What It’s Like
Your ten quail are eating. I’d let them loose
but I’d worry. And you know I’m no good
when I worry.
Would they look for the man
who whistles them home?
The spider lilies have faded, and mushrooms
scallop the pine stump.
from the myrtles lie scattered, still, on the ground.
To sit on the north steps is to miss moonrise
in silence, cicadas gone with summer.
Why has the tea olive bloomed so early,
smelling of winter? The old web
of the garden spider
Next time I check on the quail, will I find again
a rat snake stuck in the pen,
Nothing around here holds.
The pines seem taller with fall’s long shadows.
Moon glow in the back meadow, too soon
the lesser light of dawn.
You tell me to talk to the quail
twice a day. I don’t think they listen.
How many times each night
your side of the bed, only to feel it empty?
On the lowest limb of the pine a hawk
plucks feathers from a cardinal.
Brilliant, the body pinned by talons.
Do you feel the pull? Lightly, light
as a feather the feathers fall and turn
in summer’s long light. Some land
on scattered pine needles. Are you glad
not to miss this moment’s air
raining its sad diagonals?
The hawk lowers his head again
and raises it, again and again
in the rhythm of a woman stitching closed
the end of a pillow
she has just stuffed with down,
a woman who draws her arm wide
from the body, out and back.
Above the wound of red the hawk’s breast
is creamy, his shoulders a dull madder,
though you might say they’re bright
compared to pine needles. Occasionally
the hawk turns his head as if to see
who’s watching. More feathers fall.
Why are you afraid, standing at the window
with a plate of glass between you
and the body coming undone
on this hot July afternoon?
Home from Fairchild Tropical Garden
First I will vacuum the sunroom carpet.
I will think of the bright, hollow glass forms
by Chihuly, especially the reds
and they will console me.
May the sun of the sunroom lift me
to accept the yard’s gifts: leaf slivers
and pine needles and splintered
nuggets of bark tracked inside.
Next I will chant the word likelihood
for the sound of it and for the small
likelihood I’ll finish cleaning today.
And the gleam of the glass will console me,
the smooth curves of each piece, some towering
and branching out, some bobbing on water.
After which I’ll vacuum the guest bedroom,
hoping for no guest spiders and bugs
on this day before the day of the invited guest.
On this day I will follow the machinery
of duty, its efficiency, from room to room,
and the shine of the glass will console me,
some shapes blooming as if leaning
toward light, all sprung whole from the earth.
I will think too of how, any minute now,
I might sweep under a bed or pull back a drapery
only to find a shaped fragility
I could live with. Something on the verge
of breaking, something that belongs
by not belonging, wild and unlikely.
Dogged by Worry
At the moment when the pit bull lunges
at what it loves most—
and clamps its jaw
I flail and fall back dreaming
of the hooked rug
I once shook in sunlight,
perfect braids of amber and red
I could throw on the ground
as if there were no stray dogs.
No, not a rug, it was a scrap of rug,
a dingy thing,
yet big enough to roll and roll my body in.
And now the teeth, having already bled
the vein of my good mood
Let go and you’ll be famous.
They refuse, too, the second:
Let go and you’ll be rich.
is the best bribe, starting with a god
and a bone
to trouble its way, soon, into begging.
Susan Laughter Meyers is the author of Keep and Give Away (University of South Carolina Press, 2006), which received the SC Poetry Book Prize, the SIBA Book Award for Poetry, and the Brockman-Campbell Book Award. Her chapbook Lessons in Leaving (1998) was chosen by Brendan Galvin for the Persephone Press Book Award. Her poetry has also appeared in The Southern Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Subtropics, Cave Wall, and numerous other journals. A long-time writing instructor, she lives with her husband in Givhans, SC. She can be reached at http://susanmeyers.blogspot.com.
Q: What was your inspiration for these poems?
A: In a sense, the impetus for all four of these poems is that little voice inside telling you that something bad could happen, that all is not well. If worry and dread were talents, I’d feel better about all the time I devote to them.
Q: Can you speak to the presence of birds in so many of your poems?
A: I’m completely fascinated by birds and their beauty, grace, freedom—even the aggressive, territorial instincts that some of them exhibit. My whole world is birded. When I try to shoo them from my poems, they just keep flying back.
Q: What direction do you face when you are at work on your writing?
A: I’m glad you asked, because I’d never thought about that. East. (So from now on when I’m away from my desk and writing, I’m going to turn East.)
Q: Discuss your process as a poet, what sparks a poem and how you work it through to completion (or abandonment.)
A: Typically for me a poem starts with a line, or sometimes an image. (If it starts with an idea, I’m probably in trouble from the get-go.) I like to simply follow that initial impetus in whatever direction it wants to take me, and I find that sound comes into play more than it used to for me. Sometimes I’ll hold the first few lines of the poem in my head while I’m doing some mindless physical activity and work on the poem at the same time. When I work that way, the poem builds slowly. If I’m actually writing down the first draft in one sitting, it goes more quickly. This part can vary wildly, though—a few poems arriving whole as gifts, most of them coming out lopsided with missing (or extra) parts. I usually spend huge amounts of time revising, so that stage of the process can call for numerous drafts. I don’t mind admitting it: I love to revise.