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Other notable work by Heather Madden.
Once upon a time this matchbox was filled with fresh wooden matches. Another cricket lived here for a while. You found one of his dried legs in a crack. This was right after a big hand scooped you up and put you inside. At first you were busy testing your wings and feet to make sure you hadn’t been damaged. Then you checked out the dimensions of the box, and tasted the blades of grass provided for your dinner. You knew you were expected to sing, that your life depended on it, for if you were silent you’d be forgotten and no one would feed you again or remember to release you. So you strummed your feet merrily, and went through your repertoire. You chanted and trilled and fiddled. You sang about the green fields where you grew up, and you imagined them listening to you with delight, about to open the box. But no one ever did. You were getting weaker. Crick, crick! You stuck one feeler up through the slit at the end of the box, waving for help. Oh, how ugly! somebody cried, throwing the matchbox in the trash.
After the ladies are out of breath,
ten gentlemen in lacquered hats
pile more snow in the garden
making a mountain for the Empress
while everyone starts placing bets–
How long before it melts?
Fifteenth of the first month,
Sei Shonagon says, sleeves wet
from scooping up the snow
with the flat lid of a basket.
This is her joy. She writes
on the veranda, listing
famous mountains from poetry,
Ogura, Mikosa, charming Miwa,
imagining the dizzing views,
wild geese under the pines.
But this one! She exults
that her snow mountain remains
and doesn’t melt, though unfairly
the Emperor orders new snow
swept off the top when it falls.
When the rain shrinks her mountain,
Shonagon pays a gardener cakes
to keep children off the sides
and as her victory day approaches
writes a brilliant poem
to send to the palace at dawn.
But in the deep night the Empress
orders a troop of servants
to trample down the mountain
and dump the snow over the wall
of the south guardhouse.
Shonagon’s servant, sent
to gather a mound of pure snow
dug from beneath the dirty slush
returns with the empty basket
pulled over her head like a hat,
and across a thousand years
the court’s mocking laughter rises
out of the calligraphy
as Shonagon describes her defeat.
She refused to recite her poem
even to the Empress
but her story conjures
the snow mountain back. It rises
higher now in the dead garden,
her flakes of shimmering words
burying the blighted stalks.
Fugue, Summer 2004
once again in the garden,
her words jeweled, like flakes
transforming the blasted stalks.
the yellow stalks of bamboo
so that I feel my face flush
as I look out my own window
refusing to recite her lost poem
even to the Empress,
but conjuring her snow mountain
back into existence, her words
shimmering like the flakes
she dreamed could last forever.
A thousand years go by. Ploughs
push fresh fallen snow
down my street to the vacant lot
where it piles up, higher and higher,
and we start to make a mountain,
setting to work with red wagons,
garbage can lids, one snow shovel.
Our snow mountain rises
higher than evergreen shrubs,
and we look down and exault
over the plain of the subdivision
twinkling with lights below us.
But the big boys from school
take over our mountain, shoving kids
out of the way as they whoop
downhill, kicking the snow
into ugly heaps of ice and slush
for the joy of destruction.
THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING
Julia Child is dead. Now younger cooks
discuss her on the evening news, admiring
her passion for teaching us all how to sauté,
baste, blanch, deglaze, poach, puree,
fold in the egg whites, unmold soufflés
add dashes of Madeira for the final fillip.
But—yes—they all agree—she was old-fashioned.
Who has the time to follow all those steps
in our millennium? Who braises turnips?
Makes their own stock? Coats beef with aspic?
I pull the two volumes off my kitchen shelf,
remembering how I once longed to own them
back in graduate school. But the borzoi hardbacks,
evenly speckled with red or blue fleur-de-lys,
cost too much. A friend gave them to me
in Cortland, New York, my first teaching job,
and I used to pour over them on snowy nights,
dreaming of dishes I’d make when I had time
to shape a pastry crust, and enough money
for heavy saucepans, casseroles and food mills.
