Home > Mutating the Signature > in the trade

in the trade

February 24, 2009

I’ve been collecting
ghosts, stamps, pins
my coins of doubt

even though all they’ll
buy are more ghosts, real
only in the way

that small things
can be, our imperfect
worlds hung up

on tired clothes

the girls joke that soon
I’ll need a second room
that no one

should need this many
memories, so I pinch my
arm between

waltzes to be with
them, they’re kind
and I can.

so here I am
another pair of pearled
hips at 3:00 A.M.

praying in the fickle
manner of soldiers for
the sphinx to open

his wavelength
in my skull.

can you see me?
I’m prone as a telephone
trading gridlocked

bodies for infinite
rows of dreaming

awake but never
more than six feet
from my bed.

I’m pretty in this—
my little prison
of the obvious

the visitations
have changed, they’re

like the house
negligee I wear
and don’t

like anything left
out in the animal

in the end, even
the power of my

is denied; I’m mute
wallpaper, whispering
just to catch

my breath.

by Peter Schwartz and Colette Jonopulos

Download the MP3 (reading by Peter)

Process notes

Peter writes:
Colette Jonopulos is my best friend in the whole world. What’s odd about that is I’ve never met her. I came into contact with Colette when I submitted work to Tiger’s Eye (which she co-edits) in Spring of 2007. She was kind and wise and funny, so I kept writing her back and never stopped.

I came to poetry seriously at about the end of 2003. Well, that’s when I started publishing. I don’t think I was very good until about 2007. Anyway, Colette was born writing poetry and has attended and ran many workshops and seminars. She’s a true student of the craft. So, I often read her my work over the phone and she points out the one or two lines that are utterly ridiculous. Gently, of course.

So it was natural that I came to her with “in the trade,” one of my truest “character” poems to date. It’s from the point of view of a lonely prostitute and since I’m not even a woman, I thought maybe Colette could add some reality to the piece. And she did. I won’t tell you which lines were hers but if you love one in particular — it’s probably hers.

  1. deb
    February 24, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    I love the poem. I adore the process notes.

    • February 25, 2009 at 10:52 am

      Thanks Deb. I must admit I am weirdly proud of the notes for this poem. A couple months ago I went to the birthday dinner of a 94 year old grandma and her grandson gave a toast that completely honored her legacy of always doing new things and being so kind, it acknowledged how lucky their whole family was to experience her, to love her. This really got me thinking how most of us don’t actively honor people very often. So since Colette is the greatest human being on the West coast (provable with DNA and chi levels) I decided I’d let the world (or at least the readers of this site) know that the reason C’s such a great poet is that she’s such a great person. Thanks again for the comment, rock on.

  2. February 24, 2009 at 7:08 pm

    I love the poem too. It deserves multiple readings.

    I like these lines:

    “I’m pretty in this—
    my little prison
    of the obvious”

    Who wrote them? Peter or Colette?

    • February 25, 2009 at 11:07 am

      Hey Tammy, those were Colette’s favorite lines too. But alas, I Peter Isaac Schwartz of the barely still recognized state of Maine, am the author of them there lines. To me, they refer to our limitations, how so many people get good at their job or family role, and then never shine in other realms. It’s a real temptation to simply live the life you think will be easiest and keep yourself protected but the cost is killing the best parts of your self. The best parts involve risk and opening and being vulnerable to real love, not the kind for sale.

      Thank you for attending the Pete Schwartz Questionable Lecture Series, have a great day and breathe like a champion. If Colette were here she’s say something funnier. Peace.

  3. February 25, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    thanks, peter and colette, for the poem. and the lines that jumped out at me and got me by the throat:

    only in the way

    that small things
    can be, our imperfect
    worlds hung up

    on tired clothes

    can you see me?
    I’m prone as a telephone
    trading gridlocked

    bodies for infinite
    rows of dreaming

    and I also like the comment you make: “the reason C’s such a great poet is that she’s such a great person.” I do believe we need to live our lives the way we write our poetry. And the two should feed into each other.

  4. February 25, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    Yes, yes, I’m glad you feel me. If we want to write deep poems there are no shortcuts, we have to live deeply so we can access those levels. I don’t think of the times I don’t write as writer’s block – it’s that I have to live more and get bigger again.

    Thanks for pushing me a little closer to the big boy pants…


  5. February 25, 2009 at 8:54 pm

    interesting. I myself do not believe in writer’s block, which is why I suspect it does not believe in me.

    I take it as the sign, the time to fill up. New ideas, new experiences. Time to restore the balance. Writing is a kind of emptying. And so it goes. . .

    • February 27, 2009 at 9:55 am


      You sound very grounded as a poet. You’ve been writing a long time, yes? I feel like I have. I’ve written a lot of poems so sometimes it’s hard to come up with fresh, new interesting terrain. That’s definitely one good thing about collaborations: they help shake things up.

      Viva us.


  6. February 28, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    Thanks Peter,

    Yes, I guess I can say I have written for a long time. In terms of chronology. I think it may even go back to my childhood, where i remember stitching words in ways I can only describe as poetry, because they were expressions of my awe. Yet, a long time seems like such a relative term where poetry is concerned. When I write, time stops. How can we measure that?:-)

    Viva us, indeed. And I would also raise a toast to all the people here who have made this effort to reach out to another and engage in collaborating.

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