N/EST by Ann Lauterbach

BOMB 54 Winter 1996
Issue 54 054  Winter 1996

In that part of the day I was carefully measured for aridity
 
whether or not it had rained, the air plummeting with hellish weeping,
the hairy leaves on

 

the maple by the pond, under which Phillip had wed Cynthia, shaped like a
child’s balloon or a pregnant woman, almost round but with a gash delved
into its midst, turned back, thrashing, into silvery green, so I am reminded
of my mother bending over, her wet hair falling across her upside-down face,
brushing brushing the long tawny length of it

 

                                 not under my arms but elsewhere, around the
wrists and ankles and fingernails where you wouldn’t expect to find
moisture ordinarily

 

                        and at other times, around mid-day, when the kids are all
at the pool but Yo-Yo continues to bark with a high piercing yip yip in great
despair and no matter how many windows I close the sound

Helping Julia to pack for California, wrapping her dishes in old newspaper,
placing them in a beautiful old salad bowl, taking them out to her car to
place in an open trunk, barefoot, in the muggy heat of July, that day, while
her son Adam sat on the camp bed and read, the bees came like tiny bombs

I was seven, in Bridgehampton, where we had a small white house down by
the pond, white lilies opened only in the morning, and I went out into the
thick mud where there were blood suckers, and picked one or two to give to
my father, who was asleep inside the house, but when I came up the slope,
my legs all muddied, the bees

 

             I thought I was being

                                             punished

                                                                                           later he died
                                                                                                     September

of polio just before my birthday these days
twist into one

tripped on a rug and in my dream
he is leaving on a train
I am lifted up in an envelope

 

                                 the white sky reflected thru the trees in the pond

I took a photograph
her daughter Isobel standing in the pond, her shadow
elongated in the water, braided hair a gold shimmer
her solitude

looking back over the past five months
I forgot to read Moby Dick and now it is too late

 

                        I thought the world was held by language as if it were an

                                                            incipience

Late at night reading Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient:
 

“There was a time when mapmakers named the places they travelled through with the
names of lovers rather than their own. Someone seen bathing in a desert caravan, holding
up muslin with one arm in front of her. Some old Arab poet’s woman, whose white-dove
shoulders made him describe an oasis with her name. The skin bucket spreads
water over her, she wraps herself in the cloth, and the old scribe turns from her to
describe Zerzura.”

               My father

                                                          traveled during the war and wrote
                                 his name was Richard, called Dick
Childlessness
     brings estrangement

 

               I have never explicitly affiliated my not having children with

                                 my father’s absences
                                 I thought I would find him in the heavy
                                 book of words, dictionary
                                 which rested on his writing table long after his
                                 disappearance and which I thought
                                 was magical, containing all secrets,

 

or perhaps
find a way to him on little word boats, paper sails, some spirit’s breath, into a
“conversation”, Paul Celan’s term,—

     “the poem holds its ground on its own margin. In order to endure, it constantly
calls and pulls itself back from an ‘already no more’ into a ‘still-here.’”

This turn, this coming about, refuses to let time go, but is always using it to

fuel the poem towards the meaning of
the presence of meaning

                                                          I have been pregnant three times

two abortions while in college, one in Milwaukee without anesthetic
                                 after which I bled
 
in the Emergency Room I was afraid they would send me to jail
I told my English teacher
who had said I don’t know if you have ever thought about it, but
you can write
seeding my life with pursuit

                        Fred, the father, died last year in New Mexico.
We were engaged. He gave me a
ring, a small emerald set in diamonds, at the end of the summer
in Santa Fe.

            I had been working as a “mother’s helper” in New Jersey taking care
                        of three children, their mother pregnant with her fourth

     the youngest, Pete, called my name each morning had
     immense glee
     learning a word for a thing bird? bird? hearing one sing

after she went to the hospital to give birth
her husband came into my room
filled with moonlight

                        I remember thinking what what what

     Fred wrote “come out on a hobby horse I will still love you”,
     We drove to Second Mesa to watch the Hopi Snake Dance
     a gaggle of Indian children surrounded us
     calling him Mr. Smokestack laughing I bought a tiny clay dish
     with a creature painted on it

     he showed me the desert

married an English girl they had three children. When he died the marriage
had collapsed. When he drank he talked too much, brilliance becoming garrulous,
sentimental, pretentious. I kept his letters. I thought he was smarter
than anyone on the world when I was seventeen. He had read Nietszche and
Celine, nihilist in the midst of idealists. He called me “Little Chick.” He
encouraged me to write.
 

“In the desert the most loved waters, like a lover’s name, are carried blue
in your hands, enter your throat. One swallows absence.”
 
                        The second time

was an accident
studying for exams all night
it was lovely exhausted sex
I have forgotten his name

                                                          the word name has man and men in it

Ondaatje writes of his heroine Hana: To rest was to receive all aspects of the world
without judgement. A bath in the sea, a fuck with a soldier who never knew your name.
Tenderness towards the unknown and anonymous, which was a tenderness to the self.

