The poems here—roughly “scenes” in which two elderly women read the news, a young woman considers the wonderfully temporary nature of her body, and an elephant meditates on the trauma of bearing witness—reflect my longstanding fascination with voice. Although I’ve been performing poems for twenty years, I’d never studied voice directly until I attended the Garrison Institute’s “Voice on the Page” workshop with Gregory Pardlo and Robert Polito. There, I was dazzled by both poets’ talent, generosity, and breadth of knowledge. Perhaps because both are deeply familiar with so many schools of poetry, they were impressively broad-minded and keen in their suggestions and readings of participant work. I was deeply moved by the experience.
When I went back to my life and in-progress manuscript, I saw how its voices could be made clearer and more singular. Part of that is attributable to the Garrison Institute itself, with its long wood dining tables and serene white bedrooms. It is a place that encourages fellowship; that scrapes away clutter and lets you hear yourself think.
Good morning, Calamity Jane.
Plenty disaster for breakfast again.
Staunching of blood. Stemming of tide. Not
Enough Dutchboys with fingers in the dam
Do Wake Up Calamity Jane. We are killing
Even our favorites, again. Soldiers & small
Flash-mouth boys. Pedestrian
Death—Plenty of martyr for our
Coffers. or Coffins. Plenty—fodder for our
Martinis—I mean plenty—
Don’t get muddled, Calamity Jane.
Terror’s a river that rises again. Brace
For the hate that laps up the spine;
Stockpile dreams for a dryer time.
sugar sugar sugar sugar
they have got me again, those badbutt cupids
love me, loft me, lift me soft
up-raising, appraisal, examine
my left calf, small perfect
animal for gift, slaughter
have it. and thigh and knobby
knee-bone, too. i’ll throw in
more, ankle and rump
like any grinning charmed
fat-belly butcher, wiping hands
on the apron, on the last day,
on christmas, saying, hell
it’ll spoil anyway, take it, take it
Free Free Free!
I do not wish to be this elephant
plagued with cemeteries and a mind that holds
and holds, watertight, the layers of losses—
and nuzzles the earth to turn up what it turns
and sweeps at the earth with the grace of noses;
I do not relish this thickness, these feet
slung at the ankle with a leathery drape
which dust up and pack down in cyclical fever
the narrowing plots of survivable brush.
I do not wish
to be a un-tusked mother who whines,
who thins in the corners of her sons’ eyes—
not noting the tweak in each, the rivulet
of current striking out, mutating, mutant—
not predicting that made hysterical by loss
an elephant goes rogue, rams a grey grief;
lumbers its heady mass into the village
becoming denatured, denatured and aroused
to spectacular, vengeful killing sprees
(its ears aflame, fanning, raw.) As if losing
species. As if the animal body proclaims:
I cannot be what I am having seen what I saw.
Mara Jebsen is a Senior Language Lecturer at NYU, where she specializes in teaching Tisch students. A poet, performer, and essayist, Mara has written for the website 3quarksdaily, and has poems featured in the American Poetry Review and Transition Magazine, Harvard’s Afro-Diasporan journal. A New York Foundation for the Arts fellow, Mara is also a veteran of New York’s performance poetry scene and alum of New York University’s graduate program in poetry. Her chapbook, “Alphabet,” came out in the Fall of 2016.
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