I drafted new poems, I revised recent poems, and best of all, I used this precious chunk of time and attention to work on a prose project that I couldn’t beforehand make my way quite into. I also collected and scribbled daily words, images, impressions, quotes from my reading in the library that I will be going back to…
POEM OR STORY
Childhood was a story, a journey, it was a place
one had to leave. Whatever I read,
I wondered if it was a poem or a story.
My mother said it was a story if it had an ending.
But poems ended too, I thought. Or else
they were middles. A journey might be a story
where the ending is a place. I wondered
too much, and wondering was a kind of place, too,
somewhere in the middle. I had no memory
of the beginning. My life from its start
was an expanding middle, my mother’s.
Was I a poem, then, or a story, was I
taking a journey? As a child, we dressed up
in our Sunday clothes when we flew on a plane.
If traveling with our parents, we sat in the back
so mother could smoke. A cigarette was a story
that ended when a little pile of ash had
mostly landed in the lidded metal box
embedded in the armrest mother and I shared.
She’d send me into the convenience store
to fetch a pack, Benson & Hedges Ultra Light
Menthol 100s, and candy cigarettes for me.
Chalky white with hot pink tips.
I carried them in a patent leather purse
next to my Avon lipstick samples, and smoked them
when she smoked. And left a lipstick print
on one end like she did too. Smoking had a beginning
and an ending and a dreamy middle part
that was time passing. Other times,
if my brother and I flew on a plane alone,
they put us up front, once in first class, where
we were served a breaded chicken cutlet
on a gleaming ceramic plate. When I cut into it,
melted herb butter pooled from its middle.
As if it were a poem, I thought.
The flight attendant called it chicken Kiev.
Poem or Story
03/02/2022: 2022 PEN America Literary Awards
01/26/2022: 2022 PEN America Literary Awards Finalists Announced
10/07/2021: Translation by Jennifer Grotz and Piotr Sommer in Publisher’s Weekly