January 06, 2015


I have certain beloved New Year traditions, all centering on sloth. 

Ideally, December 31 involves a good movie, new pajamas, and maybe the snap-pop of a single party cracker; January 1 involves a spicy Bloody Mary (horseradish is key), updating my address book as I write holiday cards to friends, and browsing the unread literary journals accumulated in the previous year. But the reality of teaching in a low-residency graduate program is that early January is your gathering time. Which means my post-holiday is now fraught with student emails and seminar prep. 

Which means: all-nighters. 

Which means: snacks. 

My personal indulgence is tinned, smoked oysters, locating me somewhere aesthetically between Walt Whitman and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Not a bad place to be. 

Wasabi peas run a close second. 

The classic Triscuit / raw almond combo is a distant third.

Salmon roe stirred into rice and sprinkled with sesame seeds is good, but pricey. Anything sweet is too distracting, whether coconut sorbet or teriyaki seaweed. Folks mention popcorn as a favorite, and I can recognize the caloric motivation (volume without guilt), but there's no idea in something that leaves grease on the fingertips. I take this very seriously! There's an art to tactical snacking. 

The above illustration by Wendy MacNaughton appeared in a 2011 New York Times Book Review as "Snacks of the Great Scribblers." I was reminded of it by Leslie Pietrzyk, a fellow low-res teacher, DC-area writer, and blogger. Check out "Works-in-Progress," if you have not already--her latest post is a great discussion of strategies for revision. Leslie also edits Redux ("Work worth a second run"), an online literary journal devoted to posting things that originally appeared in print only. 

2015 holds the promise of all kinds of adventures. For now, just gotta keep working. So this is my quick, reasonably happy, utterly salty hello in the New Year. More to come. 

December 08, 2014

On Sand

a line, make it my mouth: I'll name
your country. I'm a Yes man at heart."

~from "The Sand Speaks" (I Was the Jukebox)

These lines are actually an oblique reference to my least favorite idiom, "drawing a line in the sand." I grew up unsure what it meant. I associated the phrase with the Battle of the Alamo, vaguely, but hadn't the Alamo fallen? I did not know the Biblical story (John 8:6), in which Jesus uses the gesture to halt the stoning of a woman. 

So throughout my twenties, I argued with anyone who used the phrase to describe a situation with a hard boundary, or a scenario in which a course of action, once committed to, could not be reversed. I made my case in poetry workshop; at the office of the magazine where I worked; at home, talking to my then-boyfriend.

Why draw the line in sand? I always came back to this. Why not etch the line in stone? Why not concrete? The choice of medium was an endemic vulnerability, the literal promise of a decision's erosion. Sand gets blown away. Sand gets washed away. Sand slips through your fingers. 

The last three weeks have drawn line after line: The failure to indict in Ferguson for the shooting of Michael Brown.  The failure to indict in Staten Island for the choking of Eric Garner. A wave of horrific stories concerning sexual assault at UVA. Mark Strand has died. Marion Barry has died. Steve Cymrot has diedClaudia Emerson has died

Amidst it all, an incredible gift as well: an NEA grant. A blessing of confidence in the poems, all of which will be in Count the Waves. A bulwark against debt. 

These are days when everything feels utter. Like anyone, I move through many worlds as a poet, as an alumna, as a DC resident, as an American citizen. All halved in some way, Before and After. As frightened as I am by this feeling, what frightens me more is the notion that it will not last. Martyr, classmate, icon, mentor, friend. How long does it take for any one name to become a footnote? 

I ask that with hesitation, not wanting a genuine unease to lapse into solipsism. "It ís the blight man was born for," Gerard Manley Hopkins writes. "It is Margaret you mourn for." Amidst the worries of these worlds, my feelings matter very little. 

Still. The practical hours make their relentless march. Pages to proof. Chicken to be cooked. The students of DC need final grades on Friday, even though my poet-heart wants to trek four hours south to a memorial service. I am trying to be responsible. I am trying to burn the candle at one end only. Yet I am trying to change, and be changed, by all that is happening. I'm trying to end up with something more than a fistful of sand.

November 14, 2014

Oh Hey There, Jared

"Love your Pandora bracelet!"

So, you have these new ads. Apparently, you hope that the trend of charm bracelets will sweep the nation this holiday season. Women will bond, in the language that all women share: jewelry. Men will be lauded for their savvy gift-giving. 

Because a bracelet can communicate critical facts, such as the following….

"The ballet slippers?" "I used to dance."
"Suitcase?" "Anniversary trip."
"Soccer ball?" "Soccer Mom."

Or this one, in which the token professional accolade (She's the boss!) is quickly set aside. Do we find out that she oversaw a merger? That she has a law degree from Haravard? That she holds a revolutionary engineering patent? Nope.  

"She's been to London, Paris, and her son plays baseball."

Each time with the tag line...Telling her life story with just a turn of the wrist. 

Oh, Jared. Your new ads are horrible. We're not even going to get into "the red-hot love bead." (Though if you are prepared to offer a cast pewter clitoris, let's talk.)

How kind of you to innovate a way for us to express ourselves. But luckily, we came up with a few alternative options, such as: Poems. Essays. Whole memoirs, even. Do you want to see what it looks like when a woman really tells a life story? Read this...

"Breasts Like Martinis" - Jill McDonough (Slate)

or this:

"Till Death Did They Part" - Molly Krause (Brain, Child Magazine)

or this:

"Piece of Her" - Monica F. Jacobe (Barely South Review)

Here's the thing, Jared: the truth doesn't jingle neatly. A woman's story doesn't consist of sequential beads on a string; it doesn't consist solely of activities pursued on behalf of her children, or in the company of her husband. We love, we sacrifice, we regret, we wonder, we hope, but none of it is linear. This is what it means to live a life. 

You know what Pandora was doing, when she turned her wrist

She was lifting the lid off the box.