EXIT STRATEGY

Thinking on an appropriate farewell to Provincetown—the Mailer Center and the idyllic writing life that I found by the bay—as I enter the zero hours of my time here, I gravitate to that somewhat famous goodbye—the one to all that—in which Joan Didion tells us, It is easy to see the beginnings of things, and harder to see the ends. Often times, this is true. But, try as I did to pretend otherwise, as soon as I slipped the key to my nautically themed condo into my back pocket four weeks ago, I knew: I was not entering an era with ambiguous boundaries. My stay was book-ended after all, a clear arrival time and departure date. A check out procedure. Nothing vague about throwing the dirty sheets and towels in a pile on what is no longer my bedroom floor, leaving the key on the kitchen counter that is no longer my own, letting the screen door slam one last time, and rambling down the slatted walkway with my rolly suitcase.

A month is a good chunk of time away from home. Long enough to allow the illusion that the city life that tends to keep me in some measure of crazy shriveled and died when I cut the cord, hit the sea, cracked open a beer on the fast ferry, and watched dry land fade against the horizon. In fact, I’ve felt more at home in Provincetown these past weeks than I have lately in Brooklyn, where I’ve been living for twelve years. At home, in this case, I will define as a certain type of ease. Desires are radically streamlined when you remove jobs, pets, friends, rent, and bills from the equation. Even the absence of the seventy-three stairs that lead to my charming six-floor walk up has allowed me a degree of increased spontaneity. Here, I just open my door and…I’m outside! Amazing!

And so it was. My usual scramble was de-scrambled. With a clear head, and lungs full of salty sea air teeming with negative ions, I managed to get a rather serene and consistent writing life on lockdown almost immediately upon my arrival. Preparing to head home, I know the little annoyances mentioned above threaten to coax my attentions away from my desk, and like most writers, if I’m not working regularly, I get a little nuts. I was concerned.

Anticipating the sudden, ripped-away-too-fast Band Aid method of bolting town, en masse, with hundreds of other temporary residents was making me feel like a junky whose supply was about to be cut off. Fortunately, I’ve found a way to make the transition easier. I’m sneaking out of town behind my own back, as it were. Turns out, a New York friend is here—one of many, actually. (How long have you people been coming to Provincetown and why didn’t anyone tell me sooner?) This friend is sneaking out too, twelve hours early, to avoid the hysteria induced by widespread 10 am checkout times and sold out ferries. So I’m hitching a ride, ducking out, as I dodge my most recent and troubling reality: I don’t actually live in Provincetown, and I will, very soon, have to screen my calls, cling to my desk for dear life, and, sadly, wear actual shoes. So my goodbye will be a sly slip of the hip, not the one I expected, and because of that, my illusion-prone mind can pretend things are otherwise, and maybe I can keep a bit of all that for a little longer. Later Provincetown, and thanks. It hasn’t been real at all.

Sara Nelson is at work on her first book, the story of an atypical American family: her father is a death row survivor and her mother is a former Catholic nun; their story of origin hinges on a sensational 1959 murder trial. An excerpt from the book appeared in Ploughshares. In addition to being a Mailer Fellow, she holds an MFA from Hunter College, and her work has also appeared in Tottenville Review, where she is a senior contributing editor. She lives in Brooklyn, where she writes, plays bass, and bartends.   

COLLECTED POEMS, guest post

The past two weeks the Mailer House has held poetry workshops led by Bob Holman and Quincy Troupe–below is a compilation of poems by workshop participants.

Gull Hill
(for Stanley Kunitz)

Daylilies and ferns stir, a rhythm in bay’s turns
Water calm with the tide and steel gray
Farther out one light house stands pale
A boat between shores glides on white sails
In the garden each day, light on your worn hands
Layers of life in soil, in terraces and winding paths
In the cellar at night words come through darkness  rising early
If poems are seeds, then each is a mystery unfurling
A gull calls from above as waves splash within us
The last cloud of  the day is lightened by the western sun
The language is there, in the form of land, and horizon’s run.
When sight speaks it’s shadow is a whisper.

