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Dear Seven: A Circle of Epistles (7)

April 19, 2009 Comments off

Part 7 in a series of 7

Dear Chris,

It’s been two years since the letter went ’round and I’ve been two years waiting for the break in the day. Not the daybreak, for like any new mother/father I’ve seen plenty of those, what Sylvia Plath called Nicholas’ “bald cry” which took “its place among the elements.” You’ve had it times two with your twin girls, and what a flickering whirlwind of a carousel ride it is, it is. Baby girls all around.

I hope our girls get together someday and levitate. I did it too, just like cin. You were only supposed to lift with two fingers, but somebody always cheated. Did you know that before the levitation happened, there was a séance? One girl would sit with the floatee’s head in her lap. She’d rub the floatee’s temples and tell everyone gathered around the story of how she died. “One night, Marguerite was walking along the road beside the graveyard. Dot dot dot.” Closing your eyes and listening to the story of your death felt holy and silly; you were spooked and yet delighted to still be alive! The final verse was light as a feather stiff as a board, let’s raise Marguerite up to the Lord.

When my cousins came over we played “Mary Widoworth.” Holding a candle, we faced the bathroom mirror in the dark, chanting, “I believe in Mary Widoworth, I believe in Mary Widoworth. Mary Widoworth, if you’re there, give us a sign!” Then one of my older siblings would pound on the wall (the other bathroom lined up behind it), and we’d all go screaming into the hall. Mary Widoworth was much hokier than levitation, but standing in the dark looking into a mirror with a flickering candle and then screaming your head off and bursting into the light was so magnificent, we easily suspended our disbelief.

I wonder if you believe in psychics, Chris. I have no psychic abilities, myself, but I’m convinced that others do. Would you think that silly?

And there it is, the ring of the phone, then the waking cry of Lulu, which drags me away from this epistle. Her cry is no longer a bald fright, but a whiny demand. She loves words, as we all do; she’ll repeat whatever you say—not always clearly, and not always correctly, but she rejoices in language and that makes me glad.

In honor of all sleepovers and cousins, I sign this with the grade school salutation:
sorry so short stupid and sloppy

Ciao,
Eileen

by Eileen Favorite

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For process notes on the series, see the first letter.

Dear Seven: A Circle of Epistles (6)

April 1, 2009 1 comment

Part 6 in a series of 7

Dear cin,

I’m writing to say hello. We are new friends. Which means I know you and I don’t. So, I will be the protagonist of this letter, you will be the ghost.
New friend, you “have land” in Wisconsin! I promise to teach you how to fly fish. I’ll tell you this: casting is a beautiful dance, and there’s nothing as luxurious as standing in a stream, but you need to accept that fish are not abstract. Catching a fish is like looking into the face of every mistake you’ve ever made — the eyes, innocent golden disks, look and look. And yet to cradle the fish in its slick gasping skin, free the hook and slip the body back into velvet… Life must be lived to be understood.
An odd moment: a squirrel fat as a small raccoon is scratching at my screen. He refuses to face the music. Winter is dawning on us. Ice weights the trees, each branch like white coral. My roof, who knows the ordinary boringness of a house, is silent while snow humps up in the road.
Recently, I found a list of goals in an old notebook:

1. Learn the mandolin
2.
3.

I keep my invisible mandolin under wraps — the future gleams, and my dread of 2 and 3.
I think of this thing about happiness, and our promise to emptiness. Each morning I wake, say I’m sorry out loud, to myself. In emergencies, I quote my favorite poetry — a poem Lexa wrote at eleven years old:

No it isn’t   no it’s not
Yes it is   it’s getting quite hot.
Summer is out   Summer is in.
Summer is here   so let’s go swim.

I once heard you read at the Green Mill, something about the inevitability of men and road construction in spring. Actually, you don’t read, you sing. Teach me! I’ll wait for you with my loving mandolin — we’ll sing something something something about my mother’s mismarriage and its residue.
I once asked you if it was true, “Girls levitate each other at slumber parties?” You rose to a witchy laugh and looked at me. You said it’s easy — mothers, girlfriends, wives and daughters all know. Why aren’t scientists studying this and winning awards? No magic but science is how I see things, yet with two fingers you’ve raised whole girls in pajamas and white socks… light as a feather stiff as a board. Boys don’t float, we play tackle basketball and swear and weigh ourselves down in forts.
cin, I should have written more about children. We will both be living the truth of babies soon. I don’t know what to say. From here, below zero, I can only quote William Matthews, “Our children are the only message we can leave them.”
Keep well, Chris

P.S.

by Chris Green

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Editor’s note: This letter was published in Columbia Poetry Review no. 20, 2007, and is reprinted here to preserve the integrity of the series.

