Monday, April 23, 2012

#30: Four Poems by Kelle Groom




~This poem previously appeared in Opium (2007)


SHARK CAPITAL OF AMERICA


In the crab graveyard at the beach,
their bodies are wrinkled
and puffed like cereal, the winter

water cold, no lifeguards or bathers,
or even anybody human
here in the Shark Capital of America,

the sharks drawn to bait fish
living thick in the inlet, but what if
it’s really a kind of shark

Bermuda Triangle where their
triangle bodies get sucked in like boats
that disappear in the fog, white

haze, getting hungrier and hungrier
whirling there beneath the surface.
I’m afraid of what I can’t see,

but what if when Mr. Gold Teeth
drove into me on the Dixie Freeway
with his purple car, what if he hadn’t

swerved & avoided full impact, what if
I’m in a near-death cirrus cloud hovering
above a hospital bed, coma-ed out,

dreaming of the ocean, of the courage
to get in. Gold Teeth ticketed but
uninsured, so I’m racking up hospital bills,

& he’s afraid I’m pregnant because of the way
my hands rest on my stomach, G.T. keeps
asking, did you hurt the baby?

It’s embarrassing because I am a little
overweight. On his driver’s license,
it says he was born in 1983, almost a child

himself, with not one milk tooth, gold
gleaming top & bottom, & I wonder how
he speaks so clearly with all that jewelry

in his mouth—wouldn’t he have at least
a slight speech impediment? He’s so
determined to worry about the imaginary

baby, that I consider him the father—
of course, he’s a bad driver, et cetera,
but as hospital company, he’s pleasant,

committed, and he keeps offering me his
cell phone, is there anyone I’d like to call?
And while distracting at first, his gold teeth

are kind of cheerful, high wattage, a night
light to guide me back inside my body, help me
settle into skin before I burn off in the sky.


*****



~This poem previously appeared in Ploughshares (2009-10)


THE FACE OF JESUS

I was thinking about why souls have bodies,
what can a body do that a soul can’t,
and about the Amish or Mennonites, the ones whose

children were so sick with the same disease
that struck generation after generation,
until finally one doctor figured out how

to help them. But while he was figuring,
he asked them about the disease
and their kids, and the people said

that they believed the children had been sent
to help them better learn to love, which lifted
me out of my own body for a moment,

reminded me of when a church responded
to my request for money for some of the homeless
people in my town. I opened their response,

sitting in my closet office
with tiny bugs trying to drink the water
out of my eyes, with the small oblong window

in my door like on the doors of the insane,
the impounded, so someone can see in
to be sure the one inside hasn’t hung herself,

but small enough that she can only see
the outside world as the size of an envelope,
when I opened the church letter

and read it, I was so surprised that they thanked
me for being the face of Jesus.  I thought how
can I be the face of Jesus, I’m not even that

nice,  and I’d certainly had many unkind thoughts
about my co-workers just that morning
especially about the woman built like a truck

who was always trying to run me down.
But though it seemed an over-the-top thing
to say, like naming me Pope or Cardinal,

I realized that a spirit would need hands
to touch someone, and that the person
who has those hands and that body can be flawed

and sick and crazy, selfish and withdrawn,
and sad, and still be an instrument of love,
like when a musician gave up

on teaching me to play Summertime,
and simply laid his hands
on top of mine, banged my fingers into keys.


*****

~This poem previously appeared in Gulf Stream (2006)


ESTATE


On the street, waves wear yellow shawls.
Homes open like anonymous funerals:
bird blue door, a pair of slippers, glass

cabinet with a blond man from the 1970s
in a locket that says MVP, shelves emptied of tiny
arranged objects, as if everything that mattered

was kept in one place. A hidden pool
beside the garage where someone turns
a teapot, tries to read a message on the bottom.

The box at my feet looks familiar,
labeled “Writing” in purple magic marker.
Poems I’d written on envelopes, bills,

any scrap, as if paper, whole sheets, were scarce.
I love my young handwriting, the wave of W,
room to walk by the sticks painted yolk yellow

and white to mark turtle eggs under sand.
Each nest covered in wire squares like a see-through
quilt the babies can get through,

cinched down with rusty horseshoe hoops,
the mothers here nights ago hauling the trucks
of their bodies up shore. In the morning,

people lay these fences down to protect
against raccoons, staves like burials,
but there are thousands of lives getting ready

to push toward the hush over head, the raft
of weeds. I move a coconut out of their way,
clear the main drag down to the sea.

