by Nancy Flynn
Cowardice to woo exposure most permanent.
The full scatter of scanty toward heaven.
Certainties annulled: object, verb, noun.
Shroud over sense. Strange less lenient.
Fire and weep—the raiment for all nights.
So many truths gathered and within each yes.
Illicitness the final occupation.
I started near the far north. Ran.
Nancy Flynn hails from the coal country of northeastern Pennsylvania where somehow, at an early age, she fell in love with words instead of into a sinkhole or the then-polluted Susquehanna River. She spent many years living on a downtown creek in Ithaca, New York. In 1998, she married the scientist whose house once hosted parties where Vladimir Nabokov chain-smoked cigarettes. They packed up their Conestoga Volvo 850 and headed for the foothills of the Oregon Coast Range, finally settling in Portland in 2007. More about her past lives, awards, and publications can be found at nancyflynn.com.
I. Ode of Opposition to Sylvia Plath’s Poem: “You’re”
I’m (Lisa Opposes Sylvia)
Anti-mime, grouchiest off my feet,
Hands away from planets, but sun-skinned,
Beaked as the birds. The fool-hardy
Flick-off toward a cuckoo’s break.
Unwound around myself as the thread,
Avoiding my light, like rodents avoid.
Chatty like a jack-o-lantern up til Christ-
Mas since All Saint’s Day,
Ah wide-spreader, your bloated dough.
Specific like hail but hidden from as secrets.
Closer than the Outback Steakhouse.
Smooth-stomached Eve, her homebodied worm.
Sprawled like the blossom but not far
As the bear outside the jelly belly.
The cuff for pufferfish, no slack.
Squat like Arborio rice.
Wrong, as the poorly-begun difference.
The scratched vinyl, without our mask off.
He’s (Nancy Opposes Sylvia)
Sticklike, speediest on his feet,
Hands on the ball, and sun-beaned,
Filled with a wish. His magic-touch
Palm raised in a beggar’s bowl.
Unspun round himself like a top,
Following his light as fireflies will.
Chattery as a magpie on the court
From dawn to every wisdom’s night.
O low-faller, her reedy lope.
Precise as a scar yet overlooked like rain.
Closer still than the heartbeat’s pulse.
Straight-front Adonis, her homeboy spawn.
Restless as a wasp and far-off, at sea
Like a gull on a brining tug.
A water jar of lotus, no waveforms.
Focused as a Buddhist monk.
Left, like a less-charged pole.
One smudged note and his ghost-trace, gone.
II. Ode of Opposition to William Carlos Williams’s Poem:
“The Widow’s Lament in Springtime”
Mount St. Helens, May 18, 1980 (Nancy Opposes William)
Happiness was your rented field
when the old earth
ashed as it hadn’t ashed
a few times after and also
without the hot airs
that opened inside you that day.
You died by your wife.
The tree plum was black yesterday
with scatterings of buds.
Scatterings of buds
fell down the plum trunk
and erased every sapling
red but no yellow
and the joy of your soul
was weaker than each
as if each wasn’t your sorrow
lately, yesterday you ignored one
so headed toward remembering.
Tomorrow your daughter will write you
how beyond the forests,
by the center of the thinning hedge
close to home, she smelled
marshes of black sludge.
You didn’t think you’d ever hate
to leave here
or rise above these dregs
or lift above the scorch, far-flung all.
A Bride’s Hymn After Autumn (Lisa Opposes William)
Joy was our shared home.
How the old woods
have rained though they rain
little since and still
without a hot shower.
What opened inside us that day?
One part of a day
you separated from your wife.
The brambles will be black tomorrow
without a single fruit.
A single fruit
bears a pear stem
but dulls no tree
to brown, none to green
and comfort from your hands
isn’t weaker than it
except that it is our grief
hence, tomorrow we will ignore it
yet stand close remembering.
Tomorrow our daughter will ask us
about a forest
surrounded by a thin meadow
nearby where she hears
birds with black feathers.
You think of yourself, would hate
to come here
or lift up this fruit
or rise up from a plowed field far away.
Nancy Flynn hails from the coal country of northeastern Pennsylvania and now lives in Portland, Oregon. Her writing has received the James Jones First Novel Fellowship and an Oregon Literary Fellowship; her second poetry chapbook, Eternity a Coal’s Throw, will be published in 2012. More about her writing and publications is at her website.
Lisa McCool-Grime loves Sappho, wallflower women, and collaborations. Her wallflower women are or soon will be in DIAGRAM, Splinter Generation, Verse Wisconsin and elsewhere. Her collaborations can be found at elimae, PANK, and Poemeleon. Tupelo Press awarded one of her poems first place in their “Fragments of Sappho” contest.
