You’ll find her
in the hollow space
between the bed and wall.
Take this –
her voice is low
a child learning how
to pick her cries,
a mother holding back
from giving birth, a woman
weighted under another.
Hold her face
close to yours, breathe
soap & skin. Close
your eyes, move them
side to side against
the lids. Take it
pulsing in your mouth
like when you first tasted
a man. Is it enough
to be ready? Take
her hands, rub
yourself into them,
let the sensation run over
her fingers & down her arms.
She Tries to Teach Me the Principle of Non-Attachment
Like lighting a match, she says eyes half closed, and studying it.
We’re standing socked feet on the vinyl floor – cheek to cheek and
leaning against each other. We play a game: Tell me
I say and she pulls in, whispers – tonight
it’s her turn – the trick is to witness them all.
The picture frames are small, square and empty, on the short shelf
facing one another. We light candles in front of each, watch
them change the room color – orange and dark.
Tell me I say and she pulls us onto the blanket on the floor.
The moment before lighting the match. We’re eye to eye now
trying not to blink and we’re both that sepia hue
spilling down into the soft fabric. The small stone Buddha
watches us, knees bent, arm draped
over leg, wrist on knee, palm down, showing
his toothless smile and laughing eyes. We turn away
from him, legs wrapped together. Tell me
and the light flickers, moving shadows on the ceiling.
We don’t see them. We don’t smell the floating smoke.
We don’t see our eyes opening and closing
trying to adjust.
We are typing
& not talking
& waiting –
The first night we laid
on our sides
facing one another but not
looking, just close enough
for her breath to interrupt
It has been twelve days
since we parked
under the large elm tree
not saying a word. Seven pages
since I gave her a poem
about her hands. Two minutes
since her last message.
I am waiting for her
to ask why?
On the fifth night she kissed me.
She is writing now
protecting herself. Last week
we traced chalk outlines
in the street – yellow
silhouettes filled with shadow.
Yesterday we sat on the kitchen floor
between the windows
listening to the sounds
of crunching gravel
& car engines. She writes
that she is leaving – when
was it that we started missing
the walls more
than the hours –
no I write wait. I type it,
over and over again.
Heather Bartlett received her MFA in poetry from Hunter College. Her work has appeared recently in Barrow Street, Connotation Press, The Nervous Breakdown, Phoebe, Evening Street Review, and elsewhere. She is the author of the chapbook, Bleeding Yellow Light (Split Oak Press 2014), and teaches writing at Ithaca College and SUNY Cortland in Upstate New York.
Q: What is your approach to getting “unstuck” on a poem?
A: Sometimes it’s a matter of getting physically unstuck. I start by changing my space. I get up and walk away from the page, open and close windows, rearrange furniture, clean the undersides of vases. Sometimes I have to leave my house and walk or drive around town to shake things loose.
Sometimes I just have to wait (and wait, and wait).
When I do return to the poem, I repeat this process of change – rearranging words, lines, stanzas. If I’m lucky, the real poem inside will break loose and reveal itself.
Q: If you were to choose a movie director to create your scenes on film, who would that be, and why?
A: One of my favorite exercises is to approach a poem as if it’s a film. This can also be a good way to get “unstuck.” What kind of poemfilm is this? Where is the camera? What happens when you change genres or directors? So, while I would probably choose someone like Jane Campion or Sofia Coppola, I’m also tempted to find out what would happen if, say, Wes Anderson got a hold of a poem.
Q: Who or what are you reading now? Is it a source for, or a response to, your own work?
A: The current reading stack next to the bed includes Lorrie Moore’s story collection, Bark, Jan Heller Levi’s poetry collection, Orphan, Jeanette Winterson’s memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal, and The Complete Sherlock Holmes. This either makes complete sense or none at all.
Q. Your poems are intensely close-focused; we are inches away, a breath. I am reminded of Rumi’s line, “And in the room of lovers I can see with closed eyes the beauty that dances.” Talk with us about writing love poems in the 21rst century.
A: Writing love poems is asking for trouble, isn’t it. Especially today. The challenge is in making something sincere without being overly sentimental, without being sappy. So in that way, in order to be genuine, a love poem needs to be a not love poem. It needs to get close enough to expose something authentic, something intimate, but that something isn’t going to be a perfect moment. What if we write the imperfect moments, the wrenching moments, the uncertain moments, the moments of giving in, of giving up? What if we get as close as a breath? The next line of Rumi’s poem is, “Behind the veils intoxicated with love I too dance the rhythm of this moving world.” Love isn’t just beauty. It’s also pain and ache and recognition and loss. It’s a moving world.