The Threepenny Review

Poets

T O BEGIN with I held them in awe. Tell me one time awe turned out well.

THE POET with the frank gap between her front teeth was once the seraph Suburban Housewife. Babies, martinis. Her gestures run from folding to stacking to tucking in to combing out snarls to stirring to cutting into little pieces to buttering to dishing out to drying off to fucking to smoothing down his tie before the husband goes out the door until one evening Vietnamese kids running from the cloud gaining on them cower behind her ribs. Cambridge, crowns of sonnets, Lowell smoking and holding forth, pacing miles around the seminar table, ranting them into transcendence, pausing to lay a hand on her head, blessing that became the first poem in Napalm. Yale Series of Younger, ylang-ylang on her pulse points, abortions, Rinpoche, vision quest in Joshua Tree, second book, third, tenure. Fourth, fifth, fame. Her name became shorthand for seducing a straight girl, her Pulitzer’d essays hitchhiked in ten thousand backpacks, on a talk show she unbuttoned to display the rose thorned by double mastectomy stitchery. Cinderblock, she nicknamed Collected Poems of. Through all of this the gap between the poet’s teeth stood by her.

I KNOW A poet who’s ridden for thousands of miles in boxcars and a poet who’s driven everywhere in a black limousine so long it has trouble turning a corner. The boxcars clatter through poem after poem. The limousine idles at the curb just outside.

THE POET and I, introduced five minutes before, were naming names, seeking affinities, curating minor coincidences. She mentioned another poet, a generation older, who’d been something of a mentor to her without ever having seemed to particularly like her, and I’d said that was funny, I taught there for a while, she never liked me, either, after which the newly met poet and I traded details of the older poet’s unraveling. How nobody knew what was going on. The older poet’s tone, in conversation and in poems, had always been fey, trance-like, her perfume had cost a fortune and her eyes were very green—they still were, but it wasn’t fun, what was going on in them. The word in her jacket blurbs had been otherworldly, but people understood something had gone really wrong and had stopped saying it. Her original lyric hallucinations seemed like warnings, now.

I remember when I found Siren, I said. I stole it from the bookstore where I was working.

There weren’t that many of them, the poet said. Women whose books were worth stealing.

Schadenfreude had vanished from our attitudes, mine and the poet’s.

She was who I wanted to be, the poet said.

I heard she showed up barefoot for a reading.

We had stripped down to heartsickness.

The poet said:

Once I was at her house for dinner, and she goes, You’ve got to see my little girl. Who was barely one. We’d been drinking and it was really late and I said But she’s asleep right? but she’s insisting, insists I follow her up the stairs and then she opens

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