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Sunday, August 14, 2011


One of the many great things about being a teacher, or English teachers, anyway, and especially for those working in old buildings, is book inheritance.  Pretty much every time a teacher changes classrooms, especially in the case of assuming the former classroom of a now-retired English teacher, is the mass of books left behind.  Sometimes hundreds.  Really.  Literally.  Over the last ten years, I have been the move-inner to the former space of three departed English teachers and have duly reaped the literary benefits.  (Of course, I assume that these teachers left behind only the books they didn't want to take home with them, but still, I've scooped up some pretty awesome windfalls.)

As all of my favorite books are boxed up in the garage, and as I used some of my less-favorite books as buffers in the stacking and packing before the drive eastward, which books are not in boxes, it is from this latter pile (quite, again, literally, I'm sorry to say) that I draw today's material: You've Just Been Told, by one Elizabeth Macklin, whose book has just been out in the garage, unprotected, alone, and (oh, I'm embarrassed) left on the concrete floor.

I've never read any of Macklin's poetry.  I kept the book because, honestly, it looked nice and, originally, I thought it might serve as potential inspiration for coming English students.  Well, that's out, so I probably ought to determine if the book's worth holding the space it takes.  I will randomly open the book three times--yes, in just the moment between right now and final typing of this sentence--and copy out the three poems I find there.

***and as I crack open the book, it literally crackles.
I don't think it was ever read, even by the former owner[s]***

The Lazy Girl Was Never Scolded
Then: New-painted ceilings shed light, in our place,
as if they were living, or holy/  That smell was early

spring, with the windows open.  Ambition was only
sleeping, or shortly to be awakened, and would not disappear

forever into compliant ambition.  One time, I sat down
on the steps of a ladder, holding a cup of black

coffee that nearly woke the world.  Paint was spread bright-
yellow into the corners.  Turpentine curled

from woodwork and settled.  I did not sit straighter.
A willow outside the window reeked in the sun of doing

nothing, up in its branches, its leaves whole stories,
all summer.  A long blond girl, dark in the backlight,

I seized what is nowadays made to seem
nearly nothing.

A qualifier of superlatives
How much of this
was misunderstanding--
how much was almost blindness?
We did math at the table

almost forever.  Or I "helped"
around you finicking chores.
I almost certainly thought
you couldn't see me.

You almost always said
yet again "You with me?"
I was certainly
angry with you.

Dear Old Dad (your almost ironical
nickname; y our invention), explain
our delay in getting the gist
of kindness.  I didn't see you almost

might've but couldn't;
you didn't tell me stories
about your childhood.
You were maybe afraid, almost.

And so, almost maybe, was I.
But beatings, chiggers in Texas,
butter borrowed on welfare
are almost laughable

after a lifetime,
fears of a planet
or angry passion
almost a memory.

Wholly unique (though yes we
have no degrees of uniqueness)
your almost irreconcilable

qualifying the present
and almost the past
by strict, strong, stronger
grammars of attention--

just when you're thinking 
of dying, you marry again,
quickly, almost ecstatic,
trusting at last your almost

perfect decision, your superlative.
Yet almost just as jealous
of each wife, child/children:
how our love is apportioned.

See? I'm almost
with you again.
I'm almost angry
with you again.

At 43, She Thinks What
to Name Her Children
Oh . . . Firstborn, Asher!--asher means "happy"--
because I am happy.  Carlyle, Joseph,
Robert and Richard, for family names:
namesakes all unspeakably loved, for all their flaws.

Jean, Margaret, Ila for girls,
to say they were loved, and will be loved.
All of them out of two originals--Margaret Jean,
Ila Margaret--not to be copied.

Or--she hopes, does she?--uncopied by me.
Because not wishing harm on a daughter?
Margaret, Jean, Ila, Margaret--all
speakable now, since now chosen.

Or else--can it be a name for a woman?--
the lastborn, Asher: no, possible Asher,
"Do what you can--I love you, Asher,"
because I'm alone but I am happy.

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