July 2014 Sestinas
Ann Tweedy’s first chapbook, Beleaguered Oases, was published by tcCreativePress in 2010, and her second chapbook, White Out, was published by Green Fuse Press in June 2013. Her poetry has appeared in Clackamas Literary Review, Rattle, damselfly press, literary mama, and elsewhere. Her manuscripts have also been selected as finalists for the Blue Light Press Annual Chapbook Competition, the Robin Becker Chapbook Contest, and the New Sins Press Poetry Book Award, among others. Originally from Massachusetts, she was a long-time resident of the West Coast before she moved to Minnesota in 2011 to teach at Hamline University School of Law.
Rock Dove Rovings
I write in the shadow of Vermont’s Mount Mansfield,
though it may be too small and too far off to cast a shadow, this hybrid
of mountain and hill. Late afternoon sun ripens
pink behind it. Early Spring’s prominent bird is the pigeon.
Snow has melted into muck all week—not a single icicle
hangs from a gutter begging a child to suck it. Trucks no longer jackknife
on salted roads. Compared to the steady, subtle Northwest, seasons here jackknife,
or that’s what I remember from my childhood in Mansfield,
Massachusetts. Once Winter left, then came back in late April, the trees thick with icicles.
The snow was higher than my six year-old body and stayed that way, no hybrid
of Winter and Spring, but Winter in full-force. Against an open window, pigeons
huddled, their gentle cooing almost ripening
into a collective cry. I’ll write in Vermont this April as Spring ripens,
then leave just before it bears fruit. Writers are watchers and have no need of jackknives
or other practical implements to cut fruit or anything else. Like pigeons,
we scavenge what we can from the detritus of humanity, even from Mansfield,
Mass., from which there was not much to scavenge, the place a drab hybrid
of small town and suburb. Still, there were stark seasons, Winter replete with icicles,
Spring with all the flowers I could imagine, Summer a sparkling festival, chill, crisp Fall, then icicles
again, the year a wheel that whisked from one extreme to the next, another ripening
just around the corner, not like Washington where seasons bleed, hybrids
instead of pure animus. How I longed on the West Coast for those jackknife
turns of weather, but, now in the valley of Mount Mansfield,
I miss the mild Winter that had already ceded to dazzle. Besides, pigeons
seem out of place in this tiny town. I want swans and geese, not that I dislike pigeons—
they have as much right to be here as anyone, even melted icicles.
Wherever I find myself, I’m always glad it’s not my hometown, Mansfield,
Mass., though it’s not so much the town as my childhood there, its sad ripening
into adulthood. But the beauty of sad beginnings is that as an adult you can jackknife
away from them, forget everything—almost—your new life a hybrid
of where you came from and where you’ve landed. People are always building a hybrid
existence. If only we could be like pigeons,
satisfied wherever we are. Even in suburbs that jackknife
into cities, pigeons are content. They can handle Northeastern winters, icicles
and all, no need to migrate. I can’t say if they anticipate Winter’s ripening
into Spring or if they prefer some places over others, for instance Seattle over Mansfield,
but I bet they like hybrid seasons better than being surrounded by icicles.
And what animal, including a pigeon, wouldn’t enjoy ripened
fruit, if only to pick jackknifed peelings out of a gutter in, say, Mansfield?
In college, to earn money, I worked at the dining hall,
and, now, in my thirties, I wash dishes to pay
for this poetry residency. How the things you thought
you were done with return. I wondered whether to accept
the job but guessed it would be good to be humbled again, the class
to which I’ve ascended willfully blurred. It couldn’t hurt.
In college, cafeteria work was a constant hurt—
required to cut vegetables and prepare meals at the dining hall
with no instruction, then getting yelled at when it wasn’t right. It was worse than any class.
The permanent workers were all black, and one—Pam—I remember always being angry as if in pay-
back for my clumsy white stupidity. How I longed to be accepted
by everyone, Pam, the other workers, my classmates, how I’d thought,
leaving home, that it might be possible, but, soon after arriving, cut that hope out of my thoughts.
Resented at the cafeteria yet looked down upon by classmates—such loneliness and hurt.