Sleet pinged against the windows. I’d doze off
then wake to stacks of freshman compositions,
lectures to write, piles of required reading,
and pour myself a bowl of Cheerios,
then trudge to class, returning to a TV dinner.
Now I leaf through the two unyellowed volumes
moved cross country from kitchen to kitchen.
What did I really cook out of these cookbooks?
There’s a light pencil mark on the onion soup,
and a grease stain by the tarragon chicken.
But opening Volume Two, I find a wild flower
pressed between pages, the purple color
brilliant after thirty years. And here’s another
yellow blossom, and on page 240
a delicate stem, the pale green leaves intact,
preserved across a recipe for Tripe Nicoise.
Five flowers in all, some with tiny seeds
flattened between the pages, a forgotten meadow
hidden among the bouillabaisse and quiche
that brings back no real memory, only a guess
that I must have loved the spring that cold year
and needed to keep it in my heaviest book.
But who was I back then, reading about pork,
wrapped in my fashionable rabbit skin coat?
I haven’t eaten meat for twenty years,
last opened Volume One for help with broccoli.
I touch a silky leaf, wondering where I stooped
to pick this flower, and notice the recipe
for frozen chocolate mousse molded in meringues.
It’s called Le Saint-Cyr, Glace, and I read on
delighted and distracted by Julia’s joy,
imagining how I might unmold this tall dessert
for mythical guests. Then I close the book
on both wild flowers and crème Chantilly,
putting it back on the shelf for the someone else
I’ll be in ten years (if I’m still alive)
to pull down and marvel over, or better yet
for strangers at my estate sale to discover:
Look! A first edition Julia Child!
Amazing, these wildflowers—they’re extinct!
SORROW AND RAPTURE
The April sun burned through the dirty glass.
My eyes burned. My wool skirt burned my knees.
Beyond the window of the city bus
As it turned up Forrest Hill, I couldn’t see
Red brick, and frame, and budding maple trees,
But only the dark theater, where all alone
I’d watched La Traviata on the screen,
Surrounded by two-hundred empty seats.
I’d bought the ticket from a nun at school
For two dollars, and a written promise
Not to go home, or shopping, or idling.
I’d sunk back in the tattered velvet seat,
Glad to be out of Civics and History,
Breathing the odor of popcorn and licorice.
I wondered if they’d show the film for me,
Just me. I sat in the exact middle.
I was sleepy and warm. I hoped for color.
And then the sound track blared and leveled off.
The black-and-white singers floated far above me,
Magnified. Their singing made me dizzy.
The voices drew me forward on my seat,
And my face prickled with heat, my chest hurt.
I was more Violetta than I was myself.
I wore her satin gown. I loved Alfredo.
I raised her handkerchief to my own mouth.
The subtitles that flickered underneath
A passionate embrace, or stricken look,
Seemed more foreign to me than the music.
Then the bus stopped on the top of the hill.
I looked over the roof tops of Peoria
Shaken with rapture. What town was this?
I saw the brewery, my high school, a steeple,
Slate-colored shingles, the glimmer of river,
And beyond, smokestacks of Caterpillar
Where the wire mesh gates had just opened on thousands
Of laborers with their metal lunch pails.
Still dazzled, I got off at my stop.
At home our maple almost cast a shadow
With its early buds, and I threw myself down.
No ants were stirring in the pale, cold grass
But here and there, in thick green clumps,
Violets had bloomed, not yet choked by weeds,
Purple petals the size of fingernails.
I stroked the violets’ heart-shaped leaves.
I looked at my hands. I stretched them in the sun.
I could remember the face of Alfredo,
Violetta’s room, the view of Paris,
But not a single tune. I was tone deaf.
Still, I rolled over and over in the grass
Unable to speak, burning and longing,
As cars from the factories arrived on our street
And the smell of supper drifted out of doors.
