The Battlefield Where the Girls Say I Love You

That's just the thing: we will never tell you we love you. In fact, we're here only to hold hands across state lines and yell at the world. We're here to try to touch you across this chasm of flown things. Not even that. At most, I will teach you how to make a gin smoothie when there's nothing left in the house. Hannah can teach you several languages and what to do when your car breaks up with you. Thanks for coming out.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

home: and i can't feel my legs.

it's not typically a healthy sign when, after three weeks of non-blogging, a girl gets online to do just that at 2 o'clock in the morning. it tends to imply she's emotionally distressed or, worse, intoxicated. i am neither of these things, or at least not the latter.

thing is, i just stepped out of the car after sixteen hours of travel. sixteen hours of travel in the greater parts of alabama and mississippi, and with my parents of all things.

christmas was just fine, in that it held a great deal of upsides: stan getz records and days spent reading roberto bolano (i know. still can't do the enn-yay) and octavio paz. lots of writing (finally). lots of cajun food. that dirt devil vaccuum i've always wanted. little morgan making everyone megaphones out of sticker-covered empty toilet paper rolls. so that we can call out if we need her. my mother, at a holiday party, even tried pawning me off on a gorgeous man who does fascinating work with refugees in iraq.

"i can't live in bagdad, mom."
"mame," she said, irritated. "writers can write wherever."

this from a woman who doesn't sleep if i'm driving the hour home from asheville after dark.

however, traveling and gambling and spending days-plural with your parents in the french quarter has its challenges:

i lost eight dollars at the slots, spent a whole lot of hours writing a syllabus and scratching it and writing a new one. and there's the issue of my adorable sister, who, even without us, is always with us (via cell phone, etc.).

my parents fight over things like paprika and the french pronunciation of street names: well, charles, if you're not CAPABLE of handling the paprika and i know it's SPELLED chartres, but everyone SAYS charter.

it comes off sounding like, "why is the carpet all wet, todd?" "i don't KNOW, margot."

but, the reason i have you all here is the matter of books on tape. books on tape for a total of thirty-two hours of driving:

the david sedaris was fun, mainly due to his reading the part of brother paul (aka the rooster), which is genius. and kinsley amis' lucky jim reminds me why i like that sort of character-driven british humor.

the whole dick francis thing is another matter entirely. british: yes. but divisive as the sweet valley high series, and it's clear no one taught this man the beauty of simple he-said she-said dialogue.

and i quote:

" 'i did not throw the lemon fizz steeple chase,' hughes roared excitedly."

"and then hughes turned to stare the facts of life in the face."

" 'i did no such thing!' firth exploded excitedly."

"roberta blinked her eyes and reconsidered. she spoke more evenly now."

"hughes rounded his burnt-orange lotus around the bend."

people forever exploding or reconsidering. this. for six hours. plus more meal stops at o'charley's than i'd like to admit. and hannah is driving home from new york as we speak. which means more stories. and soon.

merry merry.

Monday, December 8, 2008

i'll tell you what: a post in two parts.

there's the what i want to blog about and also the what i think you people will find interesting. hannah's not experiencing this problem and i'll tell you why. she doesn't care about you or us anymore. i know i'm not supposed to say this. to assure you we'll both, in our own ways, always be a major part of your life. well, here's the thing: i love you more and you can forget her packing the cooler of capri suns and orange slices for your soccer games. FORGET IT.

I. so, my mother called last week, said: mame. i was up, sitting on the bathroom floor, thinking about you from the hours of 1:57 am to 4. and i think you seem unhappy. but there are two things i think might help that: hosting a holiday party and investing in new carpeting for your living room.

me: uh huh.

mom: you know, because you're the type of person who needs something to look forward to.

you know. as opposed to the person who needs only the guillotine looming somewhere in the foreground.

and this is the part i can't do justice: the very next day i pulled up at my parents' home. to catch up. only, my nephew was dancing on the piano bench, a metronome beat wildly in the background, and my niece greeted me by screaming, "I DON'T WANT TO SEE YOU NAKED." then, my father chugged scotch so as to not have a heart attack. the couch cushions lay everywhere outside of the couch. then, each family member began screaming "ideas" for my party.

molly: girl, you've got to try this chipped beef dip the ladies from north baptist introduced me to.
(seriously. i have no idea where she came from.)

dad: jesus christ. whatever you do, no vegetables and ranch.

molly: have you thought about vegetables and ranch?

mom: what about stencils???? (pulls out file that houses every invitation she's ever made).


