Three Kinds of Wreckage
You and I move in together and our boxes checker the floor. There
are so many they make a new floor that cannot be walked on
and so we lay on the bed and sweat, or stand in the doorway and sweat.
I cut open your first box. Inside is a hammer, a cookbook, a book
on the Yangtze River. In the next: some hangers, a teapot, your
cufflinks, soup, an old kite string knotted like art a child could
make but did not.
Flotsam, I wonder, or jetsam? You have stepped into the kitchen,
and I am sweating again. Inside the hot room of my head I can
hear part of me laughing, but this part is small and surrounded by
boxes that can’t be unpacked. Our apartment is so undressed
that it pulses with white, like wave tips about to uncurl on a beach.
There is a third kind of wreckage, I know, but I cannot remember
its name. It does not wash up but hides, swallowed, until someone
comes and marks it
with buoys and by pulling it onto a ship a woman can claim it,
even if it wasn’t hers. Even if she doesn’t know what it is.
Because I have learned what revelations are worth I have them all
the time, which is only to say I have become very good at making
nothing. This, for example, begins as thoughts on a deer, but it is
damp as morning tents in gray light so I strike it. It swoons to the
ground, the deer still inside it.
For most of the day I have perched here, quietly, thinking about
Snow is falling simply into the river below, but dropping in clumps
from the tree branches. I must trust that the big snow is false.
I must consider the falseness of that thought as well.
What I Think of, and What I Don’t
Yesterday my mother said her marriage is good but not what she
expected. Soon I will know this starting with the garter I will wear
through the evening and forget
to tease off. In the morning you and I will wake up together and
the night will seem like a beautiful thing that makes nothing
different, like a birthday with more flowers, under lights. So much
surprises me that should not. Alone in my room through the last
unreachable zip, I have not yet realized that my dress will continue
after our wedding, that two days later I will carry it into our
apartment like the white, light woman I was for a moment and it
will hang in our closet like the brightest, heaviest coat. I must
think it will disappear,
like the Mexican food and the cake or even the night, which like
the dress shines like a new thing for some hours, and then becomes
what it’s always been.
Elizabeth Langemak lives in Philadelphia.
Q: Discuss your process as a poet, what sparks a poem and how you work it through to completion (or abandonment.)
A: I often start at the beginning of a poem, with an idea for what I want to write about, or a phrase. Then, if things are going well, the poem swerves at least slightly - or entirely - away from what I intended and ends up better for it. The process could take a few hours, or a few years –typically, it takes me a few months of working back and forth between a poem and a few other poems. It’s good if I can get some distance from what I've written before I come back. Generally, when I return to it, I’m hoping to find that swerve, or –in poems that are further along- for the gaps of logic that I’ve filled in in my mind, but not onthe page. When I'm ready, I show them to my first reader, my husband, who is also a poet. He has a laser eye for the extraneous, and also a sixth sense for the ghost in the poem,and what that ghost might be trying to say that I’m not translating well. I sit on his ideas for a while, and then play with them until I feel the poem is finished. These prose poems are part of a larger group of prose poems on similar subject matter. I wrote many of them over the course of a year, and much more quickly than usual. Some were part of an experimental salvage project to see if I could reclaim some failed poems that weren't working out in lines, but I thought might have promise in some other form. Writing those salvaged poems was fun, and led to writing more prose poems from scratch. The revision process for the prose poems felt a lot faster, and looser,and I'm not sure what that means. Being free of the line put my primary focus on the image and the sentence. At first, writing these prose poems made me feel like writing in lines was like wearing a winter coat in the summer, but after a while, when I returned to the line after many prose poems, it felt much more like wearing a winter coat in the winter . A winter coat with five dollars in its pocket.
Q: The latest overused media phrase is “unpacking," as in, unpacking the elements of a new piece of legislation or a papal encyclical. What's the worst/best part of unpacking in real life?
A: I love all kinds of packing and unpacking, but I particularly like unpacking boxes after a move. Even when the boxes are full of my own things – things I may have looked at just a few days earlier - unpacking makes me touch, hold, consider, and reconsider every object, and arrangement of objects. I’m always sort of tickled by how much things I know very well can still surprise me.
Q: What did you collect as a child – rocks, insects, stamps? – and why?
A: As a child, I collected a lot of pretty typical things: stamps my mom saved for me that I would soak from their envelopes, smooth glass and stones from the beach that I'd need to run under a faucet to see their true colors, basketball cards of players I didn’t know for the pure pleasure of opening their waxy packages. Probably, I collected these things for whatever reason anyone collects anything – 1t was a way to have things when I didn’t have other things and a primitive childlike way to think about what “completion” means, and if it’s possible.
Q: We love the landscape of "On Revelation,” a landscape in gray and white. What kind of landscape do you inhabit these days?
A: Thank you! When I try to describe myself in a particular landscape, I usually fail. Like anyone else, I imagine, I live in landscapes within landscapes. I live in Philadelphia, a big city landscape marbled with smaller wild spaces, in a small apartment that keeps many of the people who populate my inner and outer landscapes. When I think about my children and their lives - my teenage step children and my infant daughter – I can feel the scope, another landscape expanding and contracting simultaneously. When I teach, it’s the same thing: the vastness of literature, and a classroom, and then also the singularity of every student, or every text. When I think about writing, and what that landscape feels like, I think about trying to live in particulars, and plucking them from a vaster landscape of possibilities.