About their on-going “Odes of Opposition” series, Nancy and Lisa write: “We wanted to copy the hand of the masters, those poetic stars fixed into the contemporary discourse. We wanted to thumb our noses at them, oppose them word-for-word charting our own course. We wanted to read critically. And write creatively. All at once. Again, then again.
“Our oppositions to Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman were published in the collaborative issue of Poemeleon, Winter/Spring 2010. Our oppositions to Langston Hughes and Gertrude Stein appeared in PANK’s Queer Two issue, November 2011.”
by Nancy Flynn
Forty years after my bricklayer grandfather died, age sixty,
fatal heart attack during the fabled Ali-Frazier fight,
I am on hands, on knees that seem, at fifty-five,
to have lost all cushion of cartilage. I am cleaning
these bricks, this heart-shaped garden path,
wire-brushing moss—my grandmother’s maiden name—
scraping away mold that may hearken back to 1938,
the year this house was built. I try to fill in the blanks,
measure my measly chinks beside the seeming immutability
of such clinkers, once the ones they threw away.
My hands span wide enough to play an octave, would make it easy
to finger-splay each paver then set it before I’d trowel-slather
and join with lime/sand/water/cement. Crossways header,
meet longways stretcher. Mortared, you could stack
every transgression baked in this life’s kiln of shame.
Oh, these more-than-halfway days—of harpy meets hector,
letting the gray grow, letting the estrogen peter out.
While the wind’s forever missing the top notes, breezing
through sheers as if my house were a sloop in the nautical
church of testify, praise-to-glory the shores of Lake Cayuga,
promised lands even rivers—my Susquehanna home one, too
the mighty Columbia barely a mile or two down the street.
I bike to see it, seek its tiniest poem. Watch the delta turn
birds to slough it, dive for suet in spite of their off-song
chitter and screech. Fleeing, fleeting, omnia mors aequat—
yet again, it’s death that equals all things. Worship,
my altar can only be this spreader-root tilt, more heave.
These thousand imperfect, vitrified bricks I scrub of mud
and burn and still the residue from their ages-ago
firing glazes, stubborn as vine, insistent as rot.
Nancy Flynn (website) hails from the anthracite coal country of northeastern Pennsylvania and somehow, at an early age, fell in love with words instead of into a sinkhole or the then-polluted Susquehanna River. She was involved with all things literary back in the dark ages of high school, writing bad haiku and meandering vers libre that included the words mystical and entwined. Her writing has since received a James Jones First Novel Fellowship and an Oregon Literary Fellowship. Her 2007 poetry chapbook, The Hours of Us, was nominated for an Oregon Book Award; a second chapbook, Eternity a Coal’s Throw, is forthcoming from Burning River in 2012. A former university administrator, she now writes creatively and edits carefully from her sea-green house near lovely Alberta Park in Portland, Oregon.
The Winter I Went to Two Al-Anon Meetings, Realized I Didn’t Have What It Took to Love Your Version of Alcoholic
by Nancy Flynn
You crashed but never
burned and Six Mile Creek
froze for weeks. The stores
sold out of shovels; I chipped
and scraped with a hoe.
New Year’s Eve we walked,
ice all the way to town
a horizontal fish tank,
our Pied Piper underneath.
Ice plugged the gorge,
slicked the bridge
over Ithaca Falls,
the one desperate
students died to leap.
Jumping wasn’t your style,
not enough slo-mo in that.
All January, our bed
had turned sleety
the fitted sheet stretched out.
You were working your way
through a suicide primer,
redacting the lists—first this,
then that, if all else fails,
eventually this again.
Cases of wine arrived
weekly from FedEx,
giant bags of empties
I dragged to the curb,
how they bangled, chains.
February was a blur,
an ankle cracked as well—
you said you lost your balance.
What weren’t you thinking,
gutters in that squall?
March on the ward
in group, they made you talk.
You told me how you quoted
Weldon Kees: The spangled
riddle is twitter and purr.
Solitary and no cigarettes
in that room, empty
but for a single,
sheetless bed with stains.
On April’s banks, the thaw,
and forsythia struggling to bud,
I turned runoff from
your mind’s residue vain-
violent. Never trickled back.
Tim the astrologer said:
You can always find
something to love—a dog,
a hummingbird, a pear.
meteorologist, you were
the one, insistent whisper:
Dream on, bingo boots.
How soon the night turns
frost, bitten to the quick.
Note: The line “a mind’s residue vain/violent” plays on Weldon Kees’s line in “Corsage”: “your mind vein-violet.”
Nancy Flynn (website) hails from the coal country of northeastern Pennsylvania. Her writing has received the James Jones First Novel Fellowship and an Oregon Literary Fellowship. Her poetry chapbook, The Hours of Us, was published in 2007. A former university administrator, she now writes creatively and edits carefully from her sea-green (according to Crayola) house near lovely Alberta Park in Portland, Oregon.