It took years to believe that whiteness brings privilege, while accepting
my dim beginnings engulfed by poverty and my mother’s mental illness. In the dining hall,
I started toward that understanding. The awareness has paid-
off, yet I struggle with the mishmash of old and new class.
Why do I feel poor and resent corporate lawyers, now that I’m upper middle class?
I, who grew up on and off welfare, ate commodity cheese, wore charity clothes, and thought
not having your phone and electric cut off was wealth, who now pays
a mortgage, a car loan, student loans, credit cards, how can I hurt
from the envy of money? Yes, the dining hall
seems the right place to return to, to learn again to accept
my beginnings but appreciate where I’ve gotten to. Accepting
the self may not come easy to anyone. Perhaps this is what the class
of life is trying to teach us. Once, standing beside Pam as she cooked in the dining hall,
she burnt herself and yelled Ow Ow. Alarmed, I thought
what to do, what to do? but didn’t do or say anything, even knowing she was hurting.
Speaking seemed too risky, but maybe I was paying
her back for her blank hostility. A soul full of unacknowledged pain doesn’t know whom it is paying
back or when or why. I’m still learning to accept
that truth at work in myself, in others, that mask of innocence hurt
puts on when we ignore it. Still, what a magician class
can be for the lucky among us, who carry bits and pieces of old ones with us. But our thoughts
are infected by dissonance. Sometimes practicing law, I feel like a freshman at the dining hall,
barely making enough to pay for books for each semester’s classes,
not being accepted by full-time workers or fellow students, my thoughts
turning inward, but the hurt has eroded enough so that, once again, I try my luck with the dining hall.
Letters to Robyn (two)
Casey Anthony was indicted for the murder of her two-year-old daughter in July 2008, and she was
acquitted by a jury in 2011. Letters she wrote to a fellow inmate in the months after her incarceration
have been released to the public. This poem is loosely based on those letters.
Tacos, egg rolls, quesadillas, white pizza . . . I’m totally a fat girl at ♥.
I love wearing cute boots and a leather bomber jacket—I can picture
them in my mind. Someday I hope to adopt, maybe from Ireland, become a mother
again. No—I’d rather adopt from this country, there are so many abused
children, that’s something I’d like to target. Missing children too. Nothing is an accident—
I know we met for a reason. God’s watching over us, the end of days
is near. I can’t believe I’m addicted to day-
time soaps like General Hospital. When I think of Caylee, my heart
breaks. I know my friend, her nanny Zenaida, wouldn’t hurt her, but maybe it was accidental.
Is it wrong not to want to know, given the possibilities? I look at pictures
of Cays and can’t stop giggling at her beautiful smile. At least she’ll never be abused
the way I was by my father and brother, then called a whore by my mother
when I told her. I never wanted to be a mother—
to tell you the truth I was horrified the day
I found out I was pregnant. But I fell in love with Cays and would’ve killed anyone who abused
her. I don’t want to think of what I would’ve done to her killer if my heart
hadn’t learned to forgive. It’s not a pretty picture
to look back on who I was—what I was made to be. It’s not an accident
you and I are stuck in this tunnel together. But it was an accident,
a mistake, to let Cays out of my sight. How it cuts to be called a bad mother!
I was a great mom, the picture
they have of me isn’t real. Today
they’re saying duct tape with a heart-
shaped sticker was pasted across my daughter’s skull, which shows abuse
before death, but I know she died peacefully. I’d never let her be abused.
Zenaida, the real Zenaida, was so careful. I can’t imagine an accident
could have happened in her care. It convulses my heart
to think of it. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been a mom
to everyone, it’s in my blood. So you can imagine how I feel today
when newscasters accuse me. I can’t even look at pictures
on the news for fear my own picture
might flash across the screen. I wish people could understand I’m the abused
one here, the victim. I await the day
when God delivers me from this hell, when whoever caused this horrible accident
is caught. Nobody has my back, not my father, brother, or mother—
they’ve sold me out to the media, talk-shows, cops. It hurts my heart.
As for the accident of what happened to Caylee . . . I don’t want a clear picture
of it. As a mother, it’s the worst kind of abuse
to know in my heart that my rock★star might have suffered, even for one moment in one day.