*****

~This poem previously appeared in Florida Review (Spring 2005)


SECOND LANGUAGE


My first summer as a teacher
in an international language school,

the Croatian students dressed me in white,
a wedding dress, Iva and Jane insisting

I play the runway game in the portable
classroom. The purpose was vocabulary

building—one student acts as model,
walking the stage, while another

is the announcer, describing the outfit
for the crowd, but they howled

so loudly at my modeling, I couldn’t
hear the details of my dress, plucked

a cathedral train, the soft hand
of chiffon, though by then I wasn’t sure

they were even speaking English,
doubled over, hysterical, hair sweeping

the floor, the students next door giving
up on their lesson, joining us with their

teacher who I had loved once, and wished
that I could marry, the girls like fairy

godmothers intuit this,
gowning me.

Their own city singed from war,
fields and villages mined.

At the mosaic table in a coffee house,
I learned to say I love you in Croatian,
Volim te, we said it in every language
we remembered, laughing because it’s

always the third phrase you want to know:
hello, goodbye, I love you.

Their imaginary dress fell over my hair,
like a wish sweeping winter from another

country, as if they could bequeath me
love, like that white dot, the moon—

suicides abandoned in the trees,
the sullen blowing bubbles in the mud.



*****

THE STORY BEHIND THE POEMS

I taught at an international language school in Orlando, Florida in the early 1990s. In the summer program, several of my students were from Croatia, including Iva and Jane, who appear in “Second Language.” This was during the Bosnian War. I was still a graduate student, and a new teacher – shy and nervous. But I liked using theater exercises in class. We performed “The Odd Couple” (both male and female versions of the play); students wrote and performed their own versions of Woody Allen’s “Death Knocks.” Sometimes we would have a collective dream (Jane’s favorite). In the late afternoon scene of the poem, we’re playing the simple “Runway Game.”
“Estate” takes place in 2004, after hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne hit Florida. In between storms, I’d make the hour drive to the coast and walk for miles on New Smyrna Beach and the Canaveral National Seashore. Many of the oceanfront homes and buildings were destroyed. But the sea turtles came back, and I’d find their nests on the beach. At a garage sale in Orlando, I came across the box I’d labeled “Writing” in purple marker. In 1999, after I’d moved from my slough-like apartment across from the university to a pink one on a lake, I’d thrown my boxes into a dumpster. Someone had taken this one out, and five years later the box appeared at my feet in a stranger’s garage. I let the hurricanes swirl it into the poem.
In 2006, I moved to New Smyrna Beach, “Shark Capital of America.” To be accurate, the city is really the “World’s Shark Bite Capital.” (Though these are usually small sharks, small bites…).  I love the ocean, love swimming, and hated the idea of being afraid to go in the water. This fear coincided with other fears I had about taking action in my life. My first day at work, I went out for lunch, and was in a car accident. In the poem, I move toward fear - the accident becomes a disaster fantasy – to see what will happen.
 “The Face of Jesus” is from 2009. A few years earlier, I’d been director of grants for
the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida. I was thinking about a few things: a letter I’d received at the shelter, an article I’d read about sick children, and a music lesson I’d had during my first residency at Atlantic Center for the Arts, an international artists-in-residence program in New Smyrna Beach.

*****

ABOUT KELLE GROOM
Kelle Groom is the author of three poetry collections, most recently, Five Kingdoms (Anhinga Press, 2010). Her memoir, I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection and a Library Journal Best Memoir of 2011, was released in April 2012 in paperback from Free Press/Simon & Schuster. Her work has appeared in Best American Poetry 2010, The New Yorker, Ploughshares, and Poetry, among others. She is the recipient of fellowships from Black Mountain Institute, University of Nevada-Las Vegas in partnership with the Library of Congress, Djerassi Resident Artists Program, Millay Colony for the Arts, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, American Antiquarian Society, and Ucross Foundation, as well as both a 2010 and a 2006 Florida Book Award, a State of Florida Division of Cultural Affairs grant, and Barbara Deming Memorial Fund grant. Groom is Distinguished Writer-in-Residence (2012-2013) in the Sierra Nevada College, Lake Tahoe, English Department, and she is on the faculty of the low-residency MFA Program at Sierra Nevada College.
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