Monday, June 10, 2013

Poems, Waiting Rooms, and Coincidence

Here is an email I received yesterday from one of my best friends in the world, who lives in Wellington, Maine, the next town over from Harmony:
[We] got a letter from a friend of ours . . . in NJ. He is a builder of canoes, among many other things, and has been treating for cancer these last 20 years!! He was in his doc's office and came across a book that had your poem Eclogue 2 in it. It reminded him of Steve and me so he copied it and sent it in the mail!!! What a coincidence! Now, I want you to imagine a very sick man sitting in a suburban NJ clinic waiting for his top gun doc to see him. He picks up a book (???) and reads your poetry. It moves him so much that he copies it and sends along to us.
The book the man was reading in the doctor's office was The Waiting Room Reader II, a CavanKerry Press anthology specifically designed for medical waiting rooms, with the idea that people in such stressful situations might like to read something better than Sports Illustrated or Better Homes and Gardens. Rachel Hadas, the editor, chose my poem, Eclogue 2, to include in the anthology. Then, after she had made her choices, the manuscript came back to me because I am CavanKerry's regular copyeditor.

So picture this: The raw manuscript files come up to Harmony from New Jersey. I work on them and send them back to New Jersey, where they are designed, typeset, printed, and locally distributed to waiting rooms throughout the state. A man who builds canoes sits in one of those waiting rooms and flips through the anthology. He reads my poem, which is set in Harmony, though nothing in the poem reveals anything specific about the town. Nonetheless, it reminds him of his friend, another canoe builder, who happens to live in Wellington (next door to Harmony). He copies the poem and emails it to his friend. His friend realizes that the poet is me.

What a spiderweb this world is.

Eclogue 2 
Dawn Potter 
A marriage worth of minutes we’ve stood
side by side, staring into the hooded depths
of your 1984 Dodge Ram pickup truck,
watching the engine chitter and die
for no apparent reason. I feel a crazy,
ignorant joy: here we go again, sweetheart,
struggling in harness over yet another
crappy mystery. Do you? I can’t say I’ll ever
know one way or the other what your thoughts
will do, though twenty years ago I made you cry
when I dumped you for the jerk down the hall,
and I’ll never get over it, the sight of you,
cool autocrat, in tears for a dumb girl
who happened to be me.

Now I’m the one who cries all the time,
you’re the one not walking away from me
down the hall.  Just the same, you imagine
walking away, I’m sure of it; maybe when you’re
dragging another snow-sopped log to the chainsaw
pile, or we’re curled in bed waiting for a barred owl
to stammer in the pines, the barn dog shouting back
like a madwoman. It’s not that being here
is misery; it’s more like marriage is too much
and not enough at the same time: the trees crowd us
like children, our bodies betray a fatal longing.
What’s left for us, at forty, but dismay
till labor shakes us back into our yoke.

Work, work, that puritan duty—yet
how beautiful the set of your shoulders
when you heave a scrap of metal siding
into the trash heap. Our bodies linger
this side of lovely, like flowers under glass.
We drive ourselves to endure; on my knees
in the hay mow, stifled and panting,
I plant bale after bale in place: you toss,
you toss, I shove, I shove. We keep pace,
patient and wordless; the goats in their pen
blat irritably. In the yard our sons quarrel.
Mourning doves groan in the eaves.
Long hours ahead, till our job is done
and another begins.

Hunting scattered chickens in the bug-infested dew:
I watch you crouch along the scrubby poplar edge,
then circle back between the apple trees,
white hen skittering ahead, luminescent in the shabby
dark. Suddenly she drops her head and sits,
submissive as a girl. You’ve got her now; tuck up her feet
and carry her back home, then squat to mend the ragged fence.
A breath of sweat rises from your sunburnt neck,
salt and sweet. My love. Marry me, I say. You cast
an eye askance and shrug, I did. How odd it seems
that this is where we’ve landed: chasing chickens
through the woods at twilight, humid thunder rumpling
the summer sky, dishes washed, a slice of berry pie left
cooling on the counter. I’ve been saving it for you. 
[from How the Crimes Happened (CavanKerry Press, 2010)]


Maureen said...

Whata great story! Wonderful poem, too.

CMGadapee said...


I am pleased beyond measure at this story... =)

And is CavanKerry distributing copies further than NJ? I'd love to see a few in our own local healthcare facilities.

Dawn Potter said...

Carlene: take up this idea with Teresa at the conference. You just might get your wish.

Christopher said...

Thanks, Dawn -- and that's what I meant in my cruel comments following yesterday's post. You're that good, but damn it, you have no idea what you're saying.

And because you don't is precisely why you write it so well, to find out, And that's also why it will be so helpful to some other lucky sufferer sitting there in waiting.