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Road Notes

August 13, 2012 3 comments

by Wendy Vardaman

(taking our father back to Arkansas, June 2011)

Razorback oak box,
the bristles on the boar’s back
lie flat, its eyes dull.

*

Bring your swim suit. Make
sure your dad’s ashes
are in the van.

*

Mother asks about
the route more than my niece, six,
says, are we there yet?

*

Cracker Barrel. Fried
okra. Dumplings. Rocking chairs,
shirts, flags, sticky stuff.

*

Now when we come back,
if we go up through Marblehead,
we’ll miss all this.

*

Just curious. Which road
are you taking now? My niece
asks, Are we there yet?

*

Mom stabs at the map
over continental
breakfast, shakes with rage.

*

I have a horror
of getting to Arkansas
without him, she says.

I have a horror
of fast planes…masked intruders…
high speed trains…Chinese

hackers…stolen
passwords…Zombie socialists…
high speed trains…

I have a horror
of the house at night, the black
night, the house, the horror.

*

Oreos. Movie.
Chips. Movie. Sprite. Such a good
little traveler.

*

MacDonald’s drive through.
Another movie. Dual
screens. Highway ahead.

*

Walgreen’s. KFC.
Shell. 3.55. Can you
believe what we pay?

*

MacDonald’s. DQ.
World Bird Sanctuary Next
Right. Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart.

*

Springfield. Another
tank, highways bursting with trucks,
the way to Joplin.

*

George Washington Carver
National Monument. Speed
past, GPS warning.

*

We look for collapse.
For smash. For twisted. Whipped. Hot.
Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding.

The malls, shredded,
even Wal-Mart pulverized,
trees, houses, signs, sighs:

Did they ever find
that baby? Cars pounded, boat
wrapped around a tree top.

Slumberland saved, the
Mattress store next door? Shorn. Wake-
up America.

*

Arkansas state line:
highway blasted through limestone
layers, golf courses, strip mall.

Bentonville traffic
jam. 5:45. Shift change
at the Wal-Mart mines.

*

Remember that mess
with the Koreans? she asks.
You mean Vietnamese.

*

We lived on Roosevelt
Road, on Victoria Drive.
On empires eroding.

*

Your house, over there?
Well, now there’s black folks living
in that house. Shoot—

*

The borders move North,
East: Thriftway’s an Asian Market,
Safeway, Latino.

*

You got some color
at the pool. It’s nice to have
a little color.

*

Half of Clarksville, torn
to bits, last month’s tornado,
careful with matches.

*

birches bend left straight
dark boy swinging that doesn’t
stay ice-storms do

*

We take care of our
own, says a cousin I never
met who looks like me.

*

They wore Bermuda
shorts, rode bicycles. Your
parents were so cool.

*

At our mom’s oldest
cousin’s, sipping iced tea: wide
porch, wide mountain view.

*

They still say how well
their great-grands treated the slaves,
let them stay post-War.

*

The house of flags takes
everyone back, among them
hangs a KKK.

*

100 degree
walk: me, some students, all the
Latino workers.

*

Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart. Flower
shop. Drug store. Mall. Mall. We load
the hold, then head home.

*

Our oceans & our
ice are dying. So are we:
good bye, good buys.

 

Author’s Note: I collected these fragments on a trip from Wisconsin to Arkansas last summer, using the haiku form to help shape the description and observations, but also to create some of the disjunction that I felt and observed during the trip. The cultural gaps, the racism, visiting a place I hadn’t been for 35 years, the beauty of the natural landscape against the ugliness of development and ideology, the distance between us in spite of larger problems that we all face, were so overwhelming that the fragment was the only way I could find to write. Originally, I considered these notes a prewriting exercise and planned to make them into a different poem, series of poems, or essay, but they insisted on their current form, both disjointed and also unified. In my revising I have rearranged and sometimes eliminated notes, but I haven’t added anything new, and I have left their original, observational character intact.


