Regarding the Dead Lobster Found at 60th and Stark Street
I don't know why it's there either.
His thick shell has turned maroon.
Flies circle the fetid patch of pavement.His feelers
Fell limp, green, down. He makes me think
Of you. I'd like to laugh it off
As some schoolboy's gag. Instead, I recall
The last time we spoke, when your eyes bulged with
Shock and your back clung to the barroom wall.
I would never leave a lobster thus,
Restlessly pinching into the damp
Air that never offers breath. People rush by
And don’t catch his choked gasps, or the cramp
Before his final grasp. Why couldn’t you speak,
That night all walkways turned to mud
And my fingers spun the air into punctilious maps?
I tried to prove our paths should split. That it was silly,
Us together. A reckless choice. A judgment lapse.
Did you put this lobster here, in front
Of my apartment? Once, I thought myself guileless.
But this lobster curdles my blood, his blunt
Claws slightly open, like your lips then, lunging
To express any spare oath between us, only
To choke on barnacled facts. Your cheeks
Turned blue, as if resigned to breathe
No more. I watched you retract
Into your crimson shell. What could I do but leave?
I hate this lobster. Not that I blame
Myself for his rancid presence or tragic end;
But who would pull him from the tank, claim
This creature, and drop him to rot, to fend
For himself on this rough ground. Be glad,
Dear, that you’re not dead, just without
My embrace. I didn’t know you loved me—
Would it be different if I had? I don’t know
And I’m sorry. Dear lobster, grant me grace.
Saying Adieu to the Season of Exploding Hearts
The season of exploding hearts ended with a bang.
Our newscasters blame hard water. At Hunan Delight they say
that last year was a tiger year, most of us just pray
the cause of death won’t correlate with our current pangs.
Still, the public sector’s burgeoned: our kingdom’s bounds
have grown with the graveyards. No—no: there is no sound
or sane way to mourn so many, to be so without.
Religion makes our mouths dry up, as does the local gin,
and when we kiss each other, we don’t feel a thing
except for our eyes closing, except ourselves being blotted out.
Why did their hearts burst and why didn’t ours?
There is no way, the doctor said, to clean out certain clots,
so we accept our certain today and give the past to the dead.
Not dying takes a lot of luck, we say to our spouses
and we know we’ve said too much again, as their faces
quiver at the thought of our blood gone blue and our head
sans pillow dropped back in an icy box.
We’re hurt, we don’t mean it, we just talk
as if we were the town puppeteer who daily played
on a cardboard stage and there wept and there could dream—
we aren’t that. With no formal goodbye,
all we have is our quiet collective scream.
You are walking me home through the rain
And I don’t want to start up on death again,
But what else is there? You point—“That’s dogwood,”
You say. Not a man of many words,
You lay a bud behind my ear.
Our hands brush up. You’re a bit near,
Don’t you think? The rhododendron
Is flourishing, you say it’s among
The vibrant evergreens, it doesn’t go
Away. I don’t know it; my dear fellow—
Blooms are for graves, not me. You’ve barked
Up the wrong bush. Shrub. Whatever. It’s dark
But your eyes shine like emeralds.
You hand me a broken daffodil, a herald
To lame beauty—I don’t want it. Still you smile
Like a predator; without my wit or guile,
I keep mum as you invoke the azalea.
Why are you staring at me? I impale a
Red petal with a knobby stick.
I’m not for loving either, made just to pick
Up branches and find a place to hide
Them. How did we get here? We both ride
On the porch swing, shifting lightly.
It’s a dread moment—softly, slightly
You reach for my limb—my wrist—
And I watch. I guess stately redwoods twist
About themselves to bear sticky-sweet juice—
So you say—or I think—squeezed loose
Of the dead roots, I reach for you too
And bury myself in these few
Moments so much greater than sympathy—
Without naming a thing, except for the trees.
Judith Pulman earned her MFA from the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University and an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia. She writes poems, short stories, and personal essays. She also translates Russian poetry, just to keep things light. She has publications in or forthcoming from The Writer's Chronicle, Brevity, Los Angeles Review, New Ohio Review, Basalt, Under the Gum Tree, and other journals. She works as a teacher, administrator, and freelance editor.
Q: Memory brings together the oddest things – a former lover, a lobster in the street. What is your earliest memory?
A: Growling at my father when he woke me up in the morning. I had a very pronounced speech impediment until I was 12 or so, and I would express myself with noises rather than using words that I would inevitably mispronounce.
Q: Paper or screen? Pen or pencil or stylus?
A: Pen on paper for drafts and a glowing screen for revision. I am a methodical creature except when I am hungry.
Q: There is a language of flowers, of course – would you talk about the naming of trees?
A: “Sap” is a poem that follows a traditional elegiac theme: turning away from the deceased and back out into the wider world. The naming of the trees gives the speaker something new to fixate on, separate from the losses she has experienced.
Q: Given the strong presence of nature in these poems, winding as it does into the human-carved landscape - do you have a favorite nature poet, who and why?
A: I don’t know if Linda Gregerson is ever referred to as a nature poet, but she writes beautiful poems. I appreciate the unsentimental way that she writes about humankind’s uncomfortable relationship with the natural world. I was brought up in the suburbs of DC and now live in Oregon; I knew nothing about the value of composting until I was 27. It takes a long time for people raised with a suburban or urban ethos (certainly did for me) to grok the idea that we are living in a closed system and that no action or object in the world just disappears. So I enjoy nature poets who take me on the journey from the cities where I actually live out into nature.