Tag Archives: Vermont Studio Center

KATIE WILLINGHAM.June 2020


KATIE WILLINGHAM

Photo by Jeff Sirkin


 

PROFANE HALO

I have been trying to find sea glass

less beautiful. I drive for miles, something certain

states of mind make easy: heartbreak

rendered harsher by contingency, how close

you can imagine yourself to not leaving. I bring a jar

and feel embarrassed—glass to put the glass in, broken

and whole, it’s best to let things

coexist without weighing them down with

restricted futurity. To hold

what will most likely become of you

(or the jar), seal it shut like a curse. What

to say about the blunted edges, but that

the ocean forgives being the receptacle of so much

want and waste, or should I reverse the order? One

opens onto the other, how I find myself

pleased with the process that makes my line of discovery

possible. I remove the blunt glass selectively,

only the pieces I find most attractive,

which is to say, I miss the role they play as blight, as error

or intrusion. I am also the one who recounts eagerly

scenes from novels about the American frontier

where the intrepid venture into a blizzard

simply to feed their animals—how

the clothesline becomes every longing,

stretching forth despite the knowledge

of the destination’s nearness, the barn’s

warmth emanating—how you imagine

you might fall without someone to make

a tether out of you. Later, on the drive

to the laundromat to get the sand out,

I will let the playlist automate, the speed

automate, the profane halo of purple

splashed across the horizon visible

in the rearview. This is how we all

come home to the idea that what glows for us

most vividly is merely a scene of recognition

and it might be incurable.

 

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from the End Notes to MAKING IT LOOK SIMPLE

Already a theme: that I am incapable of looking upside down at anything. That the image reverses itself without permission. These are my remaining tools: what I know about arranging props in order of the time they must appear on stage: whistle, ribbon, envelope, indecision. There is a relationship under pressure of something undisclosed. The tide of it comes in and goes out and, at its lowest, the guilty party thinks he can dig a tunnel out of the room with a piece of paper, but it turns out a piece of paper is less like a shovel and more like a lightning strike. With regards to seeing upside down, the flash of brightness we witness does not move from cloud to ground but vice versa. Negative electricity forms a path and the ground rushes to meet it. This takes one-millionth of a second so I can see why you would argue it doesn’t matter. But then again you have certainly found yourself wondering how the future always seems to emerge from behind you. You’ve wondered that, haven’t you?

 

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IN THE ROOM FOR ANXIOUS OBJECTS

after Eva Kot ́átková

 

all the books are about bodies. It took

so long to trick myself

into being in the airport, hands

in my lap. I count out my luck:

 

I am going on vacation and today

it is not painful to stand

how I have been asked to. I am not

conjuring the days I have had to say,

 

things are not as they appear,

a fact that is fleeting. At times,

I make this body look

easily held, like the liquid

 

in a snow globe,

how it makes the white

fall softly. A sign tells me

even this is suspicious

 

to security now, that

it too can’t go over

three ounces. The number

of prophecy: Third time’s

 

the charm. I mean I won’t be afraid

of takeoff and landing. What

a pleasure to be lifted, to visit

another sky with clouds

 

like a screensaver. How

miraculous to see—what to call

the opposite of undersides? In the room

for anxious objects, a pair

 

of scissors too large

for this paper snowflake, its holes

enormous. And the sign

at the airport is saying to me, Please

 

make your model universe

smaller. It is saying,

be reasonable. But I’m feeling

lucky; I don’t listen.

 

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EMERGENT BEHAVIOR

When my blood results landed in some bad ranges, I got an email:

you have winesap veins, it may well have said, or, what

have you been drinking? I keened on the carpet, my heart

pumping bad news around. I was made

of more pain than memory, for a time. I was the bear

who smashed the bird feeder hoping for honey at its center. I mean

I looked angry, and yes, my paws felt enormous,

but they were only capable of swallowing themselves.

To hold a ferocity you cannot channel requires a metaphor

I’m still stitching out of toxic materials like the anti-freeze

in your trunk that reads: cannot be made non-poisonous.

I repaired to my taste for ruining, dimpling the skin

of an apple with my fingernails and dreaming it was

the capitalist agenda. Nothing like the body

to teach you that there is no unused material. I waited

four months for a specialist whose first job was to confirm it:

my immune cells no longer recognize my joints as me.

Nothing is cheap, I thought while he talked. I dreamt

of the velvet of a horse’s throat, running through a pine forest,

the burnished color of fallen needles. I didn’t

hold my breath, but asked to leave, even as my cells

carried their vendetta with me out the door.

 

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INSTINCTS ARE MISLEADING

Even I was surprised at myself

doing my own dirty work:

not answering the phone even though

I saw it ringing & later

trying to communicate

the sense that I am not

asking for anything really

while asking for something.

We have all become extended

even though it seems like there

are so many activities that take

very little energy to enjoy. Dancing

has a low carbon footprint

as does trying on all your clothes

and looking at the sky

(though it took some doing

to learn when the special phenomena

would be happening).

(A friend hatches a monarch

but the monarch does

most of the work.) Out West,

the guide says mother bears bring

their cubs near the road to keep them

from the males. They are there

because we are there & we are there

because they are there: even

wonderment a kind of adaptation.

 

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APOCALYPSE/UTOPIA XIV

When I asked where the story was going, she told me

there would be a cave and I thought, so full already,

this tale, the bottom gives way, or how could I know

so little about action? The day empties as it opens;

the heart skips stones on the river, poorly, holding

its breath. In failing to begin, I erase the path

that must have led into the field and am hidden,

swallowed by the green unfolding. I open

and close my hands, portals to this world and

some other—it wouldn’t help if I named it, so I’ll

offer this analogy: how any crisis seems to conjure

days out of a plot that was straining against each

second, or when you stand up quickly, how time

suddenly spirals down and away, a draining.

 

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KATIE WILLINGHAM


Katie Willingham
is the author of Unlikely Designs (University of Chicago Press). Her work has been supported by Vermont Studio Center, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, and the Helen Zell Writers Program where she earned her MFA. Her poems can be found in such venues as Kenyon Review, Poem-A-Day, Rhino, The Journal, Third Coast, Indiana Review, and most recently in the anthology The Mind Has Cliffs of Fall: Poems at the Extremes of Feeling, edited by Robert Pinsky. She can be found IRL in Brooklyn, NY and online at katiewillingham.com.

 

To download a printable PDF version of this page, click here.

 

 

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June 2020.KATIE WILLINGHAM