The two poems below, Thinking of the Prajna-Paramita and Aubade, emerged near the end of the fellowship. It was only after sitting and “brooding”(Meena’s workshop word which I have come to love) for the past month over diaries and scraps of paper written on at 5AM (in several attempts to watch the sunrise, only one of which was a success) were these able to emerge.
These days, I feel the urge to brood over everything. This morning it was a quote by Stanley Kunitz which I stumbled upon in one of my old notebooks. “Poetry is the conversion of life into legend”. Then, on the way to Starbuck’s with my iPod on shuffle, lyrics from The Roots. “In the beginning there was me. I was rhythm, life, two turntables one mic.” I can’t resist the urge to brood on them. After this month, I’m convinced that brooding leads to good writing; sometimes, and idea or line hatches perfectly only because it spent so much time being brooded upon. Incubated, if you will.
If you do come to Provincetown for a fellowship or workshop, please don’t miss the sunrise, or the Fine Art’s Work Center’s nightly readings, or the Poet’s Corner at the public library, or the dune shacks where Eugene O’Neill supposedly wrote Anna Christie. Oh, and whatever you do don’t miss the amazing South African bobotie wrap at Karoo Café, Bliss’s pomegranate fro-yo, or Stanley Kunitz’s perennial garden.
And above all, spend as much time as you can on the Mailer Porch. It is by far, the best place to brood.
(After writing this, I watched BBC’s Blue Planet. I am now fascinated by polar bears. Five months without a meal. Usually only 1 in 20 hunts is successful. As I packed, I started thinking of the parallels between hunting for seals and getting published. In the end, the half-starved momma bear caught and devoured an entire beluga whale. That should keep us writers motivated.)
Thinking of the Prajna-Paramita
Near the rose-hips, we undream our faces,
our hypothalami like sprung birds:
lips ready, our bones growing long teeth.
When he puts a palm between my scapulae,
each wing opens & a cell inside me screams
you will remember this.
But who can be sure of such a thing.
Nagarjuna would say, there are no teeth,
no bones, no lips pressed there are no lips
but there are lips. I know all this,
but I also know that we are born again & again
to lie down & count each other’s ribs,
to search for the pulse’s kick,
& the soul standing at attention.
All night on the sea cliffs,
& on the low rocks we crawl drunk among barnacles,
Bringing our heads down to their operculums
So our ears fill with their hissing.
We inhabit the sound which is warm, portal-like—
An umbilical to some other world.
Minutes go by.
Then migrating back to our bodies.
You ask me if I know the albatross dance:
The head shimmy beak -kissing of courtship,
& then running out to the nearest shoal
Perform it, the sky yawning turquoise around you.
Walking back to our rocks—
The way you never stop whistling.
But I imagine you perfectly silent,
When your voice was still magma & salt—
Streaming through the belly of the earth.
Vanessa is a Mailer Poetry Fellow. She used the time to work on her first collection of poems on the subject of grief and transformation; her writing incorporates science and mythology. Vanessa currently teaches English in South Korea, where she also co-facilitates Seoul Writer’s Poetry Workshop. She holds a BA in Religion and Asian Studies from Mount Holyoke College (MHC), and a Five College Buddhist Studies certificate from MHC, Smith, Amherst, Hampshire, and UMass. You can reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.