Dear Seven: A Circle of Epistles (5)

March 19, 2009 Comments off

Part 5 in a series of 7

Chris,
I hope this letter finds you well.
Here is what I think I want to tell you.
I sleep on my left side with one leg out, one leg curled in, and one arm out and the other curled in. I read once that this is an indication of an essential conflict of self.
Possums live in our garage. Our dog will carry one around in her mouth while the possum plays dead. Even though the animal appears lifeless, its heart is beating. When we tell the dog to drop it, the possum scuttles away to hide amid gardening tools, clay pots, bags of mulch and dirt.
My husband built a boat which hangs in the rafters of the garage. You can row it or sail it. He thought, after his mother died, that his father would like a wood-working project to distract him from his grief. So he bought the plans for the boat and set the project up in his father’s garage. But his father never took an interest and so Jim built the boat in our garage. His father died a year and a half after his mother.
We’ve used the boat once; me, Jim and our boys, Henry and Grant. We floated.
Sometimes as we drift off to sleep, my husband will apologize for his tiredness saying, I’m sorry, my train is leaving the station. And then we depart each other, even as we sleep together.
Babies and small children often sleep on their backs, arms flung out, because they are not conflicted and worry about nothing.
Yesterday in the woods, our dog found a huge, dead bird. It lay, split wide open, black feathers and red guts. The dog did not touch the bird.
My father says that my Italian grandfather courted my Irish grandmother by taking her rowing. I picture my grandmother’s pale, soft beauty, my grandfather’s sweat and desire. My father would never use the word desire to tell this story.
I am trying to decide if the fact that I don‘t know you is making this easier or harder to write?
Once, when we were visiting my husband’s parents, they offered to take our first child, Henry, so we could sleep in. I saw them, smiling down at our sleepy, milky baby, nestled between them in their own bed.
Sometimes, when our boys were sleeping babies, I’d want to wake them, to make sure they were alive, and because I missed them so much.
Lately, we’ve been killing mice. The traps are not always effective. Two nights ago, Henry, who is almost twenty now, found a mouse with one tiny paw stuck in the trap. He flailed violently until Henry released him, then he ran away. All of this bothered Henry, as it would anyone, I think.
I went to bed late last night but Henry wasn’t home yet. My first thought this morning was, where is Henry? I looked in his room. He was asleep on his back, one arm crossed over his head, partially covering his face.
The mice run through our house, I’ve met them on the stairs.
As I write this, my husband is awake, our sons still asleep. They drift, they float. If I wake them, they will stare at me speechless, momentarily without words or memory.
I have a book on my shelf called, Winter Sleeping Animals. I bought it because I thought the title was so beautiful. It’s a children’s book that describes the ways and reasons that animals hibernate. I recall another children’s book I used to read to the boys about a family of bears that awoke from hibernation to celebrate Valentine’s Day.
Chris, I hope you sleep like a baby and that every morning begins with wordlessness and love.
Cecilia

by Cecilia Pinto

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Dear Seven: A Circle of Epistles (4)

March 9, 2009 Comments off

Part 4 in a series of 7

Dear Cecilia,

I would have written sooner but this week I was sick with not a bad cold but a good one, the kind that leaves you so tired and dizzy you want only to sleep, and sleeping is justified. So while Mike wrote and fixed things and went to the Y I drifted through dreams: my brother, a child again, waving a jeweled bug full of precious, poisonous serum; a room of watery green; an art gallery where a toddler clung to George Bush’s legs and said Grandpa, Grandpa. Now I am better.

Since we don’t know each other well it might be good to ask questions:

  • Do you like Japanese movies?
  • Under what circumstances would you fire a gun?
  • What has more poetry in it: a fire or a swing?

One day of my childhood I sat on a swing with a wide wooden seat. I was alone, it was sunny, two stout ropes disappeared into the leaves above me. The swing creaked under me. The air tasted of morning. I have looked for that swing ever since.

Cecilia is my mother’s name and I always wished it were mine, musical name like the three-note song of a bird, name of the patron saint of music. My mother had a small marble carving of St. Cecilia lying dead, a gash in her neck to show how they couldn’t behead her (at first). While Mary the Mother of God was, after all, only a mother, meaning laundry and dishes, the odd night out at a wedding. When I spent my Communion money to baptize a pagan baby in China, I named her Cecilia.

Yesterday I put away all my garden pots, first soaking them in water. The pots come from the Dominican Republic, China, Italy, USA — their origins stamped into the clay. But no sign of the hands that slopped the clay into molds, carried them to the kilns for firing. I soak the pots because clay dries out over time, and then the soil in the pots dries out too quickly. When you plunge a dry clay pot into water it sings for a long time, hissing teakettle notes as water finds its way back into the spaces. In the spring I will fill them again with dirt and then marigolds, geraniums, lobelia, coleus.

One of the nuns next door is Italian, so they chat in Italian while unloading the groceries or grilling on their tiny back porch. They do not know much about St. Cecilia, but they are dedicated to St. Francis, patron saint of animals and the environment. Yesterday they poured us shots of sambuca for a Thanksgiving toast. Sambuca has the sting of black licorice, is made with star anise and elder flowers. My fingers, coiled around the glass, were stained with dirt. The drink lit a sweet fire in my throat before I went back to soaking the pots.

