Thursday, September 13, 2007

Rehab, Week 2: What Am I So Afraid Of, Anyway?

This week's Traveling Poetry Show trigger, as it was called last week, is about confronting my writing fears. I knew exactly what I needed to do, as soon as I read the post. I need to revise some poetry.

I've written about revision here before, but I've been doing a paltry amount of revising lately. Why? Because I contemplate revising with a combination of fear and dread. Even though I love editing other people's work and encourage them (and my students, for instance) to revise, revise, revise, I approach revising with a combination of fear and dread. I fear it because, basically, there are so many what-ifs involved. What if I make the poem worse? What if I can't make it better? What if I can't see the true nature (and therefore the truth) in this poem?

But, I did it, because I was forced to revise this week, or else find something else to be afraid of, I revised two poems that I wrote for Poetry Thursday long ago. Now, I revised based on my writing group's (she's really just one other writer) suggestions, so they aren't dramatic re-visions. They are more tinkering. But dang it, I tried. Click on their titles to see the original versions of the poems. I welcome any feedback on the new versions.

Spare Some Change

On the day I was baptized,
I chose my new name, not the one
my parents had given me, the one
I’ve outgrown, like two year old jeans.

My new friend, God, cornered me,
dipped his dirty fingers into our bottle
of Popov Vodka, and sprinkled
fiery drops on my sunburned forehead.
I was already living for two months
on this empty road, alone.

Already traded my pink retainer
for 5 dented cans of beans. Already defended
our drafty warehouse squat
from rats the size of my two fists. Dove head first
into the McDonald's dumpster, rescued
three garbage bags of stale hamburger buns.
Drank rainwater from crumpled coffee cups,
thrown in the gutter. Memorized
my own way of asking for change:

Spare some nickels for a girl
who can't go home?

Already thought of home
on those dank drizzling nights when I shook,
even in an alcoholic slumber. Healed
from my first street beating, black eyes
and cracked rib, for picking
someone else's off ramp. Already remembered
Dad's hands on the covers, on the blue nightgown

the thick stench of whisky and coke
on his hot breath. Already forgot
that girl I once was,
braces, B-average, and brand new
shoes every other month. Already tried
calling Mom twice,
hung up before I lost the change.

the day I was baptized, renamed
on a barely lit alley at midnight,
behind the restaurant dumpster,
in front of all of my friends,

I'd already chosen this empty stomach life
because some things are better
than living at home.

* * * *

Self Portrait, 1991

Red Lipstick

Each morning, I painted my lips dark red
with Wet N Wild 99 cent lipstick, number 516.
I dreamed myself invincible,
as I blotted, pressed and powdered
until I a brown-red stain

seeped into my skin. I turned
my music up loud, listened
to Rage Against the Machine,
and thought I could,
listened to The Cure
and waited for it. In school,

I was mostly invisible, silent,
next to all the other girls with blue-red
war paint smeared across their lips.
I was just another one, cloaked
in black and skinny enough
to squeeze through the crack

in the high school fence. We broke
into our parents’ houses, with keys
hidden in secret pouches
in our Pic N Save purses, punched
in the alarm codes,
before it went off.

My house had Bud Light and nosy neighbors,
Elena’s had a liquor cabinet
with Sharpie lines drawn on the bottle’s sides.
We cracked open Cokes
and poured in whiskey and rum,
vodka and peach schnapps,
filled the bottles with water, right below
the line. We invited the boys
to watch them slam beers
and mosh to Metallica.

One guy said he went to juvie
for assault with a deadly weapon, pulled
back his bangs, bared his forehead,
where he bashed the guy’s skull
open with his own. I laughed,
but left him alone.

One afternoon, Elena’s dad came home,
found us curled on the couch,
drunk and watching MTV.
Her father screamed in Russian,
his face red and swollen. We snuck
out the back door.

The next morning, she answered the door,
slowly, wincing as she moved. Her nightgown
slipped to show her shoulder
covered in red welts. Her father
stood behind her, hand above her head,
pushing the door until it clicked shut
and I walked back to school, alone.


gautami tripathy said...

It was like talking to oneself. I had that feeling after reading both.

I like second one becos I can somewhat relate to it.

joezul said...

I like the narration flow of both, it's so fluid. I thinks the first one symbolism of being reborn is the best .

paisley said...

my comment was quickly becoming a post... this has brought some real feeling to the surface i will have to explore more... you can expect a follow up post from me...

Jo said...

I don't have time to properly comment now (I should be feeding children) but I am totally blown away by your voice, by each new piece I read. That is some talent you've got. In the past few weeks I've come across the most amazingly talented people........and life is better for reading your work.

tumblewords said...

Raw. Readable. You write with such passion and fine words as well as rhythm. Revision? Hmmm.

...deb said...

Hi Jessica,

These are beautiful. The nuanced revisions work; I don't think they didn't need big changes.

Thanks for the comments on stoney moss--though I should clarify the poem for this prompt is Whirling Dervish's, not mine. But I do agree with you :-)

polka dot witch said...

even without the burden of the task of revision, these poems are very brave.

These both work very well! I love narrative poetry but i'm afraid of my own ... maybe that's where i should go then! thank YOU for going there.

re: revision ... i didn't read the originals. on purpose. i try to believe that each revision (or round of revisions) is its own piece. sometimes, i know i've "lost" somethng in a second draft. but the first draft isn't necessarily where to look, in my case. if it's missing something, it's missing something and it must find it on its own.

that's the line i try to draw with myself anyway. it doesn't always work. stop by and remind me of my own words sometime! :)

LJCohen said...

Raw and intense reads, both of them. One of the ways I get around my fear of revision is to keep every version of a poem in process. That way, if I think I've stripped away something vital, I can recover it.

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