04-13-2017

Amie Whittemore

Aphorisms

If you can admit your own narrowness,
you're onto persimmon and cardamom.

If you dust off your brave pants, you'll manage
mudslides, samba, dodge and weave.

The smallest voice is the truest;
wear those ears that turn like planets.

If you give him a turnip,
and he turns to sand, begin again:

the tax you pay for loving is grief--
my therapist said so, and once you accept

a therapist's wisdom, you're halfway
somewhere. Goats are sympathy machines

unlike squirrels, toads, mirrors, livers,
harpoons. Doors--

they multiply every time you walk through one.
When you're doing something,

you're doing something. Lift a hand,
mouth, or heart. Draw the shades.


Dream of the Ark

My brothers will not name their sons Hiram, though I see them--
bird-chested boys with floppy ears and big noses climbing trees

and throwing rocks through windows of abandoned garages,
their shouts springing kernels from their cobs.

But when my brothers and I speak of our future
children, it's like children reconstructing the lives of dinosaurs.

We argue, and those shirtless barefoot rascal boys
are whisked back into their husks. I dream my womb

is an ark, filled not with children, not pairs of animals, but leaf blight,
broken spinning wheels, severed hands warped with arthritis.

~

Morning. Watching the half-frozen river collect geese,
I know I'm a fool for whatever's gone away.

I tell my husband my dream of the ark, another of raising canaries
in a basement, their bodies yellow ornaments in trees prospering

without sunlight, their rattled leaves sparking like aluminum.
And while I interpret these visions as signs we'll never grow

blueberries, gather eggs from hens, he looks at me
like I'm speaking Dutch. He says too often I extrapolate

an entire imaginary alphabet from a single letter.
In other words, relax. Outside, his shovel slings snowdrifts.

~

But I know my brothers will not name their sons Hiram,
and I will have no daughter named Kathryn,

though she often appears, smoking a joint on the beach,
her new skull tattoo laughing on her shoulder.

She hates when I call her lily-pad.
She flings curse words at the sky like empty beer cans.

Mile-long hair, voice like moss-coated stone, I imagine
her into more and more beauty, while also fashioning

her a weak heart. I warn her the future is a skinned animal
stalking us all. I tell her the swan's neck is a noose.

Winter trees braid the white sky; my husband shakes snow
from his boots and comes inside.

~

We drink tea. I remind him today is the shortest day.
But what I mean is, I want to unbutton the future

and find a breathing lung. I mean, if we indulge in a dream
of new Hirams and Kathryns, new Edwins and Whitts,

if we kissed open their eyes, inhaled their birthy scent,
would the other dream, of keeping the farm, of replanting orchards,

of raising goats, vanish? Neither dream is trustworthy.

My desire is like a child's wish for her toy doll


to mend its broken leg. My husband would argue you can't mend

what isn't broken. My brothers would suggest I'm in love


with an idea that doesn't exist. They're probably right.

But I hear the doll weep. I feel her broken leg like it is my own.

The Unknotting

Sour cherries splatter the burnt lawn;
a black dog wears its clover necklace.

Rabbit caught, a fluttering heart in my palms.
Wagons piling with gold beads of soybeans,

sweet pop of pods chaffing the yard.
My grandmother like a queen in all this, distant,

as if always on the swing hung from the oak.
Charmer--even the dog would hold her hand

in its mouth. Who wouldn't want to please her?
Woman who tucked her dresses into overalls

to haul corn with my grandfather,
who knew grosbeak, goldfinch, junco,

whose call pulled swans to her like water.
How to answer when she asked, standing

beside her old photograph, if she was beautiful?
Sunset-colored hair, eyes two pools singing

about the sky. I'd go back now and ask--
nothing. Whatever lies between fact

and invention is too slim to matter.
Just let me draw near them--small self

and Grandmother, braiding clover--a bee
fretting their hair, seeking blossom.

 

-from Glass Harvest

PROMPT: As in Amie Whittemore's "The Unknotting," write a eulogy to a magical character from your past. This could be a family member, a friend, a favorite pet...hell, your subject could be a character still living who you haven't encountered in some time. Either way, we want this poem to praise some character from your past who is no longer part of your future. Include as many unique details as you can. The grandmother in "The Unknotting" was a charmer who seemed at one with the natural world in some nearly mythical ways: "My grandmother like a queen in all this, distant, // as if always on the swing hung from the oak. / Charmer--even the dog would hold her hand // in its mouth... who knew grosbeak, goldfinch, junco, // whose call pulled swans to her like water." Ask yourself, "What makes this character truly unique, singular?" Just for the challenge of it: include at least one flying animal and one fruit. Compose in couplets. No more than 20 lines. And, as always, enjoy.

BIO: Amie Whittemore is a poet, educator, and the author of Glass Harvest (Autumn House Press). She is also co-founder of the Charlottesville Reading Series. An instructor at Middle Tennessee State University, she holds degrees from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (B.A.), Lewis and Clark College (M.A.T.), and Southern Illinois University Carbondale (M.F.A.). Her poems have appeared in The Gettysburg Review, Sycamore Review, Rattle, Cimarron Review, and elsewhere.