Week 6 exercises – Emily

Task 1 – Last night, last straw

It’s three o’clock in the morning
and I need to pee.
Perched on the cold porcelain,
pain devouring me.
We are alone in this house.

And you are asleep.

This cottage is stone cold;
blocks out the summer heat.
There’s ice in the stone tiles;
ice under my feet.
Knives gouge at my womb.

And you are asleep.

I climb into the shower
and sob gutturally.
The whirring and hot water
are momentary relief.
I long for my mother.

And you are asleep.

Towel wrapped, teeth clacking,
I lie beside you silently.
My hair’s slick ice on the pillow,
And I want you to see:
I’m awake. I’m existing.

But you are asleep.

So through toddler tears, I tell you.
You groan five words, grumpily.
So I’ll get it too?’
You roll over, away from me.
UTI’s aren’t contagious.

So you go back to sleep.

It was the last straw,
the last moment.
The last time you saw me.



Task 2 – Disorder of the New World

By the time I turned the final page
and regained consciousness
the world had changed.

The stealthy poaching
of the day; the slow decay
of sunlight had all occurred
behind my back. And now:

I was pinned to my chair.
Handcuffed; bound to stare
into the thick dark. The thick air
of the house was throbbing:
with a silence
as heavy
as company.

Through the window
In the garden’s dark disorder
My eyes alighted
On the glittering borders
Of a watering can.

And fixed on it. Daring
Some malevolent hand
To seize it.
And then to seize me too, who:

Handcuffed; adrift
In a world elsewhere
Had not observed
the world change
around her chair.


3. Prose poem

Gold metal, black plastic, clear glass and yet un-glamorous. Scratched and time worn in places and always bearing the sticky marks of breakfast, milk and honey and fingerprints forged in steam. Never quite clean because I hate to clean it, hate the swirling grounds swarming like ants in the plughole. Leave it instead to the last moment, until I need it again, plunge it into hot water and fill it fresh. Rusted on its four feet. I resent it, in spite of its functionality, in spite of its sturdy reliability, in spite of needing it every day. I miss my old one: no better but prettier, carved ornately with swallows and daisies. In my head I believed that she was a she, twenty-one years old, elegant and carefree. This one is old, matronly, a donation from my grandmother with post war sturdiness and reliability. I am getting old and I see it reflected in the sticky metal of this cafetiere. A rule of thumb: always blame the cafetiere, never yourself. It is cold to the touch, quite satisfying, absorbing the sweat of my palm, and when I run my fingertip inside the spout, it comes out blackened by coffee soot. The smell is potent, heady, overpowering and destroying all other smells: dark, exotic, luxurious, bound into every happy memory I have ever made.


2 thoughts on “Week 6 exercises – Emily

  1. raefonb

    These are fantastic, Emily – so much great language and your trademark self-deprecation, especially in that prose poem. Even when you go dark (the first two pieces) your poetry is still entertaining and the reader can relate, I think because of the strong narrative voice. I admit I can’t pinpoint exactly what’s going on in Disorder of the New World, unsure whether the situation should be taken metaphorically or literally – I think, based on context, being handcuffed to chair is a metaphor for apathy and being trapped on this deteriorating planet? – but I like it even without fully comprehending your intended meaning.


  2. ecopoetics

    1) The raw courage and intensity of this poem is undeniable–all managed with a seemingly effortless grace, through the five-line form, with its refrains and rhymes. I can imagine this poem working well in performance, as it does on the page. As regards the “objective correlative” exercise, how might “pain devouring me” be restated with an image? You have “Knives gouge at my womb” in the next stanza: I think the feeling there might actually be strengthened with a more “diminishing” metaphor, i.e. a less expected image. In stanza three, when the speaker “sob[s] gutturally,” the sound is intense, but how to translate this into image? What is the “objective correlative” of guttural sobs? (I guess I’m saying you could experiment with some surreal imagery, even if that runs against the grain of directness that powers this poem. Plath is a master in this area.) Rhyming can draw attention away from, say, the organic development of imagery, and/or from sound patterns in other parts of the poem (as toward the beginnings of lines: notice how the pronouns and articles tend to cluster on this side of the poem). So it might be worth taking your natural talent for rhyme out of the game, for awhile (as when a chess player experiments with playing without a queen), in order to develop strength in other areas. Then you can add the rhyme back in.

    2) I love this poem! I’d be curious to see (again) which poem it’s a revision of. Its menacing location of the uncanny in the ordinary is very effective–in “the glittering borders/ Of a watering can.” The last stanza is nearly perfect. Though I do want to make some minor adjustments–lose the semicolons! Let the line breaks articulate the syntax; verse doesn’t need all the apparatus of the sentence:

    Some malevolent hand
    To seize it. And then
    to seize me too, who

    Handcuffed, adrift
    In a world elsewhere
    Had not observed
    the world change
    around her chair.

    That last stanza is haunting–reminds me, as it sings how consciousness awakens to the “stealthy poaching/ of the day,” of the poetry of Wallace Stevens.

    3) I love the headlong rhythm of these sentences. Good that you don’t mind writing what elsewhere would be grammatically “incomplete” sentences, reading more like notes to self. However, to bring the object forward, how would this poem go without the “I” pronoun? (Again, like removing a chess piece.) Try rewriting it from that angle. It’s a great object to work with–coffee is such a potent poison (and ally) for the writers! Can you think of some “objective correlative” (image) for the smell the poem ends with?



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