By Claire Bateman
Featured Image: Sunset over the Catskills by Frederic Edwin Church, American, 1870-1880
Because it’s my book,
I will treat it however I want.
I will crack its spine, though not its spirit.
I will bend back the corners of its pages along the margins of whose cold fronts
I will inscribe hieroglyphics,
and over whose most capacious melodic passages I will take terrible liberties with liquid paper whenever I crave silence.
Haven’t I paid for this privilege through decades of learning to write, all those decades in the first grade, my retinas suffering
the mute incandescence of letters
which withheld their significance from me as, lathered like a horse
condemned to drag his own stable behind him, I’ve labored with sentences and paragraphs, wrestling the fat green pencil
that grew quantumly heavier as it registered each mistake?
Haven’t I made perfect attendance while all the swifter students skipped days, weeks, even?—
they’d return from alleged bouts of flu
with gilded tans and I (HEART) TAHITI T-shirts to find me still in the little wooden chair
I’ve never abandoned, even for recess? Haven’t I taken all my meals at my desk, slept in the corner on a narrow pallet; my pillow inhabiting the realm
beneath the ecology table whereon reside the hamster with its cage and wheel,
and the goldfish in its pathetically cloudy tank?— these creatures the denizens
of the far side of my heaven, the near side being the table’s
gum-studded undersurface I’ve nightly beheld while I waited for sleep;
I can think of worse places
to dream, and poorer companions; all night long, the goldfish
circumscribes its asphyxiating universe
and the hamster pants to outrun its wheel— not unlike the way my mind
has struggled even in darkness, tracing on wide-lined dream paper the smudged, left-pointing loop
of a dyslexic R or P
as I’ve lain there under the fixed and dimly glowing Juicy Fruit constellations of the only sky
I’ve personally known,
a kind of undergraduate heaven, a nethersky I outgrew
this very day, when all at once I mastered cursive—
the other students, the teacher, the principal,
the assistant principal, and the entire custodial staff clustering breathlessly around me
as I swooped my Gs
and swirled the elaborate undercarriage of the cursive Ys—
my hand was like a pale and spindly ice dancer;
I wanted to stitch it an outfit
of baby blue silk and albescent shimmering tights, or maybe a different outfit
for every day and every night I’ve spent in this classroom,
though I haven’t been miserable here, just increasingly too bulky for the chairs
and little pallet—in fact,
at this instant, I suspect I’ll even mourn my wooden sky,
since I won’t immediately be ready to write out there
in the alien weathers that await me— little snow nocturnes,
migratory honeybee swarms with their gold auroras, packs of feral mirages—
but nevertheless, it’s time for me to venture beyond this classroom before my dilating sleep
bursts its walls at the seams,
and in fact, to fail under such a sky will be an honor,
even though I’ll have to begin from scratch with an entirely new alphabet
of transparent ultramarine and indigo, and it will take me millennia
to progress from tedious tracing to the graphomaniacal excess my right hand assures me
I was born for.
Claire Bateman is the author of WONDERS OF THE INVISIBLE WORLD forthcoming from 42 Miles Books, and eight other poetry books. She has been awarded Fellowships from the NEA, the Tennessee Arts Commission, and has received the New Millennium Writing Award (twice) and two Pushcart Prizes. She has taught at the Greenville Fine Arts Center, Clemson University and various conferences, including Bread Loaf and the Bloch Island Poetry Festival. She is also a visual artist.
Orginally published in NOR 7.