How to Handle Americans
use catcher’s mitts,
one on each hand so nothing can actually be held
but two baseballs, both hard-noggined as Americans,
nothing like puzzle pieces, nothing like compromise.
Handle those Americans
with care – wrap them in bubble wrap,
mark as fragile,
mark as dangerous.
They are most dangerous when most fragile.
Stamp their wooden crate
with the symbol for stubborn,
with the symbol for handle with care,
with the symbol for volatile.
Keep in mind, with Americans,
anything can happen.
Handle your Americans
with latex gloves that you take off inside out
to prevent the spread of Ameri-germs.
Tell your Americans
you love them and they’ll follow you home.
Is that really what you want?
Tell your Americans
someone else loves them,
and they’ll turn their faces toward
that reflective moon.
Give your Americans a book,
and they’ll tell you it tastes like chicken.
Let your Americans watch t.v.,
and they’ll tell you it tastes like chicken
and also like truth.
Some of your Americans are packing heat,
so use common sense.
Some of your Americans have
memorized Roberts’ Rules of Order,
and are not afraid to use them.
Please read the directions before
handling your Americans.
You’ll find an Allen wrench useful.
There will be parts left over.
Handle your Americans
as if you’re one of them,
which you are. You can’t help it.
You can handle this.
Encounter with Anelli
Anelli, the bark beetles are unraveling the forest,
the way they carve their meanderings
into the bark as if creating some ancient art,
they way they don’t discriminate between
Lodgepole pine, sugar pine, or the pining heart.
They’ve heard of the pheromone trick and
are moving into the crowded arboretum anyway.
Why not when they know the local dialect?
Why not when they quote the same philosophers?
We can hear their scurried whispers
under the skins of the trees and under
our less resilient skins. They are plotting our undoing
even as we count the losses tree by tree.
It’s the brown one in the forest, the one near the road,
in the valley, on the ridge, the one no human’s seen.
It’s the trees near camp, the one near the long trail.
It’s in the way the pine, towering above the house,
comes down section by section, how that one section
turning rebelliously in its rope, hurtles down toward
the kitchen window, and misses only by the width
of the rope. It’s how sometimes the pine doesn’t
miss. It’s how sometimes it takes the tree-feller with it.
Anelli, this is the bark beetles’ triumph.
And there isn’t much we can do this Friday night
in the blinking pink neon of this sign.
Given a choice between more bark beetle lore
and a swim, go for the swim.
The beetles will carry on. They’ll do
their beetle-y work, and Anelli,
they can never understand the depths
of your animosity toward them, toward
something as ordinary as their existence.
If they did, heartless, chitinous things,
they would not care one whit. They would not
pause their arboreal slaughters
to consider our griefs at all.
An Aspect of Apocalypse, Alive but Just Barely
after Gwendolyn Brooks
In a package of days, we are undone.
Unhappy natives in our minds,
we search, we keep our distance,
we skip and ignore our chores and callings.
The dark at the window taps with hot fingers.
Because the hearts are piled in the corners
we can continue to delay and delay.
You, prone. All
curmudgeon, you are outside yourself for once.
I’m not listening
to your stop-and-start snoring.
You’re skating by, my mosquito-eater,
with your crooked knees. You are fat
with what’s eaten me.
There is a moment of enmity
when interruption is the only real response.
I welcome the interruption.
This is end of days;
the clocks have all stopped.
We say nothing intelligible.
next to each other,
the street out there covered in ash.
Poetry is hard work. It takes time and attention, a persistence to write through the hard and fallow days, and a willingness to move beyond comfort zones to reach new rhythms and styles. If I only wrote within my comfort zone, I’d write about birds and trees and nothing else, but the poems here reach beyond that to politics, to end-of-days, and to beetles (that destroy trees so that’s different than just writing about trees). Poetry needs time carved out of our lives because when it isn’t flowing, we still need that time – to think, to observe and dream, and to draft whatever comes to mind.
These three poems illustrate some of the ideas above. The inspiration and the title “How to Handle Americans,” was gleaned from a BBC news broadcast and lived on a post-it stuck to my work computer for months. The idea of handling Americans was both mortifying and deeply intriguing, and kicked off a set of ideas I could play with and craft into a poem. “Encounter with Anelli” came from a pre-lecture dinner with forest scientists involved in the fight against bark beetles. From those conversations, I learned a number of facts about beetles and forest life that I would not have otherwise known. A philosophy professor, Bill Anelli, challenged me to write a poem about the dinner conversation. Challenge met, Bill.
“An Aspect of Apocalypse, Alive but Just Barely” was inspired by the Gwendolyn Brooks poem “An Aspect of Love, Alive in Fire and Ice.” One of my favorite writing activities is to look at a poem I love and to respond to it line by line. This pushes me beyond my own style and forces me to explore tones and structures I might not ordinarily try on my own, and hopefully learn from that poet’s intention. While the tone and theme of this poem are quite different than Brooks’ poem, the structure remains somewhat similar allowing me to write my own ideas in a new way and expand my poetic horizons.
Gillian Wegener is the author of two collections of poetry from Sixteen Rivers Press, The Opposite of Clairvoyance (2008) and This Sweet Haphazard (2017), and a chapbook, Lifting One Foot, Lifting the Other from In the Grove Press (2001). A winner of the 2006 and 2007 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg poetry prize, Wegener is co-founder of the Modesto-Stanislaus Poetry Center, has served as poet laureate for the city of Modesto, and volunteers to teach creative writing to girls in juvenile detention. A long-time educator, she lives in Modesto, CA with her husband and daughter.