Sunday Oct 01

PierceCatherine Catherine Pierce is the author of The Girls of Peculiar (Saturnalia, 2012), winner of the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Poetry Prize, and Famous Last Words (Saturnalia, 2008), winner of the Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize. Her poems have appeared in The Best American Poetry, Boston Review, Slate, PloughsharesFIELD, and elsewhere. She is an associate professor at Mississippi State University, where she co-directs the creative writing program.

An Apologia for Taking Things for Granted

When the finite dimensions of being alive
light up suddenly as they do from time to time—
when the famous movie critic dies, when
the office across the hall is one day humming
with gossip and florescence, the next day dark—
I resolve again to see everything
in Technicolor, to hold each click of a switch,
each pollen-thick day in my hands and know
its true weight. And for an hour, an evening,
I do. The earth trills and glows. The buzz
of the neighbor’s hedge clippers a rich contralto,
the red of the tomato on the counter shocking luck—
how is it that I get to see something that red,
and eat it, too? But soon the walls—speckled
with flung bananas from my son’s breakfast,
scratched by the gone dog I loved—begin
to swell with their own miracles and my heart
begins its galloping, terrified and nearly detonating
with gratitude it can’t contain. The afternoon
is suddenly too gold, too mote-misted
to comprehend. My husband’s question of spinach
or broccoli with dinner is a yawning crevasse
into which I fall headlong—the possibility of choices,
the greens of the vegetables, the crunch, the wonder
of appetite. Yes, I forget my expiring license,
my clicking jaw, but I forget, too, the pleasure
of a meal that is only and entirely a meal.
The insects and lizards and navy blue sky and moon
like a caricature of itself gang up and close in
until everything is blurred and muted, the street
a rinsed canvas, only my blood thudding in my ears.
Of course I wish I could properly worship
the nectarine. Of course I wish I could
give central heating its due. But I’ve learned
my lesson. If I can keep on half-hearing
crickets, at least I can keep on hearing them.

Imaginary Vacation Scenario #4

You have a headlamp and a knapsack
of buffalo jerky. You will hike up the dark
mountain into the darker pine, you will pitch
your tent below a sky as thick with stars
as the air is thin. You are the only human
for miles, and this knowledge just makes
your legs stronger, your lungs more capacious.
You know how to skin a rabbit. You know
how to scare off a bear. The sea-level world
you’ve left behind glows radioactive and wants to know
your mother’s maiden name, your preferred
birth control method, your views on organic
milk and GMOs. Here, your brain space is filled
with field knowledge: how to calculate distance
between you and the coyote’s mournful yip;
the proper way to eat the pith of fireweed.
You know snakes can still bite hours after
they’ve died. With each step you take, the mountain
grows and for this you love it more. You will
never reach the top. There is no top; it spills
upward and out forever. The animals call and call,
their voices echoing through the rattling aspen.
You don’t answer. They’re not calling you.

Poem for the Swimming Hole

You go down there to cool off.
You go down there to swing in.
You go down there because Tom
yanked your skirt as you walked
the bus aisle. Because Beth H. called you
Scab-Girl and Horse-Neck. Because bees
have been buzzing in your head
ever since the sun rose hot and garish

on the morning of fourteen and you need
the shock of shaded water to hush them.
Because you want a water moccasin
to slice toward you so that you can
knife away. Because you want a story
with fangs. You go down there
because of the word canopy. You go
because the TV, the radio, the telephone

keep squawking about carbs and uprisings
and the safest ways to get laid, and there
all you have to worry about are leeches
and old-fashioned ax murder. You go
to stop time. You go to kill it. You go
because your cousin from Philadelphia
said there’s no such place, you’re faking,
you’ve seen too many movies about

yokels like yourself. You go because
if he’s right that this place can’t exist—
this green light and brown water,
these kudzu-choked oaks, these mossed
rocks that slip your feet out from under you
so that you fall, solid and flailing, right
on your ass—if all of this is invented,
then you can be, too.