August 09, 2007


“...all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it...”
--from Introduction to Poetry, Billy Collins

You knew you were in trouble
the second you put the plate on the table--
those sesame snow peas and truffles
you drizzled with kumquat and ginger
to impress your poetry potluck writing group--
when he said, Not Chinese again.

You knew you were in-for-it
when he called your poem a travelogue of Paris
grinding down the wrong track
with its Kunitz epigraph fumbling at the gears
as he blasted, The old man got to wear
that crown of Laureate just for his age.

You knew, despite your mince and trim
and folding in its metaphoric light,
this poem would be tied to the chair
with a rope, have the life beaten from it,
a flabby bunch of bunkum flattened
with his belting, Where is the cri de coeur?

And you knew in the way you know
in a half-wake state when you hear a train
in the distance barreling into your sleep
in a blur of whistles and grinds and whirs,
its metal scraping rails in a still night, deep
in dark, its muffled blue note wailing.

You knew you must be dreaming this
standing before a train coming on headlong
at you half-naked there, a train about to slice
through what you peeled down to--
an awful tutu, mismatched shoes, feather cloche
you shouldn’t be caught dead in.

Then this man with a train for a mouth
tells you this is not a well-lit poem
and the guy donning laurels in the first car
misdirected it--that it’s rocketing
down the wrong track on a collision course
headed right for Gare du Nord.

And you actually thank this man, talking
with a mouthful of train, for his observation.
But you don’t write a word for days
then weeks as you focus instead your eyes
on a wind riding dunes hitched to a slice
of tangerine light, shapeshifting sunset.

You put your ear to the movement of earth
beneath a frenzy of shorebirds pecking the eyes
from a head of a beached seal there. And speechless,
you listen for a fading blue note of a train
in the distance, off to somewhere far away.

—Andrena Zawinski
first appeared in Paterson Literary Review #32 with Allen Ginsberg Award Honors

Posted by dwaber at August 9, 2007 11:55 AM