Hey, There’s a Bird in This Mirror!

Diversion Enthusiast Society, est. 2007

Sworn to Lucidity

with 2 comments

Hi, Internet. I’m sitting on my (clean, clean) kitchen floor, listening to The Current, which I discovered about two months ago and it is SAVING MY LIFE, having just finished initial preparations for our plans to leave a glass out for Elijah tomorrow evening. The homemade vegetable stock just came off the stove (I am now ruined for anything that comes out of a box), the charoset is melding in a bowl on the counter, and the apple cake is in the oven. It smells… well, let’s just say I wish you were here. You deserve to be here. Dave is at band practice. We’re going to see Decibully* tonight, eating too much tomorrow, and then heading out to Madison on Monday for The New Pornographers and Okkervil River. So much awesome, all in one weekend.

But, Internet, since we’re becoming such good friends, you should probably know something about me before we go on like this too much longer – I hate hiding things from you.

Are you sitting down?


Okay, here it is – I’m a poet.

I know. It’s okay if you want to go.

I have been writing, performing, and publishing poetry since I was 21 years old. Before that, I wrote fiction for eight years. While I enjoyed fiction, I never found that it had that ability to get straight the hell to the heart of the matter like poetry. Not to knock it, though – that’s probably just me. In my seven years as a poet, I’ve noticed that disclosing this fun fact about myself tends to make people recoil just a teeny bit when I say it, as if I’ve just announced that I’m a unicorn with a highly communicable disease. Their reaction leaves me in something of a bind, as it’s not really socially acceptable to say what absolutely must be said to counter that particular reaction, namely, that I’m a really, really good poet. Seriously. I pack ’em the fuck in when I read. I place or win in about 75% of the contests I enter. I’m not a flake who writes about death and unrequited love (well, not all of the time, anyway). I do research, I do translations, I steal song lyrics from my friends (sorry, Dave), I learn how to write in Sapphic meter and fumble my way through transliterated Hebrew when I need to.

I bring this up because, Tuesday, my lust object, my hero, my alpha and omega, Adrienne Rich, was supposed to read at UW-Milwaukee. Adrienne found me when I was 19 and pissed off, bored and angry in school, and just beginning to lay my hands on the concept of feminism. Because she is ill, she has canceled her engagement. I would trade Decibully, The New Pornographers, and Okkervil River to see Adrienne Rich on Tuesday night. I wanted to be in the front row, lighter in the air, panties for flinging at the ready, calling out “Do ‘Dream I’m the Death of Orpheus’!!!” But, no. Because I thought I would be hearing her this week, I’ve been revisiting her writing and getting my ass kicked. As I am nothing if not positively dripping with hubris, in the tradition of the format of my readings, here is the poem mentioned above, followed by one of my own works. It’s part of a short series about Marc Chagall’s paintings. It’s ostensibly about the painting pictured above, but you should probably know that I finished it about a month before I got married.

* Note to LD – You should be listening to this band. I know, I know, silly name, but trust me…

* Note to everyone – I don’t speak Hebrew.

I Dream I’m the Death of Orpheus

I am walking through striations of light and dark thrown under an arcade.

I am a woman in the prime of life with certain powers
and those powers severely limited
by authorities whose faces I rarely see.
I am a woman in the prime of life
driving her dead poet in a black Rolls-Royce
through a landscape of twilight and thorns.
A woman with a certain mission
which if obeyed to the letter will leave her intact.
A woman with the nerves of a panther
a woman with contacts among Hell’s Angels
a woman feeling the fullness of her powers
at the precise moment when she must not use them
a woman sworn to lucidity
who sees through the mayhem, the smoky fires
of these underground streets
her dead poet learning to walk backward against the wind
on the wrong side of the mirror.



from “Poems for Marc Chagall”

II. The Horseman (1966)

I am a riot of intention
adorned with my occasions
of joy and misery all
points past and future found
in me simultaneously so
you are both my mother and
my lover, but not yet not
either the baby on your hip is
me or my child so
all ciphers all
foolish first loves all
fumbling songs are
you, are yours, and though

I am moving
through time and space to find
I have already found
you have already said yes
the house is already built
and burned to the ground
I am:
bearing flowers
already in your arms.

Spring, 2005.


Written by Raina

April 19, 2008 at 4:22 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Both those poems are fantastic. The second stanza in “The Horseman” in particular; it says something about love being timeless and yet current at the same time that I can’t quite put my finger on. And I really like those lines “the house is already built/and burned to the ground.” Those lines really emphasize your belief that poetry can get “right to the hell of the matter.” There’s an entire short story, hell, an entire novel, in those ten words. Poetry is something that I really love, but is also one of those areas where I feel intellectually deficient when it comes to expanding my horizons. Was that even a sentence. Anyway, moar!

    Brendan (Rath)

    April 21, 2008 at 1:55 pm

  2. I hear where you’re coming from, Raina. Most people think poetry and assume that you mean confessional, clearly autobiographical blog entries done in ABAB. Real poetry is something I’ve never gotten into (you can put it right next to jazz on my list of “get around to it someday…riiiiiiight” list)

    I find that a related problem occurs when you tell people about a love of music or movies. The difference is in people’s baseline reaction to the medium. People are wary of poetry, since it’s intellectually dense and often symbolically challenging when done well. Also, I think it has a weirdly negative feminine connotation (does that makes sense?). By the same token, I tell someone that I love movies and they respond with an “Oh, me too…who doesn’t?” As if having watched The Notebook 12 times is the same as sifting through Children of Men.

    Anyways, I don’t mean to make too much hay out of this, as you’re actually a poet and I’m just an observer of my favored cultural mediums, but I thought I’d throw a little sympathy your way.

    Fun Fact: I dated two serious poets when I was in law school. I remember debating the first of them about poetry back when my intellectual horsepower dwarfed my knowledge and wisdom by a significant degree, and mentioning to her “Have you ever read William Carlos Williams? What the hell is with the plums poem?” She hadn’t heard of him, and looked him up. Upon seeing those poems for the first time since junior high, I realized just how stupid I looked for having criticized them in the first place.


    April 22, 2008 at 12:19 pm

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