Greenwich is the initial meridian where the world is split, ends and begins again.
For us, it is our English poetry section, where we want to rescue the most interesting voices of the English language, in order to make them available to the world.
For this issue, publish with us Mary Ruefle. She was born outside Pittsburgh, she spent her youth moving around the United States and Europe with her military family. She has published over a dozen books of poetry, including Dunce (2019), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, My Private Property (2016), Indeed I Was Pleased with the World (2007), and The Adamant (1989), which won the Iowa Poetry Prize. She is also the author of the essay collection Madness, Rack, and Honey (2012) and the work of fiction The Most of It (2008). A Little White Shadow (2006), her book of erasures—found texts in which all but a few words have been erased from the page—reveals what Publishers Weekly, in a starred review, called “haiku-like minifables, sideways aphorisms, and hauntingly perplexing koans.” Ruefle’s erasures are available to view on her website; a full-color facsimile of her erasure Incarnation of Now was published in a limited edition by See Double Press.
Ruefle’s free-verse poetry is at once funny and dark, domestic and wild. Reviewing Post Meridian (2000), critic Lisa Beskin of the Boston Review observed, “Like John Ashbery and James Tate, Mary Ruefle investigates the multiplicities and frailties of being with an associative inventiveness and a lightness of touch; the purposefulness of her enquiry never eclipses the remarkable beauty of her work.”
Ruefle earned a BA from Bennington College. She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, as well as a Whiting Writers’ Award, and an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her work has been anthologized in Best American Poetry, Great American Prose Poems (2003), American Alphabets: 25 Contemporary Poets (2006), and The Next American Essay (2002).
Ruefle has taught at Vermont College and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She lives in Vermont.
from Dunce. Copyright 2019 by Mary Ruefle. Reprinted with permission of the author and Wave Books.
I am going to die.
No such thought has ever occurred to me
since the beginning of my exclusive time
in air, when God, having made my mind,
first began to wrap it, slowly and continuously,
in strips of linen soaked in a special admixture
of rosewater, chicken fat, and pinecones
studded with cloves to stop them from dripping.
Nor is it likely I would ever have had such a thought
in the time required by Him to finish the job,
if someone else had not first introduced the thought
into the process, thereby interrupting it,
however briefly. But who?
I keep walking in the general direction.
Toward the horizon,
where things generally appear.
Tanks! Horses! Houses!
Another person, perhaps several.
I’ve come from sleep.
I’m well-rested but unfed.
A cistern would be nice.
The scent of little buns.
A soufflé with a flag on top.
How can anyone forget eggs?
They drop down in the body,
little troopers, and viola ––
legs, arms, electricity, running water.
The important things.
We all want them.
Everything else is icing,
which is supposedly bad for you,
so that once I ate a whole cake
by digging into the cave of it,
leaving the icing intact,
an igloo on a plate.
When the sun came up and hit it,
that was a disaster,
though a prophetic one
Like a chandelier, I generally
stand apart from things
and with a cold eye.
But not today. Which brings
everyone up to the present.
I am walking in the general direction
of things. I plan to hang a handbill
announcing I was nothing
and shall be nothing again.
In the meantime, walking here
in the wind and rain,
I brace myself for a sortie.
The copier grew tired of copying,
made a terrible, sick sound
I told my friends the poem was
blurry because the copier wept
while reading it.
That poem ruined the world,
it made everyone shy.
Now I’ve ruined the poem,
there’s nothing left
but a knife sticking his sword
in a snail.
Jesus was in way over his head.
That’s why he wore a halo.
That’s why he made her a star (though
no one could have played a better he than she)
in Way Down East, Broken Blossoms,
Orphans of the Storm, and Hearts of the World.
But the trouble with the spirit of art is
if I think of Lillian I forget Braque –– reformed,
destroyed, resuscitated –– and I forget Li Ho,
who rode a donkey, stuffing his knapsack
with scraps of writing to shuffle later into
discontinuous poems, and I forget Morandi,
who lived in his mother’s apartment and painted
bottles far into the night. When I look into
Lillian’s eyes I forget everything else,
which is what love is, so Jesus forgot the few
nails in his wrists and Braque was able to paint
him that way, as a woman holding a mandolin,
and Morandi threw what looks like a stone
into one of his bottles, thus painting
the secret of life exposed.
I am always up for a bog, said Mary.
I, too, am always up for one, said I.
And so we put on our rubber boots.
I love being in rubber boots, said Mary,
and I said the same. The ground sprang
as we bogged, the bog wavered as we sprang,
orchids & mushrooms, mushrooms & orchids,
slender & pink, squat & brown.
And as the light fell the eyes of the fireflies
were all around, like Tinkerghosts.
There is in my house, she said, a stovelight
that never goes off. And in my car, I said,
there’s a flashlight that never goes off.
What warning has no end and ends without warning?
She thought I didn’t know!