East North of
East of North Poems
Acknowledgements The author wishes to thank the editors of these online and print journals for publishing the following poems: Arrival— Fall Equinox Car Song— Drive By Poets Geographies— Pitkin Review Initiation—Eclipse Jonah’s Love Story— Pank and Holly Rose Review Organic— Autumn Sky Poetry Plants and Stones— Kalliope Proposal— Flutter Someday, my god will come— Lotus.zine Wholesale— Pitkin Review Heartfelt thanks also go to Jen, Dylan, Elena, Maureen, Kim, Kristen, Rachel, Kenny, Jan, Burns, Mom, and Dad. Details Cover art and design by Burns Maxey Limited edition of 100 chapbooks printed in 2008 E-chapbook released 2011 Poems copyright 2008 by Kathryn Good-Schiff
Car Song We were in the car and where were we going? Back to my parentsâ€™ home. I followed them as a child must. The wide highway dwindled to two lanes in Maine, yellow lines unfurled like train tracks drawing us along as we swayed back home. We were in the car and we were always in the car traveling between parts of lives. My Interstate Bingo had red see-through doors that slid across silos, lakes, warning signs. Everything was stationary but us. We were in the car and when would we get there? Mom said the sea could heal. They left behind tall buildings and studies, sweeping me along in their story. We had no happy ending yet. They wanted the happy beginning back.
Geographies Front Porch For my first kiss, I chose the guy with a gun— wrong choice. Headlights right on time: my rescue. College Creaky old door / loud floorboards. Someone asleep across the room. A clanking radiator / bed pushed up against it. Two voices giggling / wet sounds. House sitting Acting as if the bed is our own. Unfed dogs howling at the door. City Mattress on the floor / violence. A solar system spinning / sponge-painted clouds. Farm He buys red, two bottles. We drink from canning jars. Only the stars stay sober. Suburb Don’t kiss her / walk up those stairs. Don’t eat that pie / do not
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reach for her hand. Look away from the light, close your ears. Park My fetusâ€™s final meal: plain bagel with cream cheese. Waterfront Who knows the history of this confluence? Above two rivers we reach for each other, poised on a platform built for a dignitary who never arrived.
Jonahâ€™s Love Story Back when I was a person, my mother told me about love. She said, Itâ€™s like this. A tall, dark stranger walks into your life. On his belly, you watch a movie of everything you could be. He swallows you, and for a few days you live in his possibilities, while all you really want is to get out and weed your garden. Eventually you jab him enough. He vomits you onto grass. The first thing you see is a hummingbird moth hovering by an iris. You realize then, this is what you love: flowers, because the world of people has given up on you.
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Plants and Stones Twenty one years old, Iâ€™d found someone, an inappropriate man with an unpredictable temper. We planted tomatoes and sunflowers. I hoped our love would grow. His Italian grandmother introduced me to artichokes. His niece drew weddings on luminous summer evenings. Everyone admired my ring its band of gold, its tiny stones. What a lovely idea to be a wife! A smiling doll, a ceaseless piece of sandpaper to his roughness cooking rice with peas and salmon while he poured concrete. Part of me dreamed while part of me dreaded. I wanted to leave but had no excuse. I teetered away from him at night on a too small, borrowed bicycle a blue stone in my pocket that heâ€™d carved. When my chance came, I took it. Botany was my ticket north. I memorized phyla, diagrammed nuclei, was too busy to visit or phone. I returned the ring to him. The stone I returned to the ground. The pretend I returned to the dark place it came from.
Organic We lived eleven miles out across the arroyo beyond the cattle gate on a deeply rutted road impassable in Aprilâ€™s rain. We dug and weeded. We seeded and transplanted. We pruned. We planted according to the moon. We harvested, watered, fertilized, turned. We fucked. We argued. Some of us screamed. Some of us smashed glass and drove away. One left by bus, abandoned his belongings in his orange tent. A red Buddha laughed at the end of the driveway.
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Proposal She is cigarette ash and Stoli vodka, jeans carefully, carelessly torn, sexy as photographers are but she only lets me touch her in the dark. First meeting: college seminar. First kiss: smoky bar. First dinner date: three hours late she brings me a gas station rose. Our last semester we meet on the brink of everything, staring dumbly at each other. Beneath a catalpa tree she asks, “Do you want to get married?” “Of course not,” I say, flattered and torn. Impossibly long pods crack under my feet. She moves to New York, city of elegant claustrophobia. Smoke stains her bare leased walls. White leather jacket flung on desk chair, corner of gray stone building through the window, I know it’s over as soon as I arrive. Up on the roof, she offers me the view as if it is hers to give. “No matter what happens,” she says, “the city will always take you back.” The stores never close— they carry all kinds of flowers. You can have anything you want, for a price.