II. anyway, what i want to blog about is waitressing. again. for a few years (say, oh, 2002-2007) i hated waiting on tables. the two things that drove me are the two things that drive any waiter/artist/actor/writer: money. money and material, material, material. ("something for your poetry, no?")

well, on the one hand: yes. when the family from three towns over drove in last week at 9:oo on a tuesday with their seven year-old, i couldn't wait to serve them. per usual, the mother asked little elizabeth if she remembered me from last time. and, like last time, elizabeth glared and gave one firm shake of the head. actually, this is precisely why i like elizabeth. she gives me a look that forever says, "i've had a full day of horseback, watercolor, tai kwan do, and tutoring. why the hell should i remember her?" only, an hour later i came out of the kitchen and elizabeth was standing by the computers and linens, tapping one of her black patent galoshes on the floor. "oh, there you are, mamie," she said in the same mock relief my sister uses when i'm twenty seconds late for our movie date. "looks like i'm going to need the charred arracherra, medium rare. our chicken just came, and i hate it. hate it hate it hate it."

on the other hand: no. i've had a problem lately, particularly with my male clients (i know. out of context that sounds slightly ashley dupre-ish, which is actually fitting, considering.). how i long for the days when my older men pretended they couldn't read the small font of the menu so that i had to stand there and recite it, word for word. or the men who flirted with me before realizing my father was an old racquetball/gin/college buddy.

at least those men are interesting. their stories, their demeanor. material? yes. nearly always. but now, now it's gotten so cheap and predictable. i will say this only once: not every waitress is in the market for a rich man to make them the best stay-at-home second, third, or fourth wife they've ever had. (okay, maybe on my worst, worst day). also, also, if i am not interested in you it does not mean that i am a) married or b) a lesbian. i may just not like you, even though this leaves you dumbfounded. what with all you have to offer. and the very little i have going on for me. i know, i know. it just DOESN'T. ADD. UP. because sometimes, at the end of the day, i could really go for a conversation about stock options and garage renovation.

okay. i'm done bitching. until beyonce writes some other stupid song or another man offers me the world, the world the size of a tether ball.

Monday, December 1, 2008

yellow ledbetter would be my status update, were my status update a song.

they say life happens while you're not looking. they say this and other ridiculous things. truth is, while no one is looking at hannah, she's busy chirping along and hanging stars and bells from her four-poster bed. she's doing that and watching boats leave from the channel just below her balcony. she is, probably, also wearing a smoking jacket and line-editing an early copy of a marilynne robinson book. and growing her own hyacinths and fig trees, right there in her little apartment. and playing a game of scrabble with her significant other, a game of scrabble where words like archdruid and, i don't know, el sol poniente baila come out of nowhere famously. sentences count. kennings count. "whale-road!" she's exclaiming to herself.

see. we're like some constellation no one's found yet, the twins who can only occupy totally opposing spaces. i hate working in binaries, but...

meanwhile, i'm eating plates of meat i can't name. and then, after that, plates of ham. then, excusing myself to go look at the meat room. my old self would not know what to do with this self. it's as if i've never seen forrest gump before. i'm screaming "jenny!" at the television and sobbing like it's the mid-nineties. just this afternoon, i heard livingston taylor's "get out of bed," which is a song my father used to wake my mother up with, back when they had speakers for end tables...and began wailing. you might recall, hannah warned of this. these "emotions" returning after years of neglect. plus, i'm really cold. wherever i go. i'm like the mess of a woman in those degas paintings with all that red hair, just waiting to be bathed.

and then, the only thing that can hold my attention: susan lucci's malibu pilates chair. i've watched the infomercial six times. it's the only thing i believe will help. so much cardio, so much defining of the legs. right there in your living room.

so, this is the state of things, and it's not pretty. if you've naively wished we'd blog, i hope to have shoved that wish squarely off the side of a bridge. or into the highway. or under a dune buggy.