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Wendy Vardaman (website) is the author of Obstructed View (Fireweed Press), co-editor/webmaster of Verse Wisconsin, and co-founder/co-editor of Cowfeather Press. She is one of Madison, Wisconsin’s two Poets Laureate (2012-2015).

Categories: Fragments Tags:

Petite Morte, a Verse Dance with Captions

August 5, 2011 1 comment

by Wendy Vardaman

At the shadowy back of the stage, you can just make out the captivating figures of six black-clad women, hands folded over their wide skirts, while they watch, perfectly still and expressionless, six saber-rattling men leap, spin, lean into their blades.

You wonder which holds up the other, fabric or flesh. And then they appear in front of their clothes—abandon their stiffness—come to life, legs exposed.

The dresses, it turns out, neither alive nor inanimate, remain upright, uninhabited by their former prisoners; each bell-shaped skirt, a black glass jar or bird’s cage covered by black cloth to quiet inconvenient singing, awaits its captive’s return.

They run in circles on the stage—men and women, hard to tell who’s chasing whom, no signs of capitulation from either side. Without their skirt-cages to hold them, the women keep up, but the dresses creep closer, too, sidle this way and that, looking for the right moment, for signs of weakness, fatigue, inattention, to launch a recapture.


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Wendy Vardaman (website) has a Ph.D. from University of Pennsylvania. Co-editor of Verse Wisconsin and the author of Obstructed View (Fireweed Press, 2009), she works for a children’s theater, The Young Shakespeare Players, in Madison, Wisconsin. Her essays & interviews have appeared in Poetry Daily and Poets.org, among others.

Categories: Imprisonment Tags:

Between the Notes

November 9, 2010 3 comments

by Wendy Vardaman

They’re not trying to be rude, or cruel, the kids, laughing and chattering while he plays the oud on stage. To be fair, the music is difficult for Westerners to hear, even though he carefully explains its differentiating features: the maqam, so much more complex than 12 tones, zakhrafat more intricate than the Baroque, and an awzan unintelligible to our unsophisticated ears, with 10 and 7 beats stressed in unexpected places. And though he tries to involve the audience, teaching them to clap 1-6-7 out of 10, they don’t seem to get it. By the end he’s more then a little irritated and begins to sound like a middle-school teacher rather than a Grammy-nominated world musician. You can waste time. Or you can learn something. He plays a song composed while touring Southern France, another for a festival in Madrid, speaks lovingly of the warmth, blue skies, dazzling beaches. Wonder what he’ll write after his blizzard-bound weekend in Wisconsin, separated from the takht trapped in Detroit?

Meanwhile, at least thirteen teenaged girls keep getting up and down in their seats, leaving the theater and coming back in while his fingers fly up and down the fingerboard finding pitches not allowed in our music — casting them out, calling them flat or sharp. And the teachers also mill about, on the pretense of settling their classes, who, apparently, have not been told that the music is for them, that the performer in the spotlight can hear and even see them when he shades his eyes, that this is not a television show.


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Wendy Vardaman (website) is the author of Obstructed View (Fireweed Press) and the co-editor of Verse Wisconsin.

Categories: The Crowd Tags:

