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QUINTESSENCE

Folding Chair

MOTHER AT A WRITERS WORKSHOP
Girl with sticks,
tape and two kites, jumping from the back fence
wanting it all
wary of those salt spoons of desire.
Scars mar a grown woman’s knees.

A poet married to a poet
reads of her kitchen window,
her length of view.
O Listen
the boy-man trekking sands of no horizon.
And the pink-cheeked woman,
an affair born of Italian cafes,
one moon in her sky.

Desire the self intact, the self divides.
This is my song I say,
days of mere breathing
falling, in and down,
self and self divided.


- written August, 2002

I was at the Aspen Writers Workshop that hot August, sitting under a granite blue sky. We were writers and professors of writing, and would-be writers, gathered to hear several guest authors read from their work. We sat on white folding chairs in a wild flower garden, warm wine in plastic cups in our hands. At the podium, leaning comfortably on one pale, freckled elbow as she read, her striped cotton dress stuck with heat to the front of her thighs, stood Mary Jo Salter - reading from her newest poetry chapbook, "A Kiss in Space." Perhaps a decade and a half older than me, Salter was reserved, grounded in her success as a writer and her independence as a woman/wife/mother, sure of her coming-of-age as a poet. Her contentment shone through her even cadences, illuminated the garden as though she were a small but brilliant Coleman lantern lit over a picnic table on a late summer's eve. I was mesmerized, and jealous.

She had everything I wanted as a woman and writer - all seemingly attained as an effortless toss-away, as though she believed such good fortune was hers as princes claim their thrones. We spoke after her reading, and I knew then that Salter's struggle, if there was one, might have been with the work but never with the journey. Were some of us just destined to have great and fulfilling lives, while the rest of us struggled? That question birthed the poem above, "Mother at a Writers Workshop," drafted that evening in my hotel room. I ripped the lines out of my notebook and tucked the unfinished poem in the book of poetry Salter had signed for me. I found it today, strangely, reading in Salter's book.

I vividly remember the feelings of hunger and displacement I felt that day. Of wanting the view of the world Salter so effortlessly possessed, standing there, complacent at the podium - not mine, the frustrated writer perched on the edge of a folding chair, staring at the gnats drowning in my wine. My world was young children, career upheavals, uncertainties, moves... Why couldn't I have that, to provenance born? It's an interesting thing, envy. It can burn right through bullshit; and if it doesn't leave your heart in cinders, if you sift through what is real, that hunger can light a pilot light of honest ambition that will never again sputter out. That moment listening to Mary Jo Salter read her poems of distant streets in Paris became a turning point for me. I would fiercely, determinedly create my life as a writer, or step away. In Yoda-ese it was my "Do, not try" ah-ha moment.

I dug in, and I wrote/dreamed/cried my way through a marathon of writing and rejections until, finally, I stood at my own podium. I stand in gratitude. And continual amazement. To this day, I feel lucky. And when I meet other struggling writers who remind me of me, I do not, as Salter did, stand guardedly apart in the unspoken separation of public success. I step down and sit in the folding chair. Dear writer, it's a journey. Every book for me is as hard as the first, as difficult to sell, as likely or unlikely to succeed. This life is not about "following my bliss," or expressing a special talent. What we have here is the klutz-that-needs-to-dance - a nine year old kid, me, paid a dollar for a poem published in the hometown newspaper. If I could do something else, better or not much worse, trust me, I would.
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