Monday, November 17, 2008


this afternoon, i challenged my students to nominate the best song of the past five years...the reason being that i'm pretty sure it's justin t-lakes' "sexyback." i once got into an argument with a man at a dinner party who posited that "the district sleeps alone" is the best song of the 21st century. the man wasn't to be trusted; he didn't like donald hall. only, later i sort of agreed.

unfortunately, my students are 74 year-olds disguised as kids. while they were born in--wait for it--1992, they love old school music. they still speak of hip-hop in tupac/west biggie/east terminology. they're old school. one even requested a yo yo ma song. you know. the cellist. but just when i thought they were perfect, just when i had opened up the panel to "best song of all time," just when they threw out U2's "bloody sunday" and "come fly with me" and "eleonor rigby" and flaming lips' "the wand," a young woman said:

who is joni mitchell?

who is joni mitchell. i nearly fainted.

anyway, this is a call for submissions. best song of the 21st century. anything KORN doesn't count. just like charles bukowski doesn't count when i say "pick any poet you want."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

stay-at-home single mother of none meets the adorable tyrant, jr.

"people who don't drink cannot be trusted."
-my mother, in nearly every conversation we have about people who don't drink,
including my sister

"it's not that you're making one wreath, mamie, it's that you're making another."
-hannah abrams, in our conversation where she delicately concludes that
i'm changing.

and so, against the interest of family and those closest to me, i put down the wine (and the gran ma...kidding) a few weeks ago. give or take several splits. i wasn't worried about codependency issues, or weight, or money, or any of that. i just thought it seemed nice to go non-drinker on your ass.

nice, as it turns out, but awfully quiet. i read. books. and reviews of books. and reviews that counter last week's review of the lowell/bishop correspondence. they just won't let up with those two. crying, i've found, while reading reviews ("i seem to spend my life missing you," lowell wrote to bishop) is a bit like crying during trailers. or commercials that, say, house postal service songs or advertise the next episode of extreme makeover: home edition. and i work out. a lot. and i've reignited this strange passion for modern american poetry, which i thought my students would love. turns out, though, i'm just scaring the bejesus out of them...running around all sweaty-pitted and yelling about the presence of food in prufrock. why toast and tea? why, then, the peach???

hannah's bound to out me sooner or later about the biggest change, so here it is:

i've been crafting. as in, going to a.c. moore late at night, when all the other adorable baptist ladies are buying stencils. and staying for an hour and more.

it started with one autumnal wreath, and from that i've built a world-- glass-painted ornaments, crackle-painted picture frames, monogrammed stationery.

wednesday, the phone rang as i roamed the aisles.

me: yes.

molly: have you finished mom and dad's christmas presents?

(she has been asking this since july. demanding money and product and results since the close of summer.)

me: i didn't know where you wanted me to get the gift certificates.

molly: jesus, mamie. you don't have to wait around for me to tell you what to do all the time.

me: since when.

molly: more importantly, mom's birthday's tomorrow, and i can't buy her a pedicure. i've got her that for the past four years.*

me: i'm going to make her something.

then, and this is the best part, it was as if molly was watching a camera of me in a.c. moore. i reached up to touch the twig base for a wreath and she said:

what? are you going to make them a christmas wreath or something?

before erupting into laughter.

*if you read this blog, you'll notice we are constantly in a state of buying gifts for our mother. or regretting the gifts we've bought for our mother. or reprinting the serial numbers for socks and cocktail napkins she's requested.

space break.

finally, bill e-mailed something very interesting today:

seems our president-elect--wait for it--has been READING POETRY. walcott's noteable book, no less. the story reads like a gossip piece. as if all this poetry business might lead to a grainy tape involving paris hilton and joe francis.