May words be a sweet fire in your throat, Cecilia.

Mary

by Mary Hawley

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Dear Seven: A Circle of Epistles (3)

February 20, 2009 Comments off

Part 3 of a series of 7

Dear Mary—

I would like to talk about rooms. William Gass proposed that a book is a building for what the brain has spun. So a letter is a room. Your husband’s letter to me was full of location, as if he and therefore I were rapidly beaming in and out of chaos: Captain Kirk and his obedient lackey. Basements and parking lots, orchestra pits and grocery stores. He is so active, your guy. (But when we sit at the table, he is stalwart at your side.) I want this letter to be a little sendable bag for what my sleepy Sunday brain is knitting. Wooden needles click.

I am writing to you from a new room. An old room in our 120 year-old house, the room that was first my son’s then my daughter’s and now refitted for the son again in preparation for his return from college. Everything is IKEA neat right now, the only muss the dust on top of the plastic fortune-telling Buddha, the one I gave him last Christmas, the one sitting on some glib western manufacturer’s idea of buddha responses, like look within.

Content as a mug of tea here, because Sam will return in a few days. We hung a long green batiked scarf in the window and everything is now watery green, my hands as I write you, my pajamas, his posters and books. A moist, dim green against the November outside.

If letters are little knitted compartments of saying, then I should hurry and say before I run out of yarn. Your daughter is a temple. My daughter is a swimming pool. Your daughter is an atrium. We are both splendid galleries within the museum of this city. You are a library stacked with real wisdom, truly. Your daughter is a volleyball court. My son is somewhere in Boston now, his body a concert hall, his eyes will be blue all the way back to Chicago.

Yours, Alice

PS Don’t show this to Mike yet, he needs to wait.

by Alice George

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For notes on the process, see the first letter in the chain.

Dear Seven: A Circle of Epistles (2)

February 10, 2009 Comments off

Part 2 in a series of 7

Dear Alice

Different things were happening at the same time. The street thrashed like a low grade fever, hail leapt from the grass! There you were at that dim grocery store of the dying mill town. The eight-months pregnant checkout girl was watching CNN as you wandered Produce grasping for Ariadne’s thread. Your only guides: oblivion and the possible lack of nerve.

I watched as your heart turned into Frozen Desserts and you held the toy steering wheel pretending to steer the cart. Tonight as you sit at your desk in a mildewed basement, asbestos sifting from the floorboards, the black waters of Lethe smoking past the ash tree in the back yard, you lean toward its calm.

by Mike Puican

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For notes on the process, see the first letter in the chain.

Dear Seven: A Circle of Epistles (1)

January 26, 2009 1 comment

Part 1 in a series of 7

Dear Mike,

a man walks into a bar and finds a good view.

How are you?

his words rest heavy on the table.

I feel self-conscious as if I’m thinking this under a bright light.

he wonders how the light found parking on such a dark night.

Right now it’s pouring rain, really pouring, rolling thunder and crashes of lightning which feels out of place for November. I just got back from an appointment with my acupuncturist. While I was on the table I thought about this poem. How awkward it felt until joy broke through and I realized I could use your help lifting heavy things. A man! Between you and me, lately I have been tiring of being a strong woman. Strong like a man and strong like a woman. Chopping wood. Carrying water. Shopping for candles. Working to feed the babies and the wife. She’s starting her own business you know.

he’s been saying this for years.

Thunder and lightning are shaking the house at this moment. The animals are jumpy but I am sitting in the window writing this and enjoying myself very much. Have you ever noticed I have large hands? I prefer to keep them empty but it’s been a struggle these past few months. I want to fill them with air I have brought back from our land in Wisconsin. Did I tell you I am a landowner? Maybe that’s why I crave mud. The color. The smell. The weight. My acupuncturist said it’s understandable why some women want to eat dirt and I wish I had a big plate of it because I can taste the rich earth and I can feel my bones getting stronger. I can feel everything about me lengthening into the ground.

What do men crave?

Sincerely,

cin

by cin salach

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Process notes

The authors are, in order: cin salach, Mike Puican, Alice George, Mary Hawley, Cecilia Pinto, Chris Green, and Eileen Favorite. They write:
We — the seven poets whose work will appear here under the title of “Dear Seven: A Circle of Epistles” — have been meeting regularly for two years to challenge ourselves in the writing of forms and various other poetic adventures. Each month a new form or project is proposed; the following month we share our efforts. The resulting work offers us a chance to compare and contrast how we each approach each month’s “assignment.” The creation of “Dear Seven” was a defining moment for the group as we adapted the collaborative surrealist concept of “Exquisite Corpse” to the epistolary form. Over a month, a chain of letters was created, in which each poet only saw the letter they received, and the one they created in response. Then we assembled and read them in order, enjoying the surprising echoes and themes which emerged.