                             I flew to Puerto Rico /pretended to be going to a wedding
spent the night in a nasty airport motel the man there tried to
come on to me/could not sleep/ fluorescent dawn all night
 

                                     my first trip out of the United States
 

            I took a taxi to the place/ there were stairs
                        along the outside of the building
                                    walking up them/I imagined a film set

my stomach was upset
they sent me to get Pepto Bismol
the doctor had gold chains around his neck, his shirt open

the nurse a large kind woman/ many had their boyfriends with them
everyone paid in cash

                                               one woman was reading Steal This Book

I was awake they spoke Spanish
numb down from my waist
watching his face/hearing the scrapes

afterwards at another motel
                                               sunshine and blue water amazed
                                                          to be alive
                                    it was the middle of winter in the midwest

pretended I was on vacation /dark glasses and a hat
reading Henry James’ The Wings of the Dove
alone in the restaurant/ I kept inventing
a substitute self
 
            The third time years later
                                    I was already scheduled for a hysterectomy
                                                fibroid uterine tumors
 
                                    and then told I was pregnant I talked to various
doctors about the pregnancy they said the fetus is not viable premature
babies are very costly I had no insurance working part time in a gallery
Brian was trying to figure out how to be an artist in New York

his daughter, Haven, eight when we met she is married now in Boston I do not
hear from her/sometimes I see Brian on the street

Phillip and Cynthia’s daughter is now fifteen she was in Paris modeling
I have almost never seen
her smile/her beauty is

the subject’s object

the object’s subject

                                    eyes traps of green light
                                                limbs long limber new branches

lawn after rain
swimming in the pool, the photographer walking round and round and his
camera wheezing and clicking

hawk circling the blue sky above
inscribing a dangerous

I walked up and down in the kitchen with her crying in my arms
she was five months old/I said
she is angry
not to speak
              does not speak to me thinks I do not like kids because I like to
     revision the silence /or because

on the street she is
wearing a black wig short skirt bright red lipstick high heels
walking with her father/she says the wig
is hot/in the photos she is barely recognizable they have
made her up

     her mother asked me when I first was interested in becoming part of the
country co-op if I intended to have children this struck me as an odd question
 

                         then I went into the hospital for the
operation but at the last minute they decided to do a D&C, an
abortion, rather than risk the
hysterectomy because when you are pregnant your
blood is “frothy” so I was sent
home to wait

wept ceaselessly

                                                  an image of a cork on a sea

I saw it on a gray screen
tiny incoherent scribble
don’t you want this baby the nurse asked/ she did not understand
 

                                                                 and then I went back
                         they put me to sleep
                                                                 I woke up cold
                                                                             gray as dry ice

     I went out with Phillip a few times a long time ago he was handsome
                         and intense I was a waitress then in SoHo

and then went back
for another surgery to remove
my ovaries
                         had become
                                      an explosion of impossible life
                                                   teeth hair brainmatter
                                                                 homunculus
                                                                               ubiquitous
                                      the scar revisits
                                                                 is its is its
                                                                              sealed shut
                                                   time’s incubus
Space here is

always shifting/birds
sparrows catbirds chickadees robins the cedar waxwings
love the cherry tree/a great swarm of blackbirds came over the house/a wind
of dark flight/they make a cluck sound land deep in the foliage

across the pond
a hermit thrush partial lament
a blue heron in a dead gray tree
the belted kingfisher’s rattle
before it plummets

there is no word for the sound
a splash is
                                                                                                     Each choice
                         measures the relation between freedom and fate

Emerson writes, “Where do we find ourselves? In a series of which we do not know the
extremes, and believe that it has none. We wake and find ourselves on a stair; there are
stairs below us, which we seem to have ascended; there are stairs above us, many a one,
which go upward and out of sight.”

these steps I took
I do not regret
 

                         to be a poet

they were illegal dangerous
sad and expensive

                         is a constant iteration of choice
                         one word instead of another
                         they call to each other sometimes/constructing a place
                         in which to live a life

                         words are acts of the world they are prior to us

                                                                             issued forth

                                                                 they become facts in the world
                                                                                 an address
     Nan comes to visit she is pregnant
     her son Henry

     is born four flights below

     the place where
     I watched Joe die/ the machine screamed at his last breath

the rufus sparrows nested in the blue spruce/listening a tiny fledgling came
out on a low branch Sylvia came to get me she said it looked like Albert
Einstein with big eyebrows and a large beak I took its picture it stared mutely
at the camera I said it looked like her husband Mike

     their daughter Jane, just fifteen, broke up with her first boyfriend she was
                         so sad I have a picture of her at three in a pink bathing suit

          when poems are made I try to listen to how they want to become
                                                                                 sometimes they perish

later it disappeared

in the photograph a blur on a bough of blue spruce
the nest a palm of dry mud on the ground.

Ann Lauterbach is the author of five volumes of poetry, including Before Recollection (1987), Clamor (1991), and, most recently, And For Example (1994). She was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship and has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Ingram Merrill Foundation. She is a professor at the City College of New York and head of the writing faculty in the MFA program at Bard College.

Poem and Painting by Marjorie Welish
​Marjorie Welish 01

Originally published in

BOMB 54, Winter 1996

Featuring interviews with Patti Smith, Peter Carey, Mike Figgis, Lawrence Weiner, Sharon Olds, Kiki Smith, Ridge Theater, Oliver Herring, Adrienne Kennedy, and Shu Lea Cheang.

Read the issue
Issue 54 054  Winter 1996