Welcome to Plume, Issue # 45.
March: and you’ll be happy to find below, as we begin this brief newsletter, not my own ramblings but the beautiful and considerably more coherent presentation of our “secret poem” by our own Associate Editor for Special Projects, Nancy Mitchell (she of the extraordinary interview with Luljeta LLeshanaku last issue, with Ani Gjika). I think you’ll find it enchanting, and her selection: a delight. So, as I mentioned last time, we’ll make permanent — as if anything could be so! — this new wrinkle in Plume’s Newsletter. Next up, Dore Keisselbach, then Marc Vincenz. (And let me note again, should anyone out there be so moved to introduce his or favorite poem — most important, most fondly remembered, etc. — please, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll see about signing you up for a future installment.) I will confine my own remarks to the Editor’s Note for a while.
But, for now: enjoy — Nancy Mitchel:
Urged to a new life on eastern shore town, in the middle of an August heat wave thirty years ago, I, with my children, fled my marriage of fifteen years and took up in a townhouse within a walk from the small college upon which John Barth had cast a jaundiced gleam of fame in End of the Road. With the influence of well-established friends, my heathen children enrolled in a Catholic school two blocks from home, and I, with only substitute teaching under my belt, was hastily offered a job teaching English competency to students dead-headed to eight-hour, rubber boots on blood-slicked concrete standing shifts processing chickens for Frank Perdue. One month in, driving into the path of a Mack truck filled with these chickens regularly presented itself as a perfectly sane and brilliant alternative.
One very late night, in not exaggerated exhaustion, I fell to my knees to look out the low open bedroom window. To a full moon silvering the dumpster, to the crickets chipping away last remnants of summer, to the sea-salted breeze I prayed to be released from illegible essays pillaring my room, hampers overflowing with laundry, and the kid-worries spinning my gut–nothing could persuade the third grader to put his hand to anything other than to slowly roll a pencil up and down his desk (a session with the priest had been planned) or stop a daughter’s sobbing no one in fifth grade ever, ever picked her for kickball, or distract my first born thirteen-year old from exploring the endless etching possibilities of a sharp sewing needle on his skin. “Fool” the husband had called me, and fool I was. I had not counted the cost; I could not do it. But I had to do it; I could not go back and we had to eat.
The following yellow-leaf lit October evening, the good angel floated into the last poem of a mutual friend’s reading, the belt of his stained trench coat trailing behind him. Leaning on the wall next to the door I’d strategically chosen the chair closest to a quick exit, he blew steam from a Styrofoam cup. During the applause, as I made my move to slip out, he turned; my shoulder bumped his hand and a wave of warm coffee crashed against my collar bone, splattered my white dress; flurried exchange of “So sorry, my fault”, “no, it’s my fault, I should have…” his attempts to blot my dress with the hem of his coat stopping short at my breasts. Introductions, sticky handshakes, and his accepted offer to walk me home.
“At an AA meeting; third one today” was why he was late, and I didn’t flinch; our mutual friend had given me an outline of his story: newly, shakily sober, flush with an NEA and free to write and housesit while this friend and his wife would be in Greece during an upcoming sabbatical.
Alchemy of stale coffee, cigarettes, beechnut gum, and peppermint made an elixir on his lips; when he leaned in to kiss I didn’t resist.
The wise ones repeatedly and solemnly warn the newly sober and newly separated against “embarking” on a relationship for at least a year. In our defense, rather than embark we simply drifted; my bed our boat, the night our dark sea becalmed by my sleeping children’s breath. My only thought of the future was where he’d next put his lips.
And so it went; under the shelter of his wings we dwelt; between loads of laundry he wrote and swept; my kids and I came home to a clean house, warm fish sticks and pizza. When my ex showed up drunk, swinging an enormous gourd and bellowing obscenities on my doorstep, the good angel led us out the back door to a neighbor’s house where he called the police, then a cab to take us to a movie.
The townhouse rules forbade four-legged pets so he gave the kids Porgy and Bess, parakeets who flew now and then about the house, until through an open front door they slipped, above and beyond the kids’ tearful pleas. If I’d known anything about the nature of angels, I would have seen this as an omen. Maybe he took off to answer the call of a more needy prayer, or perhaps his work with us was done; it was June, and by the lowly prod of rote and repetition I’d pushed the students through the bureaucratic loophole to graduation; my kids finished the school year with decent grades, now played with friends on softball teams, and swam happily in the pool.
On my birthday the good angel gave me a gift for every birthday he had missed. Among those wrapped presents lit by the fire of thirty-five birthday candles was Mark Strand’s translation of Rafael Alberti’s The Owl’s Insomnia, which I’ve kept since in my nightstand. I love every poem in that volume, but the page at which the book’s spine has split attests to the one I most adore:
The Good Angel
The one I wanted came,
the one I called.
Not the one who sweeps away defenseless skies,
stars without homes,
moons without a country,
The kind of snows that fall from a hand,
Not the one who tied death
to his hair.
The one I wanted.
Without scraping air,
without wounding leaves or shaking windowpanes.
The one who tied silence
to his hair.
To scoop out, without hurting me,
a shoreline of sweet light inside my chest
so that my soul could sail.
I told you, wonderful, yes?
And now for a little businessâ€¦
As you’ll read in or Editor’s Note but I want to repeat here as not all read both this Newsletter and the Editor’s Note (or either!) we’ve made a small change to the anthology, moving from the year designation to simply a number, in the upcoming case “3”. Something, I am told, to do with the advantages of securing an SPD number. And, I can tell, immodestly, it is going to beâ€¦something: living up to our Mission Statement’s (so audacious in in its pre-first issue conception!) promise to publish “the best work by the best poets working today, nationally and internationally.” E.g. Shamsad Abdulloev, translated by Alex Cigale; Kim Addonizio; Kelli Russell Adagon; Sandra Alcosser; Meena Alexander; Kazim Ali; Kelle Groom; Ralph Angel; Rae Armantroutâ€¦and, obviously, that’s just the A’s. Copies will be available at AWP and thereafter through Madhat/Evolution Arts, Amazon, etc.
A sneak peak at the continually evolving but very close to the final cover:
Speaking of AWP. A final reminder: Friday, April 10, 6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. in the Minneapolis Convention Center, Conference Room 209 A & B, Level 2, there will be a joint reading with Plume & Fulcrum (with a full bar). My request for readers has been answered — many times over, I’m afraid. (How generous our contributors!) As noted, on a first come, first served basis as their emails arrived in my Inbox, the line-up (with perhaps a bit of tweaking in order yet) is as follows: Page Hill Stargazer, Rae Armantrout, John Skoyles , Clare Rossini, David Baker, Robin Behn, and Patricia Clark.
The Plume Anthology of Poetry 2014, as noted, is all but completed and will make its debut at AWP. Preface from Terese Svoboda, with an extended Featured Selection of new work by Afaa Weaver. Quite a roster, too — if I may be so immodest.
(I know, I know — but it bears repeating!)
For more on our cover art this month and New Work Received, I’m afraid you’ll have to look at that Editor’s Note.
As always, I do hope you enjoy the issue!