A nurse brought my mother a medical Ouija board, a yellow folder bearing the alphabet, for pointing. It also features complaints and demands (pain, hot, nausea, lights off) but my mother is too precise with language for prepackaged conversation.
Yesterday Dr. Burrows came to do a bronchoscopy, explaining directly to my mother, bless him, what would happen: first consent, then anesthesia, then the unpleasantness. “Okay, Mom?” I said. (She can’t talk with a tube down her throat so I took the consent part seriously.) She nodded. I signed.
“Any questions, Mom?”
My mother typed with one finger on the yellow Ouija—slowly, because it’s not Qwerty—as the nurse and respiratory therapist filled syringes, adjusted dials.
T. H. E.
“The,” I said.
N. E. W.
“New,” I said.
Y. O. R. K.
“York?” I looked at her with wonder. All day she’d refused to let me read to her. I kept telling her about this Amy Gerstler poem, “Interview with a Dog,” that would make her day.
T. I. M. E. S.
“Mom? You’re about to go to sleep—you want The New York Times?”
She looked at me with intense read my mind eyes. I stroked her forehead till they closed.
In the morning I reminded her: “You asked about The New York Times, right before anesthesia. You want me to read you the paper?”
My mother, her face still tentacled with tubes, typing hand swollen with edema, pointed carefully at the Ouija board:
And then gestured for a pen so she could write, laboriously, on the floppy newsprint pad: Read me dog poem.
I showed her the enchanting cover first. I told her, “No one tells Amy Gerstler what a poem is, or isn’t.” And it seems I’d packed the right book after all. Love dog poem, my mother wrote, and touched her heart.
Read “Interview with a Dog” at coconutpoetry, where it’s the second poem down; better yet, buy the marvelous collection Dearest Creature. Herewith, a mid-poem excerpt, but please don’t settle for just this.
Q: OK. I just gave you a bath. Then you went and rolled in manure.
A: Will you barbeque soon? Will you let me lick the grill when it cools?
Q: No, really. How come I get you all nice and clean and you immediately roll in something stinky?
A: Humans don’t get true grooming, which only takes place using the tongue. Toothpaste, mouthwash, and deodorant are what’s “stinky.” Soap’s revolting. Terrible invention. Why have it in your lamplit, carpeted, doorlocked lair? Dung is informative, complex—full of news flashes from the body’s interior. Shit’s an encyclopedia, volumes of urgent correspondence your organs wrote if only you knew how to read. What’s learnt from smelling shampoo? It just causes sneezing, erases articulate fumes. Bulldozes olfactory signposts. Washing is book burning.
My friend Heather Hartley’s debut poetry collection—the witty, nervy, sexy Knock Knock (Carnegie Mellon U Press)—comes out this month, launched by Tin House magazine with a fabulous NYC party on Thursday, January 21.
Gorgeous invitation won’t upload, so print it out before it vanishes, or make note:
8 p.m., Thurs. 1/21, at the Old Stone House in Brooklyn
5th Avenue between 3rd & 4th Streets
Critical info: readers (of their own work and Heather’s) are Elissa Schappell, Brenda Shaughnessy and Matthea Harvey. “Cocktails will be served. Duh.”
Backstory: Heather lives in Paris, where she’s grounded till fall by health issues. Grounding was not the plan. The plan was to fly here (she’s from West Virginia, poet-friends everywhere) and do readings on both coasts. But Heather is Paris editor of Tin House, a glam job that involves interviewing writers upstairs at the Shakespeare & Co. bookstore, where she also curates the reading series & co-curates the literary festival. (It would be wrong, however, to say she has the two hippest jobs in town. She’s got three locked up, as she teaches poetry & creative writing at the American University of Paris.)
Back to Tin House, which knows how to celebrate in style: big names, cocktails, plenty of books available. Just show up and squeeze in. For an early glass of Champagne, click here: a prizewinning poem—nonfiction—that ran in Tin House; it was sparked by a shocking New York Times article, referenced at the end.
And here’s poet Cecilia Woloch’s irresistible blurb:
“Heather Hartley’s first book of poems breathes new life into language at every turn. These poems are so sly and sweet, so smart and sexy…In her linguistic playfulness, she’s lithe and muscular as a gymnast. All the angels may be out to lunch, as she says, but all the flags in her heart are flying.”