Monday, November 10, 2008

our pockets pulled inside out:

i know. october 24th. it's pathetic. so much so that erica has been using my own tactics against us, as in texting: BLOG! MOOOOOOOVE! which is flattering, in the way a stalker outside your window holding a lock of your own hair is flattering. let's just say, hannah has been smittenly climbing trees and tucking flowers behind her ears. that is, on the days she's not wearing a fedora. there's no telling, really. and i've been soberly watching bad kevin spacey movies and writing about the OBVIOUS associations between gold finches and clark county, nevada in 1965. so, it may not surprise you that i offer only the cheap manipulation, the hey-look-over-there as it were, of a mix compilation:

Friday, October 24, 2008

how kid rock and sarah palin are standing up to the empathetic, fair, humanitarian left:

i love going to the movies. the cherry coke. the camaraderie of strangers experiencing the same thing. the "dirt off your shoulders" cell phone ring just as the protagonist is dying. above all else, i enjoy the previews. as in, i didn't have to actually see nights in rodanthe, as it turns out. crying through the trailer was enough.

which is why i was alarmed when, sitting with hannah in the dark, kid rock began screaming, "i'm a WARRIOR!!!" at the audience. something about the national guard* and, inexplicably, nascar. it's all a blur, now, but what i remember is this: a soccer ball kicked by a middle eastern kid into an oncoming tank, a white soldier saving the ball and returning it to the kid (note overt symbol of ball as democracy), dale earnhart jr. winning some race, and kid rock on a dimly lit stage. it was just awful. and about as carefully woven as this blog.

in a recent interview with NBC, palin was asked if she considered herself a feminist. she responded as follows: "you know, i don't like labels, bryan. which i think is what people don't like about me." to be fair, in a september 30 interview with katie couric, she said she was a feminist. for the sake of this post, i needn't trip off on a tangent about how curious it is that she told a woman she was a feminist and a man she was not...also, i think it's adorable that she thinks we don't like her because we don't "get" her. yeah, she's slippery, that one.

it has been my understanding that any half-witted person living today is, in fact, a feminist. if you subscribe to the belief that women truly hold equal rights as men, should hold equal rights, then you're a feminist. i don't think sojourner truth and the other embattled women from three different waves of feminism in america would appreciate the timid, eyelash-batting withdrawal from such a term.

* i am pro-military, pro-national guard. i am offended by the misrepresentation of these institutions, not the institutions themselves.

**Hi, it's Hannah stowing away on Mamie's post. But I just found the Warrior lyrics, transcribed by some idiot savant who can't spell, but turns mistakes into gold--i.e. "Engage and Destory."


So Dont Tell Me Who's Wrong And Right When Liberty Starts Slipping Away
And If You Aint Gonna Fight Get Out Of The Away
Cuz Freedom Is So Free When You Breathe Red White And Blue I'm Given All Of Myself Cuz Thats What I Do

And They Call Me Warrior
They Call Me Loalty
They Call Me Ready To provide Relief N Help I Wherever You Need Me To Be
I'm an American Warrior
Citizen Soldier
I'm an American Warrior
Citizen Soldier
Ahhhhh Yeahhhhh

Citizen Solider

I'd Never Leave Another Behind I Will Never Except Defeat I'm A Solider In War Civilian In Peace Cuz Freedom Is So Free When You Breathe Red White N Blue I'm Given All Of Myself How Bout You

And They Call Me Warrior
They Call Me Loyalty
And They Call Me Ready To Deploy, Engage And Destory, Wherever You Need Me To Be

I'm An American Warrior Citizen Solider
I'm An American Warrior Citizen Solider

Warrior Citizen Solider
Warrior Citizen Solider

Ohhhhhhh Yeahhhhhh

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

how could they get together? they were like two people who couldn't get together.

I’m obsessed with this place, Mamie said.

I mean, I’d never seen her this happy. Her big, blue eyes were all glittery and psychotic, and her body was perched on the very tippy edge of the white, plastic, and therefore Swedish chair. She was shaking from the high-voltage combo of old school hip-hop and sparkling. In the background, a thirty-seven year old woman was dancing with herself. We both know her and, not so long ago, this woman was rude to me.

Mamie spots her, crooks a finger at me. I lean in for her to whisper, I will fuck her up. I know it sounds redneck, but. Fuck. Her. Up. If she so much as looks at you the wrong way.

