Friday, May 24, 2013

Mrs. Dickinson Waits in the Car

Dawn Potter

          My Mother does not care for thought—
                                    Emily Dickinson

A few meager stars, a hazy moon
brighter than old Kentuck,
and a bulge of frost spooned
across the windshield like a plucked,

flash-frozen chick. Into this arctic
chariot, the heater chafes and spouts
its idiot vows. Yes, I lied about Kentuck.
No doubt, it’s glowing like all get-out,

like a pair of gibbous moons, like molten
honey dripped into a summer lake.
Blame art, then: I’ve been soaking up Bolton’s
poems, and now I’m acting like a fake

southerner, which is to say gothically
depressed while making love to every rum-
soaked predicate I meet. Treat gothically
as a ringer for New England numb.

Today a friendly rube lauded my skill
at prosy contemplation, but what a crock.
Call a heart a spade: call me a fading, moody kill-
joy with a romance eye for loss and schlock.

The car fan chatters hopelessly; newsmen
chant wind-chill rates and hockey stats.
Like any hausfrau I fret over loaves in the oven,
socks on the line, carboys of milk, and ruinous vats

of soup. There they burn or boil.
Here I dally in this wrapper-strewn capsule,
this (laugh with me!) bell jar. Can I stand loyal
to her, cruel queen of diction, and also rule

my roost, my squat piratical outpost?
I shiver; I prop my tome of poems
against the cruiser’s plastic wheel. I boast
that they age for me: these jeroboams

of syntax, these sherry cups of rage.
Yet these tired hands; yet these cold feet.
Go ahead: remind me to shut up, to flip the page,
to change the station, to bleat

            of Mother’s lonely vigil.
I’m not proud of my idle arrogance.
Meanwhile, the rye loaf chars and the milk spills.
            They’re out of my ken, for a hatful of minutes.

                        Let me claim to be oracular.
“Poetry is not like reasoning,” urges Shelley.
And I reply: “nothing in particular”
            is the maiden speech of every tragedy.

[I know I posted this a while ago, but I was in the mood for it again today. Must be the empty refrigerator and the pouring rain. The poem is forthcoming in Same Old Story (CavanKerry Press, 2014).]


Christopher said...

I think it takes me just about as long to get a poem as it takes me to write one. And I think this poem actually took a long time to write even though it looks dashed off, like Emily Dickinson’s mother’s mind looked empty whereas it was actually overladened – which is the element of Emily Dickinson’s genius her mother provided, being overladened and therefore pathologically retired. “New England numb” + “gothically depressed” can be resolved in fearless passion, thank God, even if you never leave the car!

Being broke + broken car + messy palette + foul weather = a good poem, up to a point. It also makes me not want to be a poet if I have to go outside the house inside like this. I’d rather take to bed like Mrs D. and then be washed by Emily every morning, head to toe, and then again before I sleep.

Thanks, Dawn

Dawn Potter said...

The poem actually took longer to write than you might think. Streamlining the voice and the rhyme scheme was tricky.

Christopher said...

Looking like it was dashed off was a compliment. As was "up to a point."

Am I right about Mrs D? Is that what you meant?


Dawn Potter said...

I guess so. I'm not sure. The Dickinson remark triggered an imagined character in my head and I tried to inhabit her.