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04-02-2024

Saara Myrene Raappana

Last Wednesday, March 27, 2024, I burst into tears in a friend's living room when I learned of the passing of Saara Myrene Raappana. I met Saara and her beloved husband, Eric, at a conference nearly a decade ago. I watched her bravely struggle through the difficulties of publishing a book and the glory of crossing the finish line when Chamber After Chamber won the Juniper Prize. She asked me questions about how to be more involved in her community. She went to incredible lengths to defeat an illness that nearly took her life nearly a year before. When my life was falling apart, in one of my darkest moments, I randomly called her for advice, and she treated me with a kindness and openness rarely seen in the poetry community. Saara was brave and honest. And goodness gracious, was she a wonderfully good poet. I mean damn. Damn. Damn. Damn. What a loss this is for us all, but, as Lavar would say, you don't have take my word for it. Go to her facebook to see what her friends and family have to say about her. The elegance and courage and humor with which she undertook this journey and shared on instagram makes me cry and laugh at the same time as I write this. Goodbye, Saara. Thank you, Eric, for doing such a fine job of holding her hand. You're a hero. This little tribute is the best Karen and I and PoemoftheWeek.com can do for now. Love to you both. -Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum & Karen Carr

SMOKE

 

As in:

You can tell the source by its color

 

If eye-white          Noxzema          cotton swab

then moisture           or           a freshly burning thing

 

and if soup spoon          gypsum          raincloud          key

then Frisbee          Barbie          Matchbox car

 

and if lake ice          wrist veins          Zoloft          sky

then Marlboro           pipe           or steamroller

 

but if crude oil          midnight          fry-pan          tire

then black fire        steel char          blindrun           gone

 

 

As in:

What we steal from Kelly’s father

and from our handsy, stingy boyfriends,

we take behind the sauna. We pick, pack, giggle, hiss.

I hide what’s left inside my Care Bear’s head

so later I can light the snow-soaked tree

that bares its boughs inside me.

 

 

 

As in:

My mother at the sink           ash-sizzle in the whiskey glass

My mother and the curtains drawn           her dark and spinning room

 

My father           midnight           on the porch alone

his orange-red cherry           visible to everyone

 

As in:

What seeps in or what escapes.

What I blow into a stuffed toilet paper tube,

go tiptoe to release. What seeps ventwise

to the visitation room to stroke

my mother’s wrist, her ash-dry hair

 

As in:

What tells me wind-direction

how quick           how mad

 

What tells me     –stop–     before I turn the knob

 

What tells me     –sure     walk through that door

but only if you want to inhale fire–

 

 

WE CARVED OUR NAMES

 

what keeps dead stand from turning into deadfall is the root

 

that burrowed deep          resists the squall           beetles           and rot

 

in wintertime Kelly and I would run into the woods with coats unzipped

 

to shake birch trunks and glut our throats on kifed communion wine

 

then         heavy-lidded         fall and press rough angels of ourselves into the snow

 

sometimes we ripped hand-me-down tees apart and braided them

 

we tied those bracelets to our bloodied wrists like sisterhood

 

we carved our names on trees that          dead          still stood

 

and wore our blood-wine teeth like dresses tight as bark

 

Kelly planted her feet on frozen lake and said

 

that red is hearts and lips and cherry gum

 

and if you look like something begging to be chewed

 

no one will see how firmly into hell you’ve grown

 

 

 

the news says rural epidemic           but I don’t feel feverish

 

I feel like birch bark peeled away no matter where I live

 

each time I asked about the scars that seamed my mother’s wrists

 

she lied and said she’d toppled from a tree onto a nail in middle school

 

the part where gravity needs blood to let you fly is true enough

I’ll fly to Sichuan years from now           but my dreams will still be lake

 

will still be home           where I’m a driftwood log          awash

 

and squinting through Superior’s skin into the undertow

 

at Mother and our grandma and our aunts           their wounds rendered

 

immodest in the deep lake’s lapping           and Kelly’s under water

 

laughing          ankles braceletted with black rock

 

she’s implanted in the lakebed

 

branches of her hair outspread but

 

I’m unrooted

 

Kelly I’m sorry

 

I can’t stop floating away

 

 

AFTER THE FUNERAL, AUNT SALLY TELLS A STORY WE’VE NEVER HEARD BEFORE 

 

She says the sheets, hung out, shook like hung sheets

and that the gun, set out, lay quiet as a gun.

My grandpa drank a gin fifth in the heat.

And Sally, just turned ten, hummed every single song

 

she knew. A sheet exists to fold and fold

again, a wife to fold her children to herself,

and gin to fold a man until he’s no

real man. My grandpa slid his pistol off the shelf

 

and tipped its open mouth against my granny’s mouth.

Her lips, pressed tight together, looked as red

and heavy as a movie kiss. When Gramps passed out,

Sal prayed the sheets would shield them when they fled.

 

The smoke Aunt Sally smokes today is closing on the bone,

and larks, like larks, call out a song that fans

like something clean and light across Gran’s marker stone. 

Not one of us will speak of this again.

-from Chamber After Chamber, University of Massachusetts Press, selected by Assistant Editor, Karen Carr

Born and raised in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Saara Myrene Raappana served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in southern China before moving to Southwest Minnesota. Her first book, She wrote the chapbooks A Story of America Goes Walking (in collaboration with artist Rebekah Wilkins-Pepiton (Shechem Press, 2016) and Milk Tooth, Levee, Fever (Dancing Girl Press, 2015), and has published sundry poems in journals, anthologies, and very fancy paintings. She’s also worked in comparative international education, magazine editing, poetry film, and functional strength. She teaches composition and kettlebells (separately) and co-owns the very best gym, Restored Strength. She's received grants and scholarships from the Minnesota State Arts Board, the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council, and the Sewanee Writers' Conference. She likes ice fishing, train rides, reading poems to rooms full of strangers, and making up new names for imprecisely labelled birds. Chamber After Chamber is Saara's first ful-length collection of poetry. Saara passed away on March 27, 2024.

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