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The Winter’s Wife
It will be years before I understand
failure. The sun’s last rage
in the winter trees. My yard
is a failure of field. It is small
and poorly tended. Years before
this hard kernel of worry
rises to a truer height, I can learn
to make shade with my palms,
but I cannot learn to unmoor my want.
I want wild roots to prosper
an invention of blooms, each unknown
to every wise gardener. If I could be
a color. If I could be a question
of tender regard. I know crabgrass
and thistle. I know one algorithm:
it has nothing to do with repetition
or rhythm. It is the route from number
to number (less to more, more
to less), a map drawn by proof,
not faith. Unlike twilight, I do not
conclude with darkness. I conclude.
How to Live in an American Town
I woke early to find the dog once again
sleeping alone in the front room.
He dreams what I dream: blue-eyed
children somehow mine, somehow
upright as the summer grass, taller than this rain.
I have never had a dream come true.
No, not true.
There was the one about you,
the one where the kitchen catches fire,
and you are the only one who knows
not to pour water on the flame.
And the fire was like my dream children.
And everyone is standing quite tall,
our heads brushing against a low
cumulus cloud, submitting ourselves
to the blind craft of terror.
I’ve been unkind to strangers,
unkind to you.
I did not thank you about the fire,
which to this day still scorches.
This is true.
I opened the door and bargained
with the dog: If you run,
I’ll relinquish the dream to you. You love the field, the blue eyes…
What do I love?
I love the dog. I love an empty room.
I want to love more than I know.
I’d like to never know the dog
dying, that he will die,
that I don’t know that I don’t know
he’s dead now
because I’m listening to the rain.
So run with him. Please.
Take the kitchen fire.
Run, heart, run, you’ll hear me
crying at the threshold.
Run as far as Duluth. Helena.
Lone Pine, California.
To a town like this one,
but without all the lousy rain.
I hear grief burns faster there.
Again a Solstice
It is not good to think
of everything as a mistake. I asked
for bacon in my sandwich, and then
I asked for more. Mistake.
I told you the truth about my scar:
I did not use a knife. I lied
about what he did to my faith
in loneliness. Both mistakes.
That there is always a you. Mistake.
Faith in loneliness, my mother proclaimed,
is faith in self. My instinct, a poor Polaris.
Not a mistake is the blue boredom
of a summer lake. O mud, sun, and algae!
We swim in glittering murk.
I tread, you tread. There are children
testing the deep end, shriek and stroke,
the lifeguard perilously close to diving.
I tried diving once. I dove like a brick.
It was a mistake to ask the $30 prophet
for a $20 prophecy. A mistake to believe.
I was young and broke. I swam
in a stolen reservoir then, not even a lake.
Her prophesy: from my vagrant exertion
I’ll die at 42. Our dog totters across the lake,
kicks the ripple. I tread, you tread.
What does it even mean to write a poem?
It means today
I’m correcting my mistakes.
It means I don’t want to be lonely.
-from Some Say the Lark, Alice James Books 2017, selected by POW Spring 2019 Guest Editor, Vandana Khanna
PROMPT: In Chang's "Again a Solstice," she asks, "What does it even mean to write a poem?" Her answer: "...correcting mistakes." Write an ars poetica (a poem about the writing of poetry) in which you arrive at that question and, perhaps, answer it.
BIO: JENNIFER CHANG received a BA from the University of Chicago in 1998, an MFA from the University of Virginia in 2002, and a PhD in English from the University of Virginia in 2017. She is the author of Some Say the Lark (Alice James Books, 2017) and The History of Anonymity (University of Georgia Press, 2008). She currently serves as an assistant professor at George Washington University and lives in Washington, D.C.