Postcards from Her Alternate Lives
Each day the city unhinges its jaw and I climb inside.
I sing show tunes and polish its teeth. At night, I ride
its lit scales into glittered, showstopping dreams.
Sister, the desert is more even than I dreamed. On each
rock rests a bowl of water, a wooden flute, a lizard.
The clouds swoop into the shape of my fears, then
blow off into the next county.
I live between mountains and take my smallness,
like a pill, on waking. Always I'll be only one
more moving part, blurred in snow and stone.
I'll never fall for the slick con of consequence.
Bright, or secret, or ghosted, towns fall into place
like the corner pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. All the sky
pieces look the same. I can't fit the fragments
of clouds together.
This place is as I never left it: the neon sub shop
on the corner, the junior high. My house is an aquarium
filled with tulips. My mouth is a tulip filled with dust.
- Catherine Pierce
I came across this poem in "The Best American Poetry 2011". (I was reading the book by way of comparison with another I had read recently - "The Best of the Best New Zealand Poems" - but that's another story). I was immediately fascinated by Catherine's poem. Many of us must have wondered about other paths our lives might have taken. Such a poem could be an exercise many of us might tackle - but like all those school essays "What I did in my holidays" it could easily become humdrum. The imagery in this poem, and the oblique and mysterious approach to "other lives" lifts it quite out of the ordinary.
My thanks to Catherine for permission to reproduce it here. She says:
'I've always been intrigued by the idea of parallel lives existing alongside our real ones. I wanted to write a poem in which these different versions of the self sort of "write home" and report back on what they're experiencing.'
Catherine Pierce is the author of two books of poetry, The Girls of Peculiar (Saturnalia 2012) and Famous Last Words (Saturnalia 2008). Her poems have appeared in many journals and anthologies, including The Best American Poetry, Slate, Boston Review, Ploughshares, FIELD, and elsewhere. Catherine grew up in Delaware, then earned her B.A. from Susquehanna University, her M.F.A. from the Ohio State University, and her Ph.D. from the University of Missouri. She now lives in Starkville, Mississippi, where she teaches and co-directs the creative writing program at Mississippi State University. Her website is www.catherinepierce.net.
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