Barbara Buckman Strasko lives along the Conestoga River in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Her poem, Bricks and Mortar, was chosen to be engraved in granite and bronze in Lancaster’s main square. She is the first Poet Laureate of Lancaster County.

Strasko’s poems have appeared in The Best New Poets of 2006, Rhino, Tar River Review, Brilliant Corners, Ninth Letter, Nimrod and elsewhere. Her chapbook On the Edge of a Delicate Day was published by Pudding House Press in 2008.Her new book Graffiti in Braille will be published in November of 2012. Strasko was the 2009 Teacher of the Year for River of Words, an International Environmental Poetry & Art Contest for Youth.

Paternity

So she could be lying about who the father is, huh?
Well, I’ve actually heard that a lot of
women would do such a thing.
I mean, did she seem like a liar while you two were fucking?
Well of course not.
You know, I’ve also heard that men have less impulse control
when it comes to possible sexual activity.
Could it be possible that you might not have been able to tell
or care
that she was a liar?
I mean it’s obvious that you do care now.
Yep, paternity tests do cost that much.
It’s the certainty of knowing,
the security that comes from giving
your money to your blood,
for sure.
Yes, you do still have to pay me separately.
I am paid to give you my advice, plus I have no facilities for paternity testing.
Well, I think it’s likely that women have learned a thing or two
about screwing
or getting screwed
over the years.

Lucy Ann Betteridge was born and raised in central Missouri. After graduating from law school, she has returned home to practice law. Her poems generally reflect issues she encounters in her practice.

After Ted Berrigan

Dear ________,

It’s 1:03 a.m. in Provincetown, early July heat, yes,
it’s the week of the bear. The men spill into the streets
in packs yellow and brown, hair gleaming
under winking moon. I’m peeling the skin off my mouth,
I’m enclosing it in this letter, quick cut of lightning across
the sky as I write this, man and woman next door
grilling tortillas on an open flame, standing all agog
on the patio, whistling, talking. This morning,
I woke early, wandered around the house,
watched the sun come up over the water so I could write
it down in my notebook, drank coffee, ran errands,
thought about this letter, of you.
It’s 1:21 a.m., I am licking the stamp, the sweet lugubrious glue
staining my tongue, melting in the steady heat of this night.
As ever, yours.

Jenna Lynch currently resides in Eugene where she is an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Oregon. She teaches creative writing and lives with her cat, Ego. Her poem Ideas About Mothers was published in Stirring and can be read here.

The Dying Railyard

Throughway for everyone
holding a backpack. Pack
everything I own onto my back and run. Just greasy
hair and money for the bus.
I think of my parents roaming, long
hair and leather, thieves, dressing
me in winter layers and running me out of stores. Changing
price tags on meat. Following
flea markets and college kids with
$20’s in their pockets. My father saying,
“Lori, I need a home.”
We lived in a van, white milk truck with a piss pot,
not half-way hippies I knew
the summers between college,
white kids with dreads and a fat credit card, just in case.
My parents had
no back-up, no plan B, no dreads.
We moved across state lines, cheering
Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia.
Pot soaking clothes, the occasional motel with chipped paint
doors, sticky floors.
I was three. I never cried. Knew
not to touch the razor blades scattered on the van floor, the punches
my father used to make tourist leather belts, dollar bills
stashed in a can.
I made a boat of my life, sailed
off from what I have known. I have my family written
on my belly, diagrammed and clear.
When I was five, my father decided
that I would be ocean baptized, sea baptized, dunked, not sprinkled.
On the sand, feet buried in the cold, I practiced pinching
my nose, closing my lips to a single seam.
The pastor yelling,
“Hallelujah!”
slapping the forehead of the man we found
sleeping in the church basement last week, his body
like a stethoscope, listening for sounds, trying not to be found.
Each person waded
waist-deep, fully clothed to the sea.
My turn. Walk alone. A touch on
my shoulder, one hand at the small
of my back. I hung suspended under the water, opening
my eyes to the salt and fish. I have a list of things I thought
of under the water:
1) sharks
2) drowning
3) the preacher’s big hands
4) God
I came up dripping, coughing,
to clapping and “Praise Jesus.”
I knew new things.
I knew
that he could
have held me
under.

