Two Poems

Poetry / Mary Biddinger

:: The Art of Fiction ::

You should have better endowed
your protagonist. His foil

shivers though it’s an indoor phone
booth and she is not too

drunk to dial the number inked
onto her blouse-cuff. Divorce papers

always look fake, like snow
or joy. Your protagonist’s teeth

are too perfect for his mien. No
proper mountain man recites Goethe

in public. No product of Chicago
turns down a jar glass for a demitasse.

Trees were in favor of the end,
or perhaps they knew it was coming,

like the team of painters in moon
gear, your protagonist drawing upon

his exquisite education to vacate
the colonnade just in time, all sorrows

partially itemized like harpsichord keys
in a parlor of rebellious silk.

:: A Tiny Poison Eye ::

You see, I had enough of all the rocks.
Of the counting names, and naming hoops
full of air. Like somebody peddling trophies
at a garage sale. Like anyone would fall
for that same sort of thing more than once.
And I do not want to see your magic arm,
even if it’s gold. The tea bags constructed
of authentic muslin, presenting themselves
as a miniature sanctuary. I was among
things too small to see with naked eye. I was
among an inhospitable element. Like anyone
would fall for the trick of what’s in my
pocket. It’s not so much the peddling of
trophies, but buying them. Like my name
was Matilda, and I could fit so much water-
melon in the cannon I built with my father
under a piece of corrugated plastic. My name
was your name and we coalesced until
we were both altar boys, until we cut hands
on the same pricker bushes, dropped our
lunches in the same puddles, vanquished
duplicate enemies. You see, I had enough
to go on, and then I got even more. Magic
arm, no magic arm, my grandfather took his
eye out and everyone screamed. Like anyone
would fall for that same sort of thing more
than once, or more than twice. It’s not so
much the eye but the hand that holds it.


From the Writer

:: Account ::

When I was a child in Illinois, we had to take tornado warnings seriously. Forget the siren. We read the tone of the trees, the direction of sweat down the backs of our necks. Sometimes the ducks broke into factions and raged at each other, then the lighter ones took flight and we knew not to complain that vinyl car seats were too hot, or to point out the corner of blue sky that contradicted all of our intuitive knowledge. When I was a child, I learned how to feel lit up by silent information. Sometimes at night my AM radio pulled in the strangest signals, and I learned not to switch them off.

It’s too easy to claim that writing a poem is like observing the same set of mallards over a period of time, then drawing conclusions about their motivations. Tornadoes form and ravage and move on, but poems linger. Poems start like a warning, with the feeling and the signs, the sense of being somewhat “off” yet electric, but they can occupy the passenger seat of a car, or sidle up alongside the dentist’s chair when piped-in music turns to a particular smooth jam. A poem needs to achieve liftoff, and it needs to spin. It contains equal measures of devastation and awe.

I often wonder why I look to recollection as a way to begin a poem about the not-distant past, or the present. It’s because I felt so much more back then, feared less, saw things without tiresome connotations. When I look at photographs from 1985, the world seems like it was much dimmer; evergreen trees in the yard sulked rather than towering. If all of my poems are about one thing, it would be longing. My poems want to go back. My poems want to make everyone look up at the sky.  


Mary Biddinger’s most recent poetry collection is O Holy Insurgency (Black Lawrence Press, 2013). She is also co-editor of The Monkey and the Wrench: Essays into Contemporary Poetics (U Akron Press, 2011). Her poems have recently appeared in Crazyhorse, Guernica, Gulf Coast, Pleiades, and Sou’wester, among others. She teaches literature and creative writing at the University of Akron, where she edits the Akron Series in Poetry and Barn Owl Review