Clearly, this is what I need in a relationship, because my wayward heart swelled to bursting.

It was the pinnacle of our night since, before then, we’d gone everywhere else and hated it in a way that had us walking in and out without sitting. We were completely happy, and then we saw him coming. That’s the problem with being stationary, this guy will inevitably walk up to you. He looked fairly normal, even though he sat down beside us and said in one breath: Nice boots, look at those boots, did y’all plan on wearing those boots together.

It only got worse.

He told us he was there by himself and had premeditated the boots comment in order to come over and talk to us: Sometimes, you got to go out solo, and then you need a line you know. When you’re on your own. Without your friends. Sometimes, you and your friends need a little space.

Jesus, I thought. Poor bastard.

It came out, by which I mean it was completely unsolicited, that he lived in Snead’s Ferry-(God, said Mamie later, it sounds like a place where evil wizards live)—and also worked as a volunteer firefighter.

What else do you do, I asked.

Excuse me?

In addition to being a volunteer firefighter.

Oh, nothing.

And it’s beyond me how this came up, but suddenly he was talking about South Africa. I’ve been there, I piped up annoyingly. But you’d think it would have thrown him off from this track.

One rand is about seven dollars, you know.

(See, this is not even remotely true.)

So when I was there, I was buying beers for, like, two dollars! And then I’d tip. And they all thought I was like some rockstar.

Like a rockstar, I repeated like a moron.

Yeah. Just like, everyone was looking to see who I was. This bigshot American dude. I mean, some of them, they probably hadn’t ever seen an American before. The chicks were all looking at me.

(Americans in Capetown? Unlikely.)

Then he left as all we were capable of doing was grinning at each other. Mamie's little shoulders were doing that incessant and adorable hiphop lift thing. It was weird, Mamie said later, like he couldn’t decide which one of us he was hitting on. To simplify everything, he drifted up to a girl momentarily alone, poor thing. That guy, I told Mame, was almost as bad as the guys who started to chant Obama at the bar because you had an Obama sticker on your clutch.

Then we went to Slice and everything was predictable. Mame fell asleep in her pizza and I thought I lost my wallet. Cue me trying to get into Odessa after close, while Mamie slept in the car, where my wallet was sitting on the front floorboard.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

decorum, etc.

neither hannah nor myself is much of a prude. by which i mean we both are when it comes to certain our own, shy, repressed ways. yesterday she sent me a poem by brenda shaughnessy that she likes very much. only, in the first line lay the phrase, "unf*cked, ever-f*cked." and i sort of recoiled. i feel like swearing in a poem is not unlike yelling in a poem, and then i conjure up all sorts of bad thoughts that form an awful marriage between anne sexton and performance poetry. like, i'm still mortified by my twenty year-old self who, upon realizing i was allowed to swear in class, began doing so whenever possible. keep in mind: i was a religion major.

it doesn't help that i am religious, which is another battle altogether. i'm often reminded of this short poem by czeslaw milosz:

if there is no god

if there is no god,
not everything is permitted to man.
he is still his brother's keeper
and he is not permitted to sadden his brother
by saying there is no god.

but it's beautiful, the ways we can be empathetic while disagreeing. i mean, at our best we can be empathetic. while disagreeing.

then hannah sent me this hayden carruth (who, unfortunately, passed away last month) poem. i find the camaraderie of it beautiful. it is, i assume, for d. levertov?

letter to denise

remember when you put on that wig
from the grab bag and then looked at yourself
in the mirror and laughed, and we laughed together?
it was a transformation, glamorous flowing tresses.
who knows if you might not have like to wear
that wig permanently, but of course you
wouldn't. remember when you told me how
you meditated, looking at a stone until
you knew the soul of the stone? inwardly i
scoffed, being the backwoods pragmatic yankee
that i was, yet i knew what you meant. i
called it love. no magic was needed. and we
loved each other too, not in the way of
romance but in the way of two poets loving
a stone, and world that the stone signified.
remember when we had that argument over
pee and piss in your poem about a bear?
"bears don't pee, they piss," i said. but you were
adamant. "my bears pee." and that was that.
then you moved away, across the continent,
and sometimes for a year i didn't see you.
we phoned and wrote, we kept in touch. and then
you moved again, much farther away, i don't
know where. no word from you now at all. but
i am faithful, my dear denise. and i still
love the stone, and, yes, i know its soul.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