Lori Swartz is a painter, performer, metalworker and writer, living in an old mining town in New Mexico. She was raised by Jewish, hippie, fundamentalist-Christian parents. Over the past twelve years her poetry has appeared in various collections, anthologies and journals. She has won the 2000 Peregrine Prize and is the recipient of the 2009-2010 Astrea Lesbian Writers Fund Award in Poetry. Lori performs in burlesque and circus shows on trapeze, aerial fabric and aerial chain. As a filmmaker, her recent project was the documentary film, This Mad and Beautiful Game. Currently, she is at work on her first novel.

Blueberries in White Wine

My Nante Frances’s house sat atop Blueberry Hill
the namesake bushes along the drive to the right.
She ‘d pick the berries in hottest  August
my cousin and I ate them straight from the branches.
Anita’s mouth looked like a boot black’s fingers,
mine, a purple rhododendron,
we shoved as many as we could into our mouths, bulging the cheeks
our Nante had kissed only minutes before.
The warm berries were all we kids could have.
The cool wet shiny liquored ones,
the ones suspended in white wine, the ones in the fridge
were for my uncle’s lunch; the Italian way, she’d say.
Sometimes we’d beg for these ones reserved,
and, sometimes she’d promise to share, but
as luck would have it, there were always worms that came out to
drown in the wine.
“Dieu fause!”
, she’d say,
“I had to throw them all away”.
But, we knew he’d eaten them right down to the last one.
Her lie never hurt either one of us,
we knew that lying was the Italian way, too.
And so, perfectly round ripe berries could continue
to go missing from the bottom of the bowl –
her secret was safe with us.
Uncle Joe could have his blueberries;
we could go back out to play.

Melanie Swetz is a Norman Mailer Writer’s Colony scholarship recipient for Poetry 2012. She is currently living in Turkey where she is an associate professor for Bilkent University. This poem is from her summer in Provincetown writings.

walking in provincetown

on this end of provincetown
just past charles s. darby square
a delivery truck’s harangue disturbs sleep
but for a bird’s chirp   waves’ wave
or spinning spokes   this street   west to east   stills life
its vista   live paintings on a stroll—
here good morning is a prayer
a kiss on both cheeks   baptism
different than my deep-rooted south
but the same   i walk alone here
without concern.

t.l. elam lives, works and writes in Atlanta.  She is published in a few places including The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South edited by Nikky Finney.  She currently is the poetry editor for Generations Literary Journal.  In her spare time, she teaches workshops via the page program to help girls discover their voice via poetry, journaling, and art.

WALKING THE STONES

On Friday afternoon, I walked the stones. Some way out into the bay, I thought: It doesn’t matter where I am. I can live anywhere. I felt a disinterested calm. The stones go all the way across the water. You can get off on the other side. I had imagined they would end, like a pier, and that I would stand still for a while out there, looking, listening to the waves move. At about the halfway point, the sea was washing over my path. The tide was high, and pushing in. I had no way of knowing, should I proceed, would I get back. I decided to proceed.

On the other side, I crossed the dunes and felt my feet on this far shore of my Atlantic. It was windy and uncomfortable to stay, so I went back across the dunes and walked along the salt marshes to the lighthouse. I passed a middle-aged couple sitting together in silence. I took a photograph of a strange little building I could live in. I looked up at the lighthouse. “Rapunzel! Rapunzel! Let down your golden hair!” I called. Nothing happened, but I felt what it might be like to be a man.

Heading home, I was only a little reluctant to disturb what I took to be two snipe at the edge of the marshes. When they rose and wheeled and piped, I watched them in the sky and thought of the snipe at the dam at G—.

Karen Martin is a writer of short fiction and an editor. She originates from South Africa, where she has lived in the countryside outside Johannesburg for the past fifteen years. She is presently a Cornelia Carhart Ward Fellow in the creative writing MFA programme at Syracuse University. She is using her fellowship at the Norman Mailer Writers Colony this summer to complete her first collection of short fiction.