Poem of the Week, by Mary Jo Salter

IMG_7772The other day a new friend walked into my house and stopped to look at some photos perched on a bookcase. “Is that you?” he said, pointing to one of a girl on a windsurfer. “No, that’s my daughter,” I said, admiring her, how the wind was blowing her long hair back. Then time did one of its weird pivots and I startled and sort of laugh/winced, because why had I said the girl on the windsurfer was my daughter? She wasn’t. She was me, long ago, when I was the age that my daughter is now. Do we, at some point, evolve into the mothers of our own selves? What a beautiful and sorrowful thought, a thought which keeps me re-reading Mary Jo Salter’s haunting poem below. 

 

Here I Am, by Mary Jo Salter

Here I am, making my grand tour
the summer after graduation.
What is this? Must be the Rome train station.
We never noticed we were poor.
Backpacks and low-rise jeans—
we never lived beyond our means.
(Back then there were no ATMs.)
Here we are,
my friends and me.
We’re napping on a bank of the Thames,
when love was free.

Here I am with that girl I met
on the trip to Brussels or Bruges.
(My God, her duffel bag is huge!)
What was her name? Yvonne? Yvette?
She ditched me; I’m forgetting why.
Oh yeah—when I slept with that Swedish guy.
His sleeping bag was full of fleas.
Here we are,
with our bread and cheese,
on a park bench in the Tuileries,
when love was free.

    Here I am,
    a woman in the middle
    of her life,
    and her life
    is an endless riddle.
    In all of Europe
    I couldn’t stir up
    a memory more un-
    likely and foreign
    than me at twenty-two.
    I can’t help gazing
    at her bright young eyes,
    at her nice firm thighs.
    Was I ever twenty-two?
    Look at her skin, it’s amazing.
    Can you be me? Am I you?

Here I am at the Berlin Wall.
They tore it down, but it’s still there
in this picture, like my long dark hair.
But there’s a wall between her and me
that, like me, won’t be getting thinner.
Here we are,
myself and me,
thinking, Ich bin ein Berliner,
but who is free?

    Here I am,
    looking at this kernel
    of myself,
    and I feel
    so strangely maternal.
    Do I have a choice?
    I can’t believe I’m hearing
    my own mother’s voice
    giving me advice:

Did you pack your passport?
Sign your traveler’s checks?
Don’t talk to men,
they only want sex;
keep a ladylike appearance
and when was the last time you sent
a postcard to your parents?

Here it is.
Here’s my postcard to me.
I’ve become my own mother;
never thought I’d be.
But here I am …
here I am.

 

For more information on Mary Jo Salter, please click here.

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Poem of the Week, by David Hernandez

img_3441“Hi, this is Alison McGhee, patriotic citizen, calling from 55408.” Ever since the atrocity, which is my term for what went down last November, I make calls or send emails every day. I march if there’s a march. Taking action is the one thing that keeps me from sinking into a kind of paralyzed despair at both the crumbling of democracy I see all around me and the cruelty that is being encouraged and applauded. 

But taking action doesn’t just mean protesting. It means doubling down on kindness, on friendliness, on generosity. These are my vows, which I frequently break but keep re-upping: Smile and say hi to everyone you pass. Be your kindest self. Focus all your energy on the students in this room. Make life better for everyone you can, every time you can.  

The world gives back to you the energy you put into it, as David Hernandez –a poet new to me but whose work I’m now tracking down wherever I can find it– says so beautifully in this poem below.

 

Anyone Who Is Still Trying, by David Hernandez

Any person, any human, any someone who breaks
          up the fight, who spackles holes or FedExes
ice shelves to the Arctic to keep the polar bears
          afloat, who talks the wind-rippled woman
down from the bridge. Any individual, any citizen
          who skims muck from the coughing ocean,
who pickets across the street from antigay picketers
          with a sign that reads, GOD HATES MAGGOTS,
or, GOD HATES RESTAURANTS WITH ZAGAT RATINGS
          LESS THAN 27. Any civilian who kisses
a forehead heated by fever or despair, who reads
          the X ray, pins the severed bone. Any biped
who volunteers at soup kitchens, who chokes
          a Washington lobbyist with his own silk necktie—
I take that back, who gives him mouth-to-mouth
          until his startled heart resumes its kabooms.
Sorry, I get cynical sometimes, there is so much
          broken in the system, the districts, the crooked
thinking, I’m working on whittling away at this
          pessimism, harvesting light where I can find it.
Any countryman or countrywoman who is still
          trying, who still pushes against entropy,
who stanches or donates blood, who douses fires
          real or metaphorical, who rakes the earth
where tires once zeroed the ground, plants something
          green, say spinach or kale, say a modest forest
for restless breezes to play with. Any anyone
          from anywhere who considers and repairs,
who builds a prosthetic beak for an eagle—
          I saw the video, the majestic bird disfigured
by a bullet, the visionary with a 3-D printer,
          with polymer and fidelity, with hours
and hours and hours, I keep thinking about it,
          thinking we need more of that commitment,
those thoughtful gestures, the flight afterward. 

