“I Was Told Not to Write About the Body”: About the Poem

29884447682_92e543cce3_hOn Tuesday morning, a deer ran in front of my car as I drove to work. I was struck, as I always am, by her fleeting, fragile beauty, by what a gift it was, to see her and to have that vision, if only for a moment in time. It’s a feeling I connect very much with the way I feel about the body: how it is a gift, a rare and beautiful and fragile one, to have a body at all.

It seemed fitting, then, that the poem featured on Sundress Press’ The Wardrobe on Tuesday was a poem that uses a deer as a central image. It’s one of two poems in the book that began in perhaps the place least conducive to writing poetry: an over-crowded departure terminal during an extended layover at Dulles airport in DC. I was on my way home after one of those beautiful gifts that happen rarely in a lifetime: I’d been in New York to read in the Best American Poetry reading.

The poem I read was actually the title poem of my forthcoming collection, House Is An Enigma. The experience was amazing but also humbling. I felt as though there was some kind of mistake, as though I didn’t belong there, for a lot of reasons, but the main reason haunted me all through the night and through the first leg of my flight and through my airport walks. I’d had the absolute honor to stand on that stage and read with these extraordinarily talented, brilliant, inventive writers. The main thing that stuck with me, though, was their bravery, their willingness to Say The Thing, to be honest and to confront and explore and love into language the deepest, darkest, most beautiful parts of themselves and their experiences and our shared experience, here, on this shared earth, as creatures who share the experience of being human. My poem felt like code. It was about my deepest, darkest, most intense experience — having a hysterectomy at age 33 — but you’d never know that. In fact, I didn’t even know it, when I read the poem. It was only when I had to write a note for the anthology that I realized what it was about. I’d been ashamed of the experience, I confess, and I confess that I’d been ashamed about my lumbering, dysfunctional body, which so rarely felt like a gift. This shame had led to silence, and I knew, after that night, that I owed it to my work to give it all language.

The first draft of this poem was indeed a rare gift: it arrived nearly whole, in that crowded airport, as I waited for the plane to take me into the sky and away to my home, which felt like a new place, ringing and ringing with news words.

House Is An Enigma featured on Sundress Publications’ The Wardobe


We’ve still got a few months before my third full-length collection, House Is an Enigma, is published by Southeast Missouri State University Press in October.

Interested in a preview? Then I have good news for you.

I’m humbled to say that House Is an Enigma was selected for this week’s Best Dressed feature on The Wardrobe, from Sundress Publications. Stop by every day this week to spend some time with one of the poems from the collection.

First up is “Alma,” which is one of my favorite poems in the collection. I’ve probably been writing it since I studied with Kate Knapp Johnson, my mentor, teacher, and all-around life-saver at Sarah Lawrence College.

Kate taught me more than I could ever begin to express about poetry and about the restless, endless, insatiable and ever-unsatisfied curiosity necessary to keep one’s art and craft alive. I learned much about the latter from her example, especially from her passion about the work of Carl Jung. In fact, Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections served as a textbook in her poetry class, and it was life-changing for me.

Though I’m not sure if I can entirely explain how, I know (and really, isn’t that the best tribute to Jung — not being able to explain entirely but still, nonetheless, knowing) that “Alma” comes from my time with Kate and, via Kate, from Jung.

Kate mentioned one day that in many languages, the word “alma” means “soul.” In many ways, that’s exactly what this poem is: an expression of and from the part of my soul that was built in those long, deep, and deeply treasured conversations between a master teacher and me, an eager student who had so, so much to learn.