13 January 2007

Featured Poet: Mary Biddinger

Mary Biddinger spent half of her life in Chicago and environs before defecting to the Cuyahoga Valley, where she is currently an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Akron and NEOMFA: Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in a variety of journals including ACM, American Literary Review, Crazyhorse, Harpur Palate, The Iowa Review, Notre Dame Review, Ploughshares, and Salt Hill, and her first book, Prairie Fever, is forthcoming from Steel Toe Books (Spring 2007). She is an Associate Editor of the literary magazine RHINO. Her favorite tree is the Sugar Maple. She is currently at work on a second book of poetry.

I see it: no more dusk
to your days. Months ago we
stood on a porch loaded with
empty terracotta pots.
Matchbooks, snowbound
floribunda, empty rice sacks.
It occurs to me that everything
is still there without us,
creaking with temperature
swings and rainstorms. Smoke
from the three women next door,
locked out and waiting.
There were landscapes
in acrylic. Chimes from clocks
we couldn’t find. Plum tomatoes
in quart baskets. I watched
them shiver into pools
on the countertop, as if you
had rolled them in your hands
for hours. Light was gold
and inching closer, taxis
banked cheek to cheek on
the highway below. Evenings
like this I wanted kept
on ice or tucked beneath
a layer of silk. I didn’t have silk, 
only wool and nylon. There was
nothing left of the night,
only train cars and breath.
They could dust me for prints
and find just fingertip salt and rust.
You were a halo of consonants
in the dull ebb of my pulse. 
I could have hung my jacket up.
You could have told me how
they found us and took us
to our opposite corners, separate
lawns, rooms where we both slept on
twin beds, star quilts, lost in the scent
of cotton batting and blackjack gum.

We were two strands of thread 
snagged on a wooden barn door.
You were odd granite shrapnel
in my safety goggles. One wet
sheep standing on the driveway.
A bad stomachache after apples
and capers. If I painted the wall
ecru, you walked into it bloody
handed. Those days were less
Flemish and more Portuguese,
at least in the beginning. What
Old Master would’ve measured
from my elbow to the toaster?
If oxen crowded the interstate
we were in no way responsible
or even aware. I was not your
wife, not even close. Alpacas
always left me shivering like
a tuberculosis stick, or elevator
skipping a floor. A cartoon man
naked in a barrel can never be
unrolled. I ironed handkerchiefs
for quick cash. I let them weld
me behind some mesh. It’s mean
the way we flush right out, like
milk, and then we begin all over.
Once, we both lived underwater.


There were four rooms. There were eight. You were in corners and under
furniture, near my knees, reflections of your back in stainless steel.
Suspenders, Florsheims and avocado linen. There was limestone halfway
up, and I knew I’d crash into it if I could move fast. You thought it
was a cold place. The light bulbs?
It was all like helium to me at
that point. I said someone should be taking pictures, the way we were
sprawled on the hardwood or propped up on rattan sofas. One time in the
airport we were both small and spun together in a leather chair chained
to the ceiling. You touched my leg.
Nobody was taking pictures, but
that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, or that we weren’t in Frankenmuth
five years later, at connecting tables but kept separate. A shed behind
the school, or that storm sewer at the dunes, past the grasses, left of
concession, the sand that felt like clay, like slip, how blond you had
become, I hardly recognized.
If you were here in this room you’d
remind me of the guitar, the train platform, the silver Cutlass
containing me and continuing on past it all. You said we’d go back. I
was always a good runner.
You said: the smoothest skin ever. We’d
seen the skyline from two dozen taxis, our own legs on the bridge, from
the grass, from the grass again, in the grass on my front lawn, lit by
the cheap plastic solar lamps, from deep past the buoys of Lake
and into the waterways connecting.
We knew where we had come
from, had that in common.
In college I looked out the laundry room
window and saw you between leaves, in a corduroy jacket.
We’re here,
you said. There were blue sheets I used instead of curtains.
Later I’d
be in a hundred rooms with tin ceilings and slim wine glasses, or
rectangular tables and cinderblocks and papers.
In the subway window
I’d look nothing but tired.
I would try everything from milk to cactus
in hope of turning you to milk and cactus and dark rafters and back
again, so when I closed my eyes it was heat and every other color we
The nights kept us like ants under plastic. I kept you in
places that were cool and uncovered.
You touched my face like it was
years ago and just starting. I was busy fending off letters and
drinking green tea and lying in a cool bath.
By noon, everything was
back where it had been. We’re here and we’re living, you said.


Ballooned on the back porch
like a bullfrog in springtime.
All full of it. The whole world
going down on its neighbor
and then sliding up bus steps
fragrant with Dial, snapping
wintergreen gum. Sunglasses,
duffel bag, nobody knows
how damp your body is.
Rooms the buttercup gold
they use for schools, seen
on desks, hushed in cotton.
What’s not a hustle? No
need for silk when you’ve 
got grease. At the opening 
reception, nobody checked
the broom closet for nudes.
There were hours pressing 
faces under the paintings,
a glass of whole milk split
between us before stained
glass grottoes. Grandparents
dressed you in lederhosen
every autumn. I was lost
as a child and felt my way
into a neighboring borough.
Why were we the only two
left at the end of the song?
It sounded like shaking, coal
dust, bells, a sitar and tabla
set loose in the wet mines.
We used to meet at the back
table, like we were corporate.
You would help me with my
buttons. I walked that room
and stepped through the blinds
into midday traffic, our haze 
a secret. Each dress I snagged
on the same broken hinges.


An afternoon across from you
in copper light. Smuggling
a quart of milk on the city bus
to drink between potholes.
We stood at the edge of a lot
rumbling with maple leaves.
Lie down in it. Lay it down.
An hour later under sixty watt
bulbs, albacore in pepper oil.
Where did I go when your
arm slid across my shoulder?
Even my palms turned cold.
Even gabardine went sharp.
You told a story of cloves sewn
into canvas pillows. A wife
who loved blanched leeks.
A childhood of Appaloosas
that resisted training, or girls
in distant cities wearing silk.
I remembered a chandelier
I once dissected in the basement
without permission. Your face
startled in the stairway. Blood
rides water underground
like another body. Waiting on
a bar stool in Waukegan, knowing
you are in Ashtabula, no phone.
The sound of dancing drifts through.
© 2007 Mary Biddinger