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Other notable work by Heather Madden.

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Maura Stanton- 

 

MATCHBOX

 

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. 

 

_______________

 

 SNOW MOUNTAIN

 

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

the d

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.

 

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*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

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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

 

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 Heather Madden-

 

Silt

 

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.

 

_______________

 

Latchkey

 

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 

 

_______________ 

 

Limbo

 

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 Train

 

 

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.

 

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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

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