Poem: “During the Middle Ages” by Camille Guthrie

Went to a Literary North event w/ a friend on Saturday featuring the poet Camille Guthrie and the short fiction writer Peter Orner, both of whom are smart lovely people who shared memorable sentences with us (a small audience/thirsty for their thoughts and works/ready with our questions).

As usual I almost enjoyed the talk about the writing as much as the writing itself. And then on the way home I read this poem out loud to my friend as she drove and we LAUGHED and we SNORTED and we LAUGHED and cried “Genius!” and LAUGHED.


During the Middle Ages

O God I am so fat
I cry all the time
A kitten scrubbed with a toothbrush online makes me sob
I’m so heartless seven species of bees
Are now endangered and I didn’t do a thing
Didn’t even send any money
To anybody doing any good
And I can’t lose any weight I skipped yoga
I’m so hot all the time so broke
So pathetic no wise investments
Should’ve bought a 7-Eleven on a busy corner
When I was seven or eleven
Nobody wants to lick my neck
Nobody wants to hold my hand at the doctor’s office
Nobody to grow old with me I’m so crabby
To pluck my beard feed the cat I don’t have
And read me endless Russian novels at night
All the ones I still haven’t got to so greatly depressing
Where are you handsome? Are you
Driving in your car to come visit me
Bringing a bottle of wine & a present so gallant?
A new translation of Akhmatova? I love it!
No? Well, I guess it’s better than living
In the real Middle Ages when
Some shithead priest threatens you with hell
To pocket your last coin and there’s no Tylenol
So you have to suck on some skullcap seeds
And knights race around knocking you down
To take your maidenhood with pointy lances
And you have to work as a midwife with no birthing tub
Nobody washes their hands or votes
Nobody knows about DNA or PMS
There’s nothing to read even if you can read
Except boring doctrines or Spiritual Exercises
By Gertrude the Great, I’m not even kidding
Yes, there’s Dante Chaucer and some sagas
But it’s not like you’d get near those books
You’d be lucky to have some jerk recite the latest
By Wulfstan the Cantor by campfire
Before he beheads your uncles
And forces you to rub salve on his abs
You know you’d be sweating in a field at twenty-two
Dying from your tenth pregnancy by the bailiff
Courtly love? Not a lot of it I bet
Some doctor would drill a hole in my head
To let the demons out because I’d be full
Of black bile as I am today
It would be a very hard time
When the sun revolves around the earth
And kings are just unbelievably selfish
And it’ll be a really long time before Pop Art
And meerkat videos and cotton candy
And Kurosawa and fish tacos and girl bands
Everything’s just so bad and you have buboes
Hopefully I’d get shoved into a nunnery
To have some ecstatic experience with mystical Jesus
Or better I could be a hardcore samurai
Laying down justice on the heads of corrupt lords
But that was tough work, dirty work
You’re working for nobility who at any period
In history are the worst people in the world
And to be an unemployed ronin was lonely
Even if all the brothel ladies offer to scrub your back
Sometimes you just want a nice nap
And some Neosporin on your wounds
If only I could be like the divine Sei Shōnagon
Resplendent in silks with seven-layered sleeves
Writing in my room about politics and my lovers
I wish okay I could be her servant
Dusting the ink stone and fluffing her pillow
But even she found many hateful things
About living in the middle ages
Like crying babies messy guests and mansplainers
So irritating even way back then
You better shut up and take your medicine

— Camille Guthrie

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Grace Paley (poem & photograph).

HERE

Here I am in the garden laughing
an old woman with heavy breasts
and a nicely mapped face

how did this happen
well that’s who I wanted to be

at last a woman
in the old style sitting
stout thighs apart under
a big skirt grandchild sliding
on off my lap a pleasant
summer perspiration

that’s my old man across the yard
he’s talking to the meter reader
he’s telling him the world’s sad story
how electricity is oil or uranium
and so forth I tell my grandson
run over to your grandpa ask him
to sit beside me for a minute I
am suddenly exhausted by my desire
to kiss his sweet explaining lips.

Grace Paley by Sylvia Plachy
Photo of Grace Paley in Vermont, taken by Sylvia Plachy

SPRINGPOEM

All of a sudden, the yellowing—

coltsfoot
dandelions
forsythia
daffodils

& the chickening—

the neighbor’s chalkboard sign reads
FREE ROOSTERS
the other neighbor’s pullets
test their babywings out front

& the neon-greening—

the leafing out
leaves like fingers spreading into hands
the hillsides like a fabric
of chlorophyll’s talents

& the perennials—

the miracle of having only
to plant something once
to receive its joys
each year

Taryn Day Daffodils in a Jar 2011
Daffodils in a Jar by Taryn Day

“(Brooklyn) Is Magic” (poem) (mine)

(Brooklyn) Is Magic

Brooklyn smells like palo santo
and wet daffodils as I schlep
to the next set of stairs
that leads to someone
I love.
I’m never in the city
and when I am
every second
is so city
I have to laugh.
The dogs dressed better
than I. Everyone clutching
their phones
like children on a rollercoaster
in need of their mother’s hand.
Even the bookstore is curated
to please the eye
and it pleases me
to see people I love stepping off the subway
like celebrities
and it’s pleasurable
to be one of so many
planning
buying
laughing
at once
over brunch
and for just a moment
the weight of breakfast
is heavier and sweeter-smelling
than the spring clouds bearing rain.

Freelance poem (mine).

I work from home now

and I’m jamming to this song today

because Margot recommended it

and Margot knows what to pay

attention to. No, I don’t know Margot

but I know other women

who create television and funny mugs

plus my cousin-in-law

is the dude in the vest.

I’ve written a lot about vests;

haikus mostly, and desperate texts.

A vest is like a hug

for your chest, I’ve been known

to sigh, my core warm, my style fly.

 

Solstice Morning Poem (mine).

Monday morning. Lipstick, dirty hair. Reading articles about books
I already love and want to return to disguised as another woman.

Glowy gray winter sky glinting off the car parked outside, giant
spools of electric cord hidden behind. Christmas songs on the radio,

the rape-y ones (“I really can’t stay” “But baby it’s cold outside”)
interspersed with the others. Yellow coffee cup with one cold sip

remaining and the impending refill. Holiday cards taped to the wall
in a collage of those who love us for our purchasing patterns. Ten AM

on the winter solstice and the postal service workers are hustling
to make it in time for Christmas. I’ve been wearing this blue shirtdress

for three days and it’s time for a wash. All astrological signs pointed
to career success this month but where’s the proof. Holiday treats

thrust at me from everywhere; I accept. Flip my greasy hair
to the other side of my head; I let it lie where it lands.

A day in the life (a poem).

June 30, 2015

I am living in Vermont
I am living in my head
My twenties ending like a delicious
episodic television binge
where plotlines are vague & details ecstatic

America my country has legalized marriage
the week after I legalized my own
In a month I will legalize
the love between two people
overlooking a lake in Virginia

My hands & feet are dirty
Be not mistaken I’m nobody’s heroine
Not brave enough & only medium-fast
But have you seen my garlic patch
But have you watched me sleep for hours

Godlier & godlier I’ll travel forth
The sun when it’s out, the moon when it’s round
surround me & cram me
into the single sweet envelope
called my life