106744069323476995

when i was home a few weekends ago i went to a reading of maureen morehead, my high school creative writing teacher. she has just published a collection called a sense of time left, and it is simply quite extraordinary. i was actually surprised, and among my first reactions was the thought, “wow. i knew she was good, but i didn’t realize she was -that- good.” the majority of them are worth reading over and over again and pondering and some of them immediately feel like mini-masterpieces. she takes all the elements of “good writing” you learn about in school and uses them all in a virtuosic way (in “Plans” she wonders, “What if … God’s brain had been full of stars, not mud, that night” and in “Sabbath Poem” she observes, “three ruby-throated hummingbirds / vie for one needle of bliss. / They’ll chase one another to winter.”). her language is relatively simple and she has often been compared to a modern day emily dickinson. she uses repeated images throughout the collection as motifs and symbols (such as planes, trees, sky, particular species of birds, and even weather reports and baby teeth, as well as colors like red, yellow and green, and light and dark). like the title, she also juxtaposes the personal past with the present and the future as well as the historical past in startling ways. one of the more idiosyncratic things she does is twist the poem in the last few lines as a sort of spine-tingling punchline. she also has a way of using seemingly jumpy narrative (as in “A Chorus”) to force you to make connections between the lines, or intentionally ambiguous word structure as a little hiccup to force you to stop and unravel a crucial line’s meaning or to suggest multiple meanings (as in “all human plans one has here” in “My Body”). i also love how the collection is arranged. it’s divided into five sections, and i’m sure different people will have a different favorite section, although mine is “how hurt you had been” which focuses on poems about a third person, and “september meant the end of summer” which are poems related to teachers and teaching. the only bad thing about this collection is that it’s not more readily available and that, poetry being the little-read genre that it is, it probably won’t get half the recognition it deserves.

it was hard for me to pick out poems to post, but here are two that i think will give a good idea of the scope of this, yes, i mean it, great writer.

from A Sense of Time Left by Maureen Morehead

THE HESSIAN IN PHILADELPHIA, 1778

`A young man when he first comes into a house
is invited to dinner in a friendly manner. If the master
of the house has one or more daughters, after the table
has been cleared, he offers that stranger should also
stay in his place and pass the night in bed with his daughter.
This offer is, quite naturally, seldom refused.’ Hessian
soldier in The Hessians (Cambridge University Press) by
Rodney Atwood

I said he should wash first.
I said he should lay his coat and musket over there.
I said no need you should talk to me.
I said sometimes I talk, sometimes I’m just thinking.
I said my mother planted that sugar maple.
I said her arms were long, and she had tangled hair.
I said when we came here, she brought her mother’s letters.
I said my grandmother’s words are brown and in a hurry.
I said the sky turns gray, then black, then morning.
I said you are not my first.
I said one kissed me here, one here.
I said when my father kisses me, I smell woodsmoke and oil.
I said he killed a Patriot.
I said all night is long and square,
I said I’ll lie here, though you can see me.
I said I’ll lie here very still,
but once my mother hears me thinking,
I’ll either be or be not real.

MY BODY

is busy healing itself,
here in this quiet house
with no one to thank or love or answer.
Mine is a wall of windows.
October’s filtered sun invests me.
Jays alternate between the broken tree and goldfinch
   feeder,
between the fidgeting squirrels and rusty sedum.

When I was ill,
my mother placed warm cloths upon my head,
one, two, three, and then another.
Veronica wiped the brow of Jesus.
Did he rest his eyes upon her?

Just last week I lay on the road
unlucky as a sparrow who cracks into the windshield,
The neighbors ran out,
placed a blanket on my broken bones
and called an ambulance to get me.
Perhaps it is to them
I should be grateful,
but for this I am grateful finally–
my shattered leg will mend.
I am not broken irreparably,
but when Jesus reached the hill, he died there;
lifted into the falling night,
all human plans one has here.
I had conceived a hundred letters
but did not write them,
ignored a hundred poems
called home for making.

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