The Poetess

August 5, 2010 2 comments

by Wendy Vardaman

She steps from her father’s noble brow, so far above the usual procedure that they pretend not to notice this bit of magic, don’t even stoop to comment. He raises a marble white, long-fingered hand to his temple and voilá, extracts with care a robed daughter, already well into the reading of some weighty book of law.
What you don’t know is that she’s emerged from his head every day this way for years — ever since she was born — trying without success to get an audience to notice: different outfits, different props. One day she’s a lion tamer holding a chair, the next a fire fighter wielding a hose, an acrobat, a master chef, an actress, figure skater, criminal investigator, neurologist. A long, long time ago, still small, she’d appear in the cutest, lace-trimmed ruffled skirts, tap dancing her little heart out of his brain.
What does a goddess have to do to get noticed? Tight pants & belly shirts? A black period with pierced tongue? Pink hair? Ripped abs? She’s been tweaking one thing and another for so long, she hardly remembers her own name, much less what she ever stood for, if anything. The other gods in her god group are full of advice: hurl thunderbolts, send plagues, promise the moon, dress imposingly, cut to the chase.
But she can’t muster, anymore, the energy even to make an effort. Shows up every morning in a nightgown with the book she was reading when she fell asleep still in hand, steps out of the stony-eyed head, and goes home to the kids without even looking back to see if she’s drawn a crowd.
So it’s a surprise one day when someone does notice and, for whatever reason, worships the ground she walks on. It’s hard to take seriously, this late interest in her work; she’s sure it’s a fad — consider the source. Still, it’s gratifying to hear someone say with appropriate awe at last: Look, everyone, it’s the Goddess of Wisdom come forth fully-formed from the temple of Zeus.


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Wendy Vardaman (website) lives in Madison, Wisconsin and is the author of Obstructed View (Fireweed Press). She works for The Young Shakespeare Players, a children’s theater company, co-edits Verse Wisconsin, and does not own a car.

Categories: New Classics Tags:

Arezzo. Casa Petrarch.

May 20, 2010 2 comments

by Wendy Vardaman

Walking Arezzo two wet hours, we pass
by Petrarch’s, hardly stopping when his door
is locked: it’s supposed to open at this hour,
according to the guide book, but it’s not and no one wants
to linger waiting for the appearance
of some annoyed employee on the other
side, just reading a novel through the downpour,
nothing poetic, or, having spent last

night up arguing with her shiftless husband,
that spendthrift cheat, catching up on needed
rest, wrestling in her underwater dreams
with bill collecting mermen, turned
out in purple tails, neck-ties, and fresh-trimmed
scales, weighing, while we dash for a train, her options.


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Wendy Vardaman (website) lives in Madison, Wisconsin and is the author of Obstructed View (Fireweed Press). She works for The Young Shakespeare Players, a children’s theater company, co-edits Verse Wisconsin, and does not own a car.

Categories: New Classics Tags:

Panic

February 11, 2010 3 comments

by Wendy Vardaman

Everything sharps and shrills
me: the day’s insistent, high-pitched yaps
as she clips room to room; her cats’
claws on skin when fur fails
to attend; the list
of things I’ll fail
to finish this week or next; the muscle
along my calendar’s ridge, pinch

in its neck, suspension
of disbelief, critical voice between the temples,
echo from some
strained event, the throbbing squares, like swollen
gums, the crystal numbers that slip from great heights
off its thick-thumbed tongue.


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Wendy Vardaman (website) lives in Madison, Wisconsin and is the author of Obstructed View (Fireweed Press). She works for The Young Shakespeare Players, a children’s theater company, co-edits Verse Wisconsin, and does not own a car.

Categories: Health Tags:

St Joseph of Cupertino. 9/18

September 19, 2009 2 comments

by Wendy Vardaman

Maybe it’s the lighthead — wanting
in mental capacity so that when Joseph studies
for a test, he focuses on one item only. Prays
for his examiners to ask that question. Flying,
however, comes easily, happens trancing
on God, involuntary; one minute he’s
with his fellow Franciscans, the next he’s taken off. It happens
first on the order’s feast day, then with increasing

frequency. He can’t stop, poor empty-
handed priest, no matter the ascending rank of those who order
him not to make a spectacle of himself.
Exiled by the pope to Assisi then to one commune and the next, he goes dry,
ordered not to speak to anyone other
than his bishop, until the last mass, Assumption Day, overcome by happiness, he lifts off.

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Wendy Vardaman (website) has a Ph.D. in English from University of Pennsylvania. Co-editor of the Wisconsin poetry journal Verse Wisconsin (formerly Free Verse), her poems, reviews, and interviews have appeared widely, and her first collection of poetry, Obstructed View (Fireweed Press), has just been published. She works for a youth theater, The Young Shakespeare Players.

Categories: Words of Power Tags: