05-04-2017

Kasey Jueds

 

Race Track, Hialeah, FL

I slipped my arms into a dress of fog
and the whole unbroken summer
opened to let me in: those mornings
my mother drove back streets
so we could see them: before heat
and crowds and bets
when clouds leaned close
but didn't speak, we leaned
on railings to watch the horses practice,
orbiting the track's green center,
its far-off oval of flamingos & palms
like the place on paper
where, years later, I'd set
my compass tip, careful
to make my circles concentric,
meaning they shared a heart.
Horses' hearts are huge,
their legs impossibly skinny.
At home I traced their shapes
from books, pressed so hard
my pencil left a moat around each photo,
a hollow that held them safe.
I trusted tile roofs and Banyan roots
dropping from each branch,
like the rope of the tire swing
that left me dizzy, spinning
between dirt and sky. All around, my city
spiralled out, coils of clay
widening a bowl to hold
the impossible things I was learning
to believe--how roots
could grow in air, or two lines
reach endlessly
and never touch. Even after
the horses left for other tracks,
swaying in the dark of trucks
with the highway's white line
licking always ahead, ticking
like August under my skin,
I curled in my swing, looped
my pencil around withers, pastern,
hooves, I leaned back
until my hair swept ground,
until the ground was sky,
asking roots and leaves,
our house, the horses, asking
all of it to remember me.

 

The Missing Women

The ones on flyers pinned outside
the pool, papers curling in the chlorinated damp

 

where I'd wait, after practice,
for my mother, wait to be driven

 

away. The ones I'd study
over and over--names and faces and last seen

 

wearing, the places they'd disappeared
from. Days my mother came late I couldn't

 

stop staring, as if by looking hard
their stories would unlock: blue shirt,

 

bus stop, 1972: I carried them home
then back to the pool, up and down

 

my narrow lane, the water clear all the way
to the bottom, the slap and reach

 

of arms and hands--something missing
in me, or something I missed,

 

as every fall I missed the first leaves
turning, so when I finally remembered

 

they'd already started letting go,
their vanishing tangling the air.

 

That season I swam until my fingers puckered,
my still-damp hair, in the parking lot after, stiffened

 

to clots of ice. I swam and swam and my body
stayed solid, not like the water I knew

 

it contained. In school we learned how much
of us is liquid, how stories have

 

a beginning, middle, and an end. I read
of women who turned

 

to seals in the sea, dove deeper than I could
and came back safe, and I kicked,

 

turned, pushed away
from the wall, counting laps while the women

 

knocked inside my head, their weight
buoying me, acolyte of cold,

 

of split times, lane lines, the secret
history of water. How anyone could slip

 

from her story like that!--a shape
in paper cut cleanly away. Behind

 

my shape water sealed
itself shut, somehow I was swimming

 

into the next day, the next,
into love that seemed sometimes

 

a desire to be gone, whittled to the thinnest
stem of bone--as those women

 

might have desired, or not
desired, the ones so lost

 

by now they must be almost home.

 

Copper

Summer dusks I placed pennies on the tracks
                      and waited in bed
                                                       to hear the night
                      train’s whistle, waited
                                 for light so I could run
and lift them: flattened,
                                            strange,
                                                                   worn by weight
                                 to a faceless shine.
                    One road in that town
and it ended in woods, maple and pine pressed close
                                 to keep their secrets
                                                       safe, tossing them up
                                 only once or twice
in the blue bathing suit
            abandoned by the path, in snakeskin. Think skin

you can see through, soft metal, think a lake
                                                       so cold
          that from the boat your trailing hands
                               turn pure bone.

         When someone I loved gave me pennies
he’d found, lifted for luck
         from sidewalks and floors, I hid them in pockets
                   and they glowed
where I could not see, rubbed together
                                                       like grapes in a vat
         where they ferment, sluice of skin
                               and juice into wine.  For years

          I wished on anything I could find:
                               pennies tossed into ponds and pools,
                     blood from a cut finger
                                                                tasting of copper.
          I held snakeskin, sloughed-off
                               skin of the birch tree
                     white in woods; I heard the night train,
                                felt walls shudder: something shakes
                                          the rooms inside, something
                     moves the blood
                                                      that lifts the hand, throws the coin
                     to make the wish, as grapes
           lose their skins in the dark
                              and in the dark the pennies wait,
                                        dazzled, dazed,
                    utterly changed
                              by the train I never saw.

 

-from Keeper

 

PROMPT: In "Race Track, Hialeah, FL," much of the speaker’s world is personified: “the whole unbroken summer” that “opened to let me in,” the “clouds leaned close but didn't speak,” those “two lines [that] reach endlessly and never touch,” and those final wonderful lines in which the speaker asks her world to remember her:

 

            …I leaned back

until my hair swept ground,

until the ground was sky,

asking roots and leaves,

our house, the horses, asking

all of it to remember me.

 

Take a moment to look around you. What do you see and hear and touch and taste and feel? Record these impressions in a list, maybe twenty or so sensations deep. Then pick one to personify, to give human qualities, and explore how that sensation would see the world. How, for example, might the steam rising from your latte view your barista? How would, say, the bellow of a fog horn regard the fog itself? Compose a 1-2 page poem of short lines (no more than 3-4 feet) in the voice of that sensation OR describe your surrundings in your voice that ytilizes five or more impressions/sensations (as Jueds does here) from the list. And, as always, have fun!

 

BIO: Born in Coral Gables, FL, Kasey Jueds holds degrees from Harvard, Stanford, and Sarah Lawrence College. Her first collection of poems, Keeper, won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize and was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2013. Her work has appeared in journals including The American Poetry Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Prairie Schooner, Crab Orchard Review, 5AM, Women's Review of Books, Salamander, and Manhattan Review. She has been awarded residencies at the Vermont Studio Center, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Soapstone, and the Ucross Foundation. She works in educational research and lives in Philadelphia.