrees seemed useless as hounds that couldn’t trace
a scent—she’s gone,
frozen in a landscape where deepfreezers don’t outlive their use as porch
art or too-good hide-n-seek places for some kid who seals herself up
then shouts for hours before suffocating under a stuck lid—
they’re gone—
the girls & wives of Newellton who whistled through turkey calls, who
cooked, canned & saved remains decades past expiration dates—
& when I saw the deepfreeze
for the first time, so displaced—
like a couch on Jupiter—or Mr. Otto’s
toolbelt slung on Mama Ray’s porch—
I wondered if Boo would break my bones to fit
that ancient dented appliance
or would she let me off with a split lip—
her door opened
when I shouted: Come on out and get some of this
if I had shut my mouth, then, instead
of letting that 90 lb version of Tammy Wynette
bruise Stand by Your Man into my face,
or dirty my shirt against
rocks stacked like deerhearts for flood
season when you’d eat the unimaginable not to starve—
back then I thought I wanted Butch Merritt
who kissed like a beaver with four sets of teeth
& whose family owned the one sawmill to freedom
from there to New Orleans—so by the time Boo’s daddy’s
truck pulled in, I’d been clocked so dizzy I couldn’t hear
the crickets’ evening-blaze.
Yes—a deepfreeze
with mildewed seams of summer
rising up from brutal weeds of that place—
a thing they’d not need in big cities where
I thought all there was to eat was brie
& folks passing by in Mercedes-Benz’s would sneer
to see the same broken-hearted beast—its jaws unhinged
& emptied of all the marriageable dreams in Eden.

Don’t Let Your Mouth Write a Check Your Butt Can’t Cash

We should all be
so sure the check’s in the mail & the cash in the bank & the bank
in the black—forgive me the promises I took back:
For I could not keep you, lover, entertained—I would give you the circus
but when we walked past, carnies pulled up their stakes & down the tent
came—to stubs in the dirt, crushed papercups, one blue sequin stuck
to your boot heel.
& If not the circus I would give you music—a flamenco ukulele jamboree—
sounded good from the highway but entering late, we just caught the encore:
Heart & Soul played on one instrument & one string—
(a shoestring).
& if not a concert, I’d give you knowledge—of the physical attributes that
make raptors such excellent hunters. From the eyesight of eagles to the
silent light of owls. But that, too, went fowl—at the aviary, falcons died
mid-flight—so all the way back to the hotel
we swerved to miss the bodies of falling birds.
Then the hotel burned.
& the bellhop fed a rope of sheets out our third story window to lower the
cleaning girl down. & the ring I said I’d give you melted beside a plastic
fundeck of karma sutra cards.
Watching them from the street
you noticed the last knotted rung of rope that saved the girl was your silk
blindfold & the bellhop might have flown out on a black plume of smoke—
had not flames caught
tail feathers of my boa clenched in his teeth.
Calvary Letter
That shell of our house in Calvary, Georgia no longer reminds me
of the porch—old couch & crush of blackberries,
empty-paned windows, cracked board of Lady Day’s voice thrown
into the musk-dirt yard where we danced—
anymore than it reminds me of the kitchen rats & wire baskets
of food hung from the ceiling, or the gerryrigged,
outdoor shower where we stood in mud to get clean—
or Solo, blind dog—the two patches of fur that rose like twin islands
of grass from his mange-bruised ocean of skin.
I want to say the reason one wayfaring bird flew all that way to sing
on the rafter over our attic bed is because
the roof was half missing,
an oak snake ghosted the mantle of the room below,
& there was no other place so in need of restoration as the one where
we lay in a tangle of bliss:
our faith—blind dog—our hope—hung basket—our vows—blank
panes—ourselves—cracked boards.
Can I say that house was a romantic, if irredeemable, mess?
That repairs overwhelmed us?
We cheated work to be done in places?
That we bought new faucets & you moved the stairway & tore down
clapboard walls to reclaim the floor no longer reminds me
of the vows we promised to fix from the foundation up—
you hinging my elbow back into place—
me planing your spine to get it straight.
I want to say the reason sparrows smashed into the new sheets
of glass is because unstreaked windows are dangerous to birds
& tin roofs where the flashing’s all plumb & gutters flush with
the eves give a false ring to rain.
What it does remind me of—that Calvary house—
is how many gallons of water could soak your wings—how many
pounds of nails I could hold in my beak & still not break.
Letter to the Dark
I write you on a host of unseen things: The fine impression of bones
dissolved in the face of a stone—
on tendrils of incense allemanding through the first ambrosial jasmine,
verdant & white-starflower spring.
The water in play beneath a frozen river.
I write you on the hair of space parting to make way for the barge
of my heart to move on past an outworn parchment of:
Small town fairs of sheep.
Hardware stores, their sawdust scent & basketfuls of penny nails.
Patina gilding courthouses’ copper domes of & bells tied
to adjacent gallows.
Sometimes trees reaching to touch over houses empty themselves
of atoms so I may write you on the crawl-space of insects.
Whole nights pour out their prisms of thought so I may write you
on all of night—
& even now I write you on the crystalline ladder of light the indigo
swallowtail climbs from the roots of dawn into this full-blown morning.