Gatherer’s Blog – December 2019

“Gatherer’s Blog” is an invited feature that provides emergent as well as seasoned writers with opportunities to reflect upon aspects of their own writing processes.

Connie Voisine

The Well of Childhood

I can’t promise that I can tell a single person how to be or write in any authoritative way. I would not be a poet if I could. Or not be the poet I am. The process of writing, membership in the community of writers, and how disability is or acts or belongs in that larger conversation. I promise these topics are in this piece, somewhere.A writer once said that childhood was the well from which the writer will draw the rest of her days. I think it was Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but I cannot verify this and desperately wish I had written it down so I could tell you. With that in mind, I present this piece. It will loop around a rather large lake (the lake of my youth, perhaps) with a shy young moose, the sound of a woodpecker, a Dairy Queen with vanilla and one other flavor, and maybe an eagle, if lucky.

The Shy Young Moose/Muse

Where I grew up, on the US/Canada border in Maine, there are enough moose that they’ve become a hazard. This is after years of protection and controlled, limited hunting. Imagine:

  1. Your grandfather was a quirky, reserved man, a farmer. He was thin and quick—he liked physical humor. He had worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps in New Hampshire but came home. He told you stories about his pet moose, Sap, who, he claimed, came to the back door for a pat and scraps. You believed him.
  2. All of a sudden, a leggy, awkward animal nearly 7 feet tall, bursts from the ragged, shorn roadside berm of the drainage ditches everywhere. Into your headlights—legs and knobbed knees, a startled snout. Your parents’ Crown Victoria lurched into the ditch when it struck one. The road was a mess of hot blood, the driver’s side of the car awash with entrails.
  3. Sleeping on a stack of burlap bags in the farm’s quonset hut, waiting in the early autumn dawn, you wake to see a large bull moose just outside the door. Without thinking, you move as if in a dream to him because you are tired and it might, after all, be a dream. When you know this is not a dream, you freeze, six or so feet from him. This is mating season and though you’ve never seen anything but the velvet shed in the forest, it is said to be a violent and impressive scene, and cause for caution. An old, unregisterable truck rattles up to the barn; the moose turns from watching you and bolts back into the wood.

I did not know that moose weren’t a part of everyone’s life because I was living my life in an exclusive way. What would other lives be? The life of books was like television but better, and it was mine. Jane Eyre and I in the fields. The intersection of self and world was clear, unquestioned. I did not yet know that I had to prove that I was human–isn’t that what Wordgathering writers feel we need to do?

The Knock of a Woodpecker

You readers are beginning to understand that this essay is composed of a series of metaphors. It is my notion about what writers do comes from a particular, inner orientation and mine was deeply formed by one particular place, and a childhood there—myself in that body, that time, that family, that people. And aren’t writers of the world? Isn’t that our place? Not in fact so much as its feeling?  As sensualists, we want to be there, in a small, personal space, and experience it at the granular level. For feeling. To prove (and share) our existence?

You hear it. The hammer sound, the machine gun, the mere beak of a bird. The checkered black and white body is elusive, but you have caught the bird in action before. The vertical body set vertically on the dead tree right there at the end of the driveway. Silly busy, that remarkable rap rap rapping on a trunk somewhere. Fiercely ordinary. Hardly ordinary. Who can you tell? You must tell. Rap raprap.

A Dairy Queen

Vanilla and pistachio. Vanilla and black raspberry. Vanilla and chocolate of course. Vanilla and strawberry. Vanilla and butterscotch. The queen is Vic and her middle-aged son her attendant. In a small van sunk to its wheel hubs in the tar of the parking lot, her blued hair sweeping the ceiling, Vic delivers. These days I wonder many things: why did she keep her grown son who could not speak so close; were they part of the Lebanese community who came to Maine in the 1920s; where did she live when not in that van (I knew where most people lived in that small town); who was the husband, if any; how did they survive when it was too cold to serve ice cream in a van? In the past that formed me, I did not understand what questions to ask. That is the past’s magic and its tragedy—that I knew the world as simple fact, so familiar as to be unquestionably permanent. The van is gone, as is Vic and her son. The lawn of the public library, which soon may close, is still there for those who want to lounge, no custard, to watch who’s come to town. No one sits there at dusk or at any time anymore. I ask too many questions now.

The Eagle If You Are Lucky

It flew above the surface of the lake, towards me at the shore, towards my naked toddler crouched and small in the low waters at the edge. I saw it—talons extended, wings wider than my own arms—skimmed the child’s back as she examined those sparkly stones. There was nothing I could have done had the eagle decided to try to lift her, at 23 pounds maybe too large and maybe that’s why the bird ascended. But maybe not. Either way, I knew the biggest love just then. And all its attendant terrors, which the child missed completely in her reverie. She saw me running barefoot across the rocky shore towards her.

About the Author

Connie Voisine is the author of the new book of poems, The Bower, a book-length poem about her family’s time in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Her previous books, Calle Florista and Rare High Meadow of Which I Might Dreamare also published by University of Chicago Press. Rare High Meadow was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award. Her first book, Cathedral of the North, won the Associated Writing Program’s Award in Poetry. She has poems published in The New Yorker, Poetry Magazine, and elsewhere.

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