 

For more information on David Hernandez, please click here.

 

Pablo and Birdy

pablo-and-birdy-9781481470261_hr

McGhee’s tender tale of the search for home, belonging, and identity smoothly incorporates elements of magical realism and powerful allusions to the refugee experience. Publisher’s Weekly, starred review.

A quiet, memorable, fantastical tale beautifully complemented by Juan’s illustrations. Kirkus, starred review.

Friends and future friends, please welcome Pablo and Birdy, my brand-new novel for children and anyone who used to be a child, to the world. 

The novel is about Pablo, who lives with Emmanuel, his adoptive father, and Birdy, his beloved parrot, in Isla, a Key West-like town of fisherpeople and shopkeepers.

Pablo doesn’t know who or where he came from, and the unanswered questions of his past hurt him to think about.

But local legend tells of a mysterious Seafaring parrot –whose existence has never been verified– a parrot who holds within itself all the sounds ever made in the world, and who can reproduce those sounds under special circumstances. 

Is the legend true? If it is, would a Seafarer be able to tell Pablo where he came from? If he had a family before he arrived in Isla?

And if he did, did that family . . . love him? 

Twin Citians, I hereby invite you to a launch party at the wonderful Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul on August 23rd at 6:30. I’d love to see you there.

I’ll be making additional appearances (listed below) in New York City, Mississippi, Georgia, South Dakota, Vermont and Massachusetts this fall, and I’d love to meet some of you at the readings. 

August 19, Jackson, MS. The Mississippi Book Festival. Panel presentation on middle-grade fiction, followed by a book signing for Pablo and Birdy, 9:30-11:30 am

August 23, St. Paul, MN. The Red Balloon Bookshop. Launch party, reading, discussion and signing for Pablo and Birdy, 6:30 pm

September 2, Decatur, GA. Presentation on Pablo and Birdy at the Decatur Book Festival, 3:15-3:45 pm

October 27, Barneveld, NY. Unity Hall. Free public reading, discussion and signing featuring both Pablo and Birdy and Never Coming Back, 7 pm.

October 28, Liverpool, NY. Barnes and Noble. Public reading, signing and events for both Pablo and Birdy and Never Coming Back.

October 29, Chelsea, New York City. Books of Wonder. Panel presentation, reading and signing for Pablo and Birdy.

November 2, Shelburne, VT. Flying Pig Bookstore. Back-to-back readings, discussion and signings for Pablo and Birdy and Never Coming Back. (Come for the children’s novel, stay for the adult!)

November 4, Plainville, MA. An Unlikely Story. Back-to-back readings, discussion and signings for Pablo and Birdy and Never Coming Back. (Come for the children’s novel, stay for the adult!) 4 pm.

Poem of the Week, by Lydia Davis

20526107_1801259089888255_1165480337235082520_nA few days ago my friend J sent me this poem, with the subject line Have you seen this? No, I wrote back, I have never in my life read this poem and how did I not know that Lydia Davis (who’s a genius of the short story) also wrote poetry? Later that night, J and I talked about the poem on the phone. We weren’t really talking about the poem, though, because what is there to say about it beyond This is life and this is life and this is life.

J and I have been friends for nearly our entire adult lives at this point, and we have seen each other through, with through standing in for those times when you don’t know how you will make it through. Once, many years ago now, during a time when I could barely make it off the couch, J and her husband showed up unbidden at my front door. Pack a bag, they said, you’re coming to stay with us for a while. And I packed a bag and went to stay with them for a while, and they fed me and watched over me and waited until I could function again. Sometimes my phone blinks with J’s name and a feeling comes over me: answer it. And in the silence between my hello and her first words is weight and pain.

We know how to help each other through, is what I’m trying to say. We all need someone to help us through. It doesn’t matter how long you live, heart is still and always will be so new to this, as the extraordinary Lydia Davis knows so well. 

 
 

Head, Heart, by Lydia Davis

Heart weeps.
Head tries to help heart.
Head tells heart how it is, again:
You will lose the ones you love.  They will all go.  But
even the earth will go, someday.
Heart feels better, then.
But the words of head do not remain long in the ears of
heart.
Heart is so new to this.
I want them back, says heart.
Head is all heart has.
Help, head.  Help heart.

For more information on Lydia Davis, please click here.