Monday, July 30, 2007

Poetry Monday: Mary Alexandra Agner

Mary Alexandra Agner's poetry is both gloriously readable and surprisingly slippery. It is so richly wrought that I experience new surprises with each reading.

Mary has published two chapbooks (Ancient Alternatives and stet), has won a ton of awards, and her science fiction novelette-in-verse can be read online. She has also published poetry all over the place.

But in a world of proliferating poetry, you can be excused if you've never come across her work. Just be glad you get to start on her here!

Mary has been writing since she was a child. She says she "can clearly remember writing a poem in early elementary school which said along the cobble path, the lonely turtle did trod. I think my teacher didn't believe it was my own work."

As far as her influences, she says that everything influences her: "What I walk through on the way to my paying job, my coworkers' comments, what I'm reading, what the people on the bus talk about. Poetry is a reflex that gets triggered by my environment. Story is how humans relate to and make sense of the world. Poetry tells that story in the most pithy and engaging way language can. I think it's essential. "

Below are two of her poems, one "from each end of the spectrum" of her writing process.

About "Are You a Good Witch or a Bad Witch?" (which appeared in Iron Horse Literary Review) Mary says:
"This poem came out in a single rush with just about no revision later; I wrote it in response to a line from a pop song by Dan Schmidt which just wouldn't leave me alone."

About "Men Granted Wings" (which appeared in Passages North) Mary says:
"The first two lines in 'Men Granted Wings' came to me while admiring Assyrian art in a museum and I spent a long time revising, cutting and bringing in new information, before it settled into a story and was finished."

* * *

Are You a Good Witch or a Bad Witch?

My teeth are still clenched
from the shock of house slammed into earth,
tornado dissipated in real time, real color,
dust motes in my mind idly panicking:
will *my* legs, in striped stockings,
look so crippled when I'm old?

Woman in white, heat wave, wand
at the ready, and a voice full of sugar
(the kind I'm not to follow
into the woods, were there forests in Kansas)
you gave me nine words of self identity,
eliminating a lifetime's shades of grey.

I'll be an evil witch
whatever that may mean, learn as I go.
In your belief of hat and cackle,
I've room to remove gingham.
I step outside your yellow lines.
I'll find the shoes that fit, myself.

* * *

Men Granted Wings

The Assyrian bird-man steps out of the granite
bas-relief and shakes the cuneiform from his skirt.
He looks up at the not-sky: blank, grey
museum ceiling meant to set off the artifacts.
His tight curls jingle as he stretches his stiff neck.
He stares at the jewelry neatly boxed in glass
and a section from a temple mosaic hung on a wall.
The air is quiet without the clang of copper
pounded into pots, women's voices rising
over the beat. He doesn't hear his wife's contralto.
The high sweet flavor of dates doesn't overpower his senses
or fight with the smell of mud bricks baking in the sun.
In the dim light, the air is chill. Nothing moves.

He touches the walls of the dead: the smooth solid
of a drinking pool before dawn. Behind his reflection
he can almost make out his wife, walking,
hands full of beads and flowers for the dedication
of his bas-relief, a smile hidden for him in her eyes
and her hips. He remembers her lips twisting
to a curved shell (with a tired laugh as the sound
of its surf) for the children he could never give her.
How she sang lullabies into the pots she made.
And her delight with the rubies he rolled down
between her breasts to her stomach. And the warmth
of her legs and arms surrounding him in their bed.
Men granted wings are so rarely granted anything else.

He would cut the feathers from his shoulders
if it would change the present, let him hear
one more sigh as she rolls over in her sleep.
Instead he flies straight through the ceiling glass
up to the god whose intervention he has not finished
paying for. The sacred flowers tied to his wrists
and ankles suddenly smell like rain. Could he have
anything with which to bargain for a shorter life?
For a longer stay in the next world with his wife
and all the children she had wanted?
His lungs heave like his wings, beating against
nothing. Gods have always let man wager
just a little more against the human soul.

* * *
Mary Alexandra Agner writes of dead women, telescopes, and secrets. She makes her home outside Boston. She can be found online here.

No comments: