Saturday, April 14, 2007

becoming the other: a persona poem workshop

I had a class at The Loft Literary Center today, one of my favorite places to be. This is now my fourth workshop (I have taken one on: 100 Things Every Writer Should Know, small group workshops, and putting together a poetry manuscript for publication). It's a nice variety of classes, but I think at this stage, the generative ones are the best and favorites for me.

The space itself is beautiful: pale exposed brick, exposed wood beams, a half dozen letters branded into the floorboards. A coffee shop downstairs (two chais, delicious), the Minnesota Center for the Book Arts and somewhere, Milkweed Editions (where Eireann's book has been published).

For the first time, I thought I would open up my writer's notebook and share some of what I wrote. I've done this before, only just out loud, so the only permanent place is in a spiral bound book I could always slip into the garbage and no one would notice. Here, there is a small sense of permanence--one could always copy and paste and show people: "See, look, this is how she writes really; isn't it terrible?" or what have you, so it's scary to show drafts, especially to folks who do not also write this way. But I have vowed to try to open myself up more, to begin to allow this part of myself become more dominant.

So keep this in mind: these are two first drafts, if you could even call them that, in the most obvious state of raw-ness, and may never be reworked because I look back on them a week later and find them terrible. But these are the two I chose from my two dozen pages I wrote at this workshop to share, though there are others that have a germ of potential too (maybe I'll share those later).

We were to take on so many different personas: a flamenco dancer, a person dead, a person without a voice from opression, close friends and loved ones, the person in the picture, etc. It was hard sometimes, and I would start off shakey each time, but as I got moving, I think there were some glimmers, some moments that might be worth returning to. So often there aren't, so often do I write terribly, but I have been trying to keep writing, no matter what. Just write. Follow what I tell my students. At one point in the workshop, I had to stop writing from the persona of a mother and write about my own life because my current attitude (that Oprah-esque embracing of the self) is too dominant to really allow myself to creatively explore The Other. Once I had written a page and a half about a phone conversation and looking at the small things, I was able to re-enter to the persona of an abused servant in a mansion household. (Any requests?)

So here they are, in all their raw glory. No editing, though I am tempted, because I did say they came from my notebook, and I don't want that to be an untruth. (Know that if you recognize the persona, I have taken embellishments for dramatic action, though I did use much truth, especially in the second.)

The beekeeping suit
reminds me of astronauts,
steps across the moon landscape
of Texas, the hum of the hive,
wax candles and honeycome in a jar.
My boots gray in the dust and
I am forever grateful for: ice tea,
lemonade, cube of ice. I watch the sun
set, the hum stilling, now
fireflies coming to the twilight air.
I thought I liked midnight
the best, but now, the purpling
of the horizon, and my heart
stilling in a sweaty ribcage,
may eclipse. I left Minnesota
with frost covering the ground,
the Brazilian allowed to work late
freely (i am not there to sit up,
awake, ask him
if he had forgotten, the pasta
long gelled in the pot). I wonder
what changed
between us, but after the return
from his homeland, we hvae
drifted instead of warmed.
I have allowed the drift
to turn into harsh words
and quiet purpling bruises before, and I know
he would leave before I flung
any pottery, but I can't
let this fade--not again.

The sweet Texas air will tell me,
oil fields and cow pasture,
what in m future will bud.
I could stay here, decide
for myself, not return, change
before he changes first.
I could keep bees, sell organic
fruit from the bed of a pickup truck,
make love to migrant workers,
tumble out of bed before the sun,
my skin growing darker until I become
another person entirely.

And another:

This is how he proposed:
I was sitting in the college library,
lamps low, bars of wood sending shadow
across the page (I was a much better
student then you grandfather; he loved
to hvae fun). He came up to me
and sat, laughter in the creases
of his body. On a slip of paper
he filtched from an ornery librarian,
he drew: one house, a man, a woman,
two children. It reminded me
of pictures catching sunlight
in the school down the road,
rudimentary sticks, unformed.
One arrow and the word, "Me." He stopped
and smiled up at me. Me, man.
Another arrow and the nickname "Red"
(for my hair). You, woman. This
is how your grandfather proposed
sixty five years ago.

Now he can only move back
to those memories, the ones most
overplayed, imprinted to the screen
of memory. He has forgotten small things:
the bars blocking boat from water,
the word for "dog," the way out of the house,
your name, to dress,
to dip tortilla in salsa (and not iced water),
to call the fire department as the field
next door blazes, and yesterday,
he lost his driver's license.

That may have been the hardest,
as he realized what he was losing. We woke early,
I pulled the snaking vacuum
across carpet mats, and we picked out
his best suit the night before.

We didn't even take a road test.
Your grandfather lost his keyes (twice)
and agitation rose to the surface.
We walked out, arm in arm,
he in black, my white summer dress
pressed against my knees. I took the keys,
not afraid, though I haven't
driven since the accident. This changes
everything--his daily swims
at the college pool, groceries will need
to be bought at once, I will take it on.

That night, in my white nightgown, I drew
a picture of our home, his prison.
I drew him (man) and me (woman)
and felt love pushing back bars.

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