Monday May 27

WheelerLesley Lesley Wheeler's poetry collections are The Receptionist and Other Tales; Heterotopia, winner of the Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize; and Heathen; her most recent scholarly book, a study of poetry, sound, and performance, is Voicing American Poetry. New poems and essays are forthcoming in Subtropics, Gettysburg Review, and Poet Lore, and she blogs about poetry in "The Cave, The Hive." Wheeler is the Henry S. Fox Professor of English at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.


Pure Products of America

I have this recurring dream I'm pregnant
with kittens,
my sister tells me, and I go to the doctor

and he says, yeah, man, you have like
twelve in there.
She's hurtling through New Jersey

in a Ford minivan this nor'easter's tongue
would lick
down to rust, collecting donations for hurricane

survivors, ferrying asthmatic Aidan home
after hours
at the batting cage. He can't breathe since she rescued

that litter from under a boxwood hedge.
Night glows
dull pink. Mold-speckled leaves exhale in a thousand

fragrant heaps at a hundred strategically rounded
curbs in twenty
silent developments in the reclaimed wetlands.

I dreamed once of a poem called "The Autobiography
of New Jersey"
but can't hear the voice. She's an out-of-work

elementary teacher. Her trooper husband's car
is a bubble
of hemoglobin flowing, always flowing

through the hardening arteries of a state
bent at the waist
like a woman. Or, cat's-eye-view, straight

like the rule of sky on ocean, lavender with cold,
ruined. Her Garden State's garden shelters

animals under every scrap of viburnum.
Spore waft
through updrafts of exhaust fumes.

And my kind sister witnesses. Thinks about how
to find
homes for the creatures her brain gave birth to:

mewing handfuls of hungry dirty
beauty. She
adjusts the mirror. She drives the car.


What They Don't Say

Life in us was like water in a river:
that's Thoreau via Lowell. It may rise higher
this year. The copperheads may writhe on a ledge
of exposed shale lapped by current. An eyebrow-ridge
smacked by little waves. Life surging out
of ducts, seeping from nail-beds, rushing each sheet
of paper, foaming with pollutants. You think
it sounds good, the high life, this water-mark,
but it's messy. What they don't say is how
you ooze from every orifice: that's Amelia,
nobody you should know, on the days
after childbirth. A father's death flows
hard too, spooks the snakes, even when you feel
the world's better off. Your banks torn away.



The Sun Went Down Then I Felt Sad

As plot summary, that's pretty lame, you said. So is
I caught a big fish and I let the fish go. What's interesting
is Elizabeth Bishop in a boat musing on isinglass and rainbows.
My theory, that all poems tell stories, leaks. Some argue
like dinner-party guests. A renku or ghazal has
to keep pivoting: as soon as plum blossoms start
floating downriver the widow's writing a letter or
the yellow moon bobs over the trees, pocked like a
gourd. It shines on how I don't really get ghazals,
though renku have lovely narrative eddies, conversational
currents. Most people raft away from talk about art, distracted
by children hollering from the shore or bosses with wire
leaders in their lips. Plus it's an election year.
The tomato salad gleams. Only a few pole around
for propitious water, stare at their own wobbly
reflections, obsessively test the line. You're the only
fisher who lives in my stanza. I would starve
without you. Still, as the evening washes in, dotted
with petals, I long for other sunburnt, homely salts not
tying up at this dock, not bickering as we stump along
to someone's porch to mourn collectively, isolately,
an immature catch. We hauled up the sun, someone
would say, glittery as beer. You or I or someone else
would empty a glass and retort, then we let it go again.