Here are a few sample poems from my new book WE MAD CLIMB SHAKY LADDERS, (which, despite what many have been told IS available from Amazon and B & N and upne.com so keep trying if you have been told it is not…I know as I just got some extra copies from amazon). Here is just a teaser to get people interested:
These first two are from the first section, which concerns my childhood and the first intimations of illness. Here are the first indications that touch is difficult, even threatening to me. In the second poem, I describe my twin sister’s wholly different attitude towards her body, how in a more innocent time, wolf whistles by teen age boys were considered harmless, complimentary even, and wearing tight jeans was not an invitation to anything but, as in this poem, pleasure on the part of both young men and the young woman described…
Touch me. No, no, do not touch.
I mean: be careful —
if I break into a hundred pieces
like a Ming vase falling from the mantle
it will be your fault.
Cool as Christmas
plump as a wish
and simonpure as cotton
You stroll the avenue
mean in your jeans
and the boys applaud.
You toss off a shrug
like a compliment
with a flicker of disdain
Catching the whistle
in mid-air and
pitching it back again.
“Eating the Earth” is more or less a true story insofar the little boy in a nearby neighborhood did rub a certain little girl’s face in dirt for telling him where babies came from and she did dream the dream descrbed. What this all means is up to the reader to decide, however.
EATING THE EARTH
After Tyrone, the little boy next door,
makes her eat a handful of dirt
for telling lies
about where babies come from
her father says it will do her no harm.
You have to eat a peck of dirt
before you die, her father says.
He also says she hadn’t lied:
babies do come that way.
She cries after her father
leaves the room and she sleeps
all night with the lights on.
Her father tells her other things,
that earthworms eat their own weight in dirt
every day and that their do-do
(he says “excrement”)
fertilizes our food.
She makes a face over that
and doesn’t believe him.
Besides, she says, we’re people
And we’re so great, huh? he says.
Well, I’d rather be a girl than a worm.
He says nothing.
He is grown up and a doctor,
he doesn’t have to worry about
being a worm.
But she does.
That night she dreams that Tyrone
dumps a jar of worms down her shirt
and that their dreadful undulations
become hers and she begins
and liking it,
the cool coarse grains of sand,
the spicy chips of mica,
the sweet-sour loam become her body
as she lives and breathes,
eating the darkness.
It was a frying pan summer.
I was playing croquet by myself,
missing the wickets on purpose,
rummaging my pockets for dime-sized diversions.
It was a summer of solitaire.
I laid the cards out like soldiers.
I was in command.
Then you came out
with a mallet and a stolen voice
that seemed to rise disembodied
from the gorge of your black throat
and you challenged me to a game.
You ate me with your mosquito demands
though I, I didn’t want to play with anyone!
I hid my trembling in my sleeves
refusing to shake your hand.
I thought: this is how the Black Death was
transmitted, palm to palm, hand to hand,
a contagion like money.
You smiled the glassy grimace
practiced for boys all summer in front of a mirror.
If I looked you in the eye I would die.
I knew then all the sharp vowels of fear.
It was late in the afternoon
and I was frightened
when our shadows merged.
OUR MOTHER’S DAUGHTERS
I dreamed my mother cut off
my baby toes, the suturing so perfect
she left no gangrene, no scars, just a fine line
of invisible thread and four toes on each foot
instead of five. The job done, she left me
at the “crutches store” on Whitney Avenue
where I could find no crutches to fit
and so hobbled back toward home
alone and lopsided.
This is true, and she was a good mother
most of the time, which meant
that I never lacked for anything
she could buy, yet still I grew up lame,
disfigured (though not in any
noticeable way) and always with the sense
I had been abandoned before my time.
This has all been said before: our mothers
leave us, then or now, later or sooner,
and we hobble like cripples
toward the women in our lives
who can save us. Or else we limp homeward
knowing we will never make it back
before we wake up. And when we do wake up
we find we, too, are mothers, trying desperately
to save our daughters’ legs
by amputating their smallest least necessary
toes, taking the toes to save the feet
to save the legs they stand on
in a world where we ourselves
are not yet grounded.
You know something is going on.
It is taking place just beyond the range
of your hearing, inside that house
on the corner needing paint and shutters,
the one with the cluttered yard
you always suspected sheltered friends
in name only. It may be in the cellar
where the radio transmitter is being built
or the satellite. A cabal of intelligence
is involved, CIA, MI-6, Mossad.
It is obvious plans are being made;
didn’t your boss arch his eyebrows
while passing your desk this morning,
grunt hello, rather than his usual
“Howahya?” There are veiled threats
to your life and livelihood. Someone
is always watching you watching
and waiting for whatever is going
to happen to happen.
THE CATATONIC SPEAKS
At first it seemed a good idea not to
move a muscle, to resist without
resistance. I stood still and stiller. Soon
I was the stillest object in that room.
I neither moved nor ate nor spoke.
But I was in there all the time,
I heard every word said,
saw what was done and not done.
Indifferent to making the first move,
I let them arrange my limbs, infuse
IVs, even toilet me like a doll.
Oh, their concern was so touching!
And so unnecessary. As if I needed anything
but the viscosity of air that held me up.
I was sorry when they cured
me, when I had to depart that warm box,
the thick closed-in place of not-caring,
and return to the world. I would
never go back, not now. But
the Butterfly Effect says sometimes
the smallest step leads nowhere,
sometimes to global disaster. I tell you
it is enough to scare a person stiff.
3 thoughts on “Poems by Pamela Spiro Wagner”
I was so moved by your book that I will be hosting a discussion with the 15 women in my book club on March 25th. Through my work with autistic children, I know the impact of a sensory system that’s askew. And through my husband’s volunteer efforts with the homeless, we have met many who have suffered with mental illness. I would love to give a current update on you and I pray that you are well. You are a courageous woman!
I’d have to say that I enjoyed the poems with out the explainations the best, though that could be the first few gave a little history for the later that I read. I like your style, it is refreshing and reminds me of Robert Frost’s way of telling a story. Subtle yet vivid imagery is the only way I can think of the bits and pieces of your poems that lend power to the rest and tug the heart. Thank you.