Thursday Jul 18

StephanieBrown Stephanie Brown is the author of two collections of poetry, Domestic Interior (U of Pittsburgh P, 2008) and Allegory of the Supermarket (U of Georgia P, 1999). She was awarded an NEA Fellowship in Poetry in 2001 and the Margaret Bridgman Fellowship in Poetry at the Breadloaf Writers' Conference in 2009. She has taught creative writing at University of California, Irvine and at the University of Redlands but has primarily made her living as a librarian and library manager. Her poems have been selected for four editions of the annual anthology, The Best American Poetry (Scribner's) and her poetry and essays have been anthologized in American Poetry: The Next Generation (Carnegie Mellon, 2000), Great American Prose Poems: From Poe to the Present (Scribner's, 2003), The Grand Permission: New Writing about Motherhood and Poetics (Wesleyan U Press, 2003) and others. Her work has also been published in American Poetry Review, Slope, Pool, ZYZZYVA, LIT, Yellow Silk, and others. She helped organize the Casa Romantica Reading Series for poets and fiction writers in San Clemente, California from 2004-2010.

First Love

He was on the long table.
Strapped around chest, waist, calves.
Arms not able to bend.
And then I put his head in a vise and turned
Till he cried, but not enough to pop the skin.
And I took a funnel and put it in his mouth and poured
Clean water in, not until he drowned but until
He gave.
His metaphorical heart, (the one of feelings)
I took in my hands and twisted, wrung out
The blood. I was
A fury, I was a dove. I
Could defile with another, and he would return.
When I, Inquisitor, could not in the end convert
His recalcitrant soul to the true religion, I was
Inconsolable. All those
Marriages of his that followed, all those


The Questions

Is that your husband?
What does he do?
Do you have the wind-up key?
What is his Gross Domestic Product?
Do you have a list for him to do?
Did his father bestow the masculinity or did he withhold?
When he competed with his brother for his father's love
Did he win? Did the brother, for whom it came more easily at the beginning,
Fade into obscurity and debt?
Or does he hold second place, and how do you comfort him?
Did you stay close or move far away?
Was the father separated from him by the grave, or the papers of dissolution, or
The going-out-for-cigarettes-and-never-coming-back, of American myth?
Did Zeus rape his mother? Does a stepmother factor in?
When he approaches a group of men, do they back up and make space for his
Did his father sit in a darkened room, nursing his death?
Did his father light the room with conversation?
Are you a family or are you still part of his family?
Does your father yet defer to him?
Is your husband more of husband-as-a-noun or husband-as-a-verb?
When he tells you that women are mysterious and men are not,
Do you agree or disagree?
How long did it take for you to figure out the secret?
Why does he even like you?
Why was he patient with you while you changed?
When he tells you about his friend's wife and what he puts up with,
What do you say?
Whose side are you on, anyway?
When you think of the uncomplicated kindness he bestows,
Did you understand the difference?
Did you really want to spend your life at a table of the women?
When he changed you into a mother with his magic,
Did you know there was no looking back?
Did you wait? Did you gloat?
Did you forgive?


Symbols of Transformation

Was the book he told us to read that summer.
It was at 2:30 in the afternoon and I arrived there after a lazy walk.
A very tall man, I mean a very large man, I mean a Triton he was,
Our teacher, handsome as a God, a curly haired movie star;
He said,
Your dreams may change when you read this book, when you take my class.
I've been told this happens. He was proud of himself.
Jung's book really had nothing to do with the rest of the coursework
Of the Bacchae and the Orestian Trilogy, the Hymn to Demeter.
I read it anyway; I felt mostly flummoxed.
The teacher sat at the head of a table and spun yarns each afternoon
Of Ariadne, Perseus, Theseus, Minoan Mystery cults;
And he talked about misogyny a lot.

On the last day he opened it up for the young women
To describe the misogyny, the myths we lived in.
He was the first man who listened to us.
By that I mean:
It was not just a joke,
The young men were not invited to argue with us.
We were not supposed to change our minds about it.
It was not a fight;
It wasn't just a precursor to flirting.
In those days it was a form of flirting to talk about misogyny to a man.
Nothing is like that in America anymore, is it?
Things like that are really different.

My dreams didn't change, though I had hoped they would.
I had hoped to dream prophecies, to become a Sybil,
To have symbols fall into my hands,
To have Mr. Jung himself appear in my neighborhood,
But my dreams didn't change.
I do remember walking home the last day and knowing
That my plans would change. Soon I was carrying a framed
Poster of Athena looking at the shield that mirrored Medusa
So that she could reflect on her purpose.
I would hang it on the wall in my hallway.