*Matchbox originally published in 32 Poems, Vol 5, No. 2, The Art of French cooking originally published in Lasting (Pima Press, 2005), Sorrow and Rapture from Tales of the Supernatural, David R. Godine, 1988*
Maura Stanton received her BA from the University of Minnesota and her MFA from the University of Iowa. Her first book of poetry, SNOW ON SNOW, won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award. Her sixth book of poetry, IMMORTAL SOFA, is forthcoming from the University of Illinois Press in 2008. Her novel, MOLLY COMPANION, was set in South America and reprinted in Spanish as RIO ABAJO. THE COUNTRY I COME FROM, stories about growing up in the Midwest, appeared from Milkweed Editions in 1988, and DO NOT FORSAKE ME, OH MY DARLING, a collection of short stories, won the Richard Sullivan Prize for 2002 and was published by the University of Notre Dame Press. CITIES IN THE SEA, a collection of short stories, was selected by Charles Baxter and Nicholas Delbanco for the Michigan Literary Award, and was published by the University of Michigan Press in 2003. She is Professor of English at Indiana University where she teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing.
More information, photos, and excerpts from reviews can be found by visiting www.indiana.edu/~mfawrite/stanton.html
Lunchtime my grandmother talks about untwins,
and I don’t look at my mother’s face. Instead,
while the beans grow cold, no one else says anything
for the record. Here are the mashed potatoes.
The mashed potatoes promise something tepid.
I rest between expressions, wait for someone
to take the match to my toe. Make the leech let go.
Don’t step where the silt burbles up—silt so fine
it’s like standing barefoot on a cat. We don’t
drink the water from the tap. The source is independent
of our homes. A cold thin rail, steady beside the inlet.
In the inlet: forget-me-nots, a lily or two. It’s not
the kind of pretty you think. You don’t add the algae
or the empties I pretend into.
The neighbor’s blond daughter eats spaghettios
while we watch: her father stashes beer
in the vegetable drawer; her mother pretends
we’re sheep dogs. When we ring the door bell,
her father answers: t-shirt, red nose, wheat swag hair.
Once he’ll slur “those girls are here
for a snack,” in a tone that leaves us blushing
and unhungry. Sometimes my father says,
“I’m just a cop.” Later, he helps the dead girls home.
What the Record Shows
Jane doe palm left
hand frozen. Two bracelets
right wrist. Gold colored
watch left arm. You can
place ten items on each form,
and we have forty-one items
A lion yawns in the pages
while the nuns explain
how the unbaptised children
remain in a room I imagine
a child trying to put his feet down
although the dirt continues to shift
beneath him. A brush burn—
someone pulling fingers over my arm
until rose-patch, the only time
my skin is unlike the inside of a potato.
My aunt, in a grocery once,
believed they might be watching her.
Let’s call it a neon-lit domestic space—
within it my sister and I step
from one square to another—together
we balance on an island, water
endless, around us the invisible
crocodiles. I am so small, she says,
I can’t go very fast.
Yet, she never says it aloud
until it becomes a prayer.
The air of the train was breath-light.
We sat like a silent movie. You wore
a kerchief that matched my kerchief,
my sister. We knew we were headed
nowhere good, and fast. We were
monitored carefully. Someone counted
the bread remaining in our bread bags.
It wasn’t evening. Each passenger’s bag
waited like a book on a shelf in a tiny closet
at the back of the train. The endings
were all the same—I mean the same thing
happened on every last page. The train
lulled us toward complacency.
“We must leave,” you said, “The other
passengers’ escape isn’t our concern.”
That’s the kind of situation it was.
We stood, then pressed our way
to the back of the train, examined
the bread bags, each standing on end,
in some order. Your wheat bread
beside the blond child who beamed
from the yellow bag ascribed to me.
“Don’t take it all,” I cautioned. “If you do
they’ll believe you’re gone.” Instead,
we lifted our shirts, tucked bread
into the high waists of our skirts.
“I’ll look pregnant,” you worried,
but that didn’t matter. Just then,
no one was watching.
Heather M. Madden lives in Somerville, Massachusetts. She is an adjunct professor of poetry at Hampshire College and a development associate at the Arsenal Center for the Arts. Her poetry has appeared in Good Foot and The Tiny.