dear blog:

you are the child we have stayed together for. while hannah sits cross-armed on the balcony watching kayakers turn themselves in circles on the sound, i am waving my arms in front of your face and gifting you with thoughtless, easy things. and, while i would take this opportunity to post a playlist, seems i've only been listening to three albums this month: jenny lewis' acid tongue, langhorne slim's restless, and (obviously) T.I.'s papertrail. i just don't see how i could make that cohesive.
only, hannah and i are fine. we're not splitting up. i'm visiting this thursday for beers and dinner and sparkling wine and ping-pong and nick and norah's infinite playlist and walks on the beach at sunset. so, blog, perhaps you are the affair we can't quite move past. something like that.

what i will do in this post is shamelessly promote two books:

I. as you all know, george and i have taught alongside each other for 43 years (move on. he's the only one who's supposed to get that joke). he hates the blog, which doesn't stop him from reading it. when especially bored, he likes to make fun of me in his work (please check out the latest kenyon review, wherein a ten year-old named may-may is portrayed as a spoiled brat who's always hungry and trails behind all the other kids, drinking coffee). he even does so in his new book, pep talks, warnings & screeds:

number 30: if at all possible, take a poetry-writing class or two. please don't hang out with poets a bunch--this is a vast generalization here, but what the heck--because inevitably one of them will say, "poetry is so hard!" or "i worked twenty minutes today on a quatrain!" or "do you want some room for cream in your coffee?" or "i can't stand poets who rhyme" or "i love poets who rhyme" or "we have a special today on bran muffins."

daniel wallace (author of big fish) illustrates the book. anyway, it's pure awesome.

II. i thought i was done with this whole crying in the classroom business. i did it once out of pure frustration two years ago when i didn't know quite what i was doing and the students didn't seem much to care anyhow. but last week, i cried for a much more embarrassing reason. we were reading galway kinnell's strong is your hold and i read the first poem aloud. in the middle i just got all choked up and proceeded to try to stop crying by explaining myself and, inexplicably, snapping my fingers. anyway, you can imagine: i looked nuts, and couldn't stop repeating, "it's just so beautiful. it's just so beautiful."

the stone table

here on the hill behind the house,
we sit with our feet up on the edge
of the eight-by-ten stone slab
that was once the floor of the cow pass
that the cows used, getting from one pasture
to the other without setting a hoof
on the dirt road lying between them.

from here we can see the blackberry thicket,
the maple sapling the moose slashed
with his cutting teeth, turning it
scarlet too early, the bluebird boxes
flown from now, the one tree left
of the ancient orchard popped out
all over with saffron and rosy,
subacid pie apples, smaller crabs grafted
with scions of old varieties, freedom,
sops-of-wine, wolf river, and trees
we put in ourselves, dotted with red lumps.

we speak in whispers: fifty feet away,
under a red spruce, a yearling bear
lolls on its belly eating clover.
abruptly it sits up. did i touch my wine glass
to the table, setting it humming?
the bear peers about with the bleary undressedness
of old people who have mislaid their eyeglasses.
it ups its muzzle and sniffs. it fixes us,
whirls, and plunges into the woods--
a few cracklings and shatterings, and all is still.

as often happens, we find ourselves
thinking similar thoughts, this time of a friend
who lives to the south of that row of peaks
burnt yellow in the sunset. about now,
he will be paying his daily visit to her grave,
reading by heart the words, cut into black granite,
that she had written for him, when they
both thought he would die first:
or is he back by now, in his half-empty house,
talking in ink to a piece of paper?

i, who so often used to wish to float free
of earth, now with all my being want to stay,
to climb with you on other evenings to this stone,
maybe finding a bear, or a coyote, like
the one who, at dusk, a week ago, passed
in his scissorish gait ten feet from where we sat--
this earth we attach ourselves to so fiercely,
like scions of sheffield seek-no-furthers
grafted for our lifetimes into paradise root-stock.