Talking with Poets (page 2)
Talking with Poets
page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4, page 5
Do you have a line or two (or three) that expresses the experience for you from one of your poems?

    She wants to know my name,
    where I’m from,
    how old I am.
    Her questions come as quick as water
    rippling over rocks.

These lines are from “On the Roof of the Hotel Pasaje.” For me, they capture the experience of being in a foreign country — how people were curious about me and how I, in turn, was curious about them. From such curiosity (and such questions) grew many friendships.

Conlon: I was a PCV in Botswana but lived only a few miles from the South African border. As a result I spent a good deal of time in South Africa with friends from all racial groups, and I found myself in Cape Town on the very first day after the beaches had been desegregated. Here’s a three-line poem about it:

    Beaches Open To All Races Today
    Cape Town. 1990

    Two little girls, shadow-colored and shining,
    splash naked in the open sun: happy as porpoises,
    as if the waves were not white, merely water.

Szumowski: I had a hard time choosing, but this is from “Ngorogoro”:

    In hot dust the markets wait. Flies crowd the bloody meat, the black fish.
    Hawkers and urchins pester me, beggars tear at my sleeve. The women pull me
    again. I want this world.


    Out of her good heart, my neighbor
    gave me a chicken.
    I was a stranger,

These are the opening lines of “Chicken Tied Up in a Red Handkerchief,”: a sestina I wrote using the endwords “neighbor,” “chicken,” “stranger,” “knife,” “heart” and “yard.”
     Shortly before I was scheduled to leave my post in Fatick, Senegal, a friend gave me a chicken as a going-away gift. The irony, of course, was that I had to kill it in order to appreciate it as a gift. In retrospect, I see this irony as emblematic. Africa blasted away any number of self-imposed limitations, so that afterwards, as a writer, I could begin to give myself away.


    By evening when she tastes
    my color coated chocolates
    shares them with her friends
    we both will recall the nomad
    the other woman
    that we each might have been.


    And I searched to forego belonging
    like a Bedouin who leaves her home

    hung inside a desert tree
    knowing it does not really matter

    if the branches are bare when she returns,
    if she decides, to come back this way again.

From “Gift”

    I was given a sliver
    of tongue, of the tongue that belled in that head
    roped to the tree as the blade
    narrowed. It tasted

    of river, a bed of mud, near clarity
    Stammering over stone.

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