Upon Viewing a Statue of Artemis Ankara, Turkey, 1999 Thirty breasts rise from her chest like a hanging basket of eggs. They have fed millions; they are fine and unbreakable. I’ll pray to her for luck, I’ll implore her: Proud Artemis! Patron of virgins, the hunt, fertility, mothers— I want to know the meaning of “woman.” I want beauty like yours to be enough. What if I desired to be ugly? Is “woman” a game where you throw the dice? If only I could be sure as marble. I don’t want to suckle thirty children but I want to be able to. Goddess, what’s behind your splendid, breasted chest?
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Someday, my god will come as quietly as Vishnu snores, reclined upon the cosmos and a daring lotus lifts its petals from his navel, unfurling the world— as mightily as Apollo’s chariot climbs the track of morning— as suddenly as Lucifer falls, the morning star tinged dark with wisdom— he will come bringing me a bouquet tied with string and a beautifully wrapped box. gentle as a lover, joyous as a friend he will enter my heart and whisper I know about all the other gods you have loved. I am not jealous at all.
Finding Our Way Bangalore, India, 2001 On our way to the Vasantahabba music and dance festival we became lost in a field where flowers spoke no English. Poppies held open their hands offering rice and sweets. We were glowing when the bus finally found us.
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Initiation Advice for Persephone Accept what is given: hot chilies and rice on a steel plate in India mizuna leaves, salsa, tomatillos in Santa Fe. The locals will smile and nod if you eat with your hands. You will feel alien only at the airport where they suspect skin like yours. Even in Hades savor the six red seeds. Every place you eat becomes home.
Wholesale “Love should be put into action!” screamed the old hermit. – Elizabeth Bishop, “Chemin de Fer” Today’s delivery is the best kind: a square of map I’ve not yet visited. The best part of my job at the nursery is when I get leave— drive to Cape Cod or Walden Pond, to wetlands, housing projects, back country estates— places I’d never see without a pickup truck and an order of sedges and alder. Freed from the office, I fly down the road a trailer of plants rattling behind me. The highway crosses the Connecticut at its mouth. To my right is the sea: wide and gray. A windowless yellow building looms, calling the road to it. I drive around back to a dead end of chain link and rutted mud where a man beckons me toward a hole in the fence that opens into a hidden paradise: greenhouses, sinuous paths, maple trees, and a tiny green cabin. Miles of marsh lie against the horizon. beneath Acer palmatum’s spreading fingers. He fills dusty pint glasses with jasmine tea and for the next hour, he narrates: “I have satellite TV, internet, George Foreman. I get a good deal on rent. I live here alone in the summer months, then I meet up with my wife and we go south to the other summer. She’s British; she’s coming here soon. First we’ll hit Thailand and then India. The Great Barrier Reef would be great but we’re going to a job in an English garden.”
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He refills my glass twice with tea, then touches my arm. “Tell me about that tattoo.” I watch gulls arc over the marsh, afraid if we keep talking I’ll never leave. It’s tempting to fall into this man whom age has made comfortable and reckless. This is his retirement, that’s his second wife. He’s put in his time being responsible, while I am just beginning to grow my life and marriage. Soon I’ll return to the place I call home but I linger here, where stolen electricity flows mysteriously like all magic things: maples from their winged seeds, planes in the sky, roads connecting to roads, outlaw glory between lot and marsh.
Arrival Hadley, Massachusetts, 2006 After three years of wandering I came to Varanasi, a city famous for silk, music, yoga, and death, where the river Ganga Ma brings eternal life and ends the grueling cycle of rebirth. She gave me pinkeye and washed my sins away. The yoga studio windows stayed open for light and air. Students from the world over spoke varied versions of English while Sunil, our teacher, belly-laughed like a god. After practice we ate rice pancakes, drank extra spicy tea. One morning a guy I didn’t know said I just threw my passport into the river. Chucked it away. I’m staying. I understand him now, years later as I stroke the face beside mine. Content to end the cycle of departure, arrival, departure, I’ve given my life to this woman. I praise her every day. Our home is a temple, a whole holy city full of color, yards of silk, vendors crying Only the best for you, madam. This one is best quality. I’ve thrown my passport away.
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About the Author
Kat Good-Schiff has worked as a gardener, ice cream maker, tour guide, and editor. She traveled the country and the world before taking up residence in western Massachusetts, where she lives with her wife and their assorted animals. She holds an MFA from Goddard College, and her writing has been published in varous online and print journals, as well as included on greeting cards and in art installations.