Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Stay - Kathleen McGookey (Press 53)

Today's book of poetry:
Stay.  Kathleen McGookey.  Press 53.  Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  2015.


"The worst thing you can imagine
is not the worst that that can happen to you."
                                                                                                          - Gary Young

It was only a few short months ago that Today's book of poetry wrote about Kathleen McGookey's excellent Heart In A Jar (White Pine Press, 2017), and you can read about that blog/book here:

Stay is an earlier selection of McGookey's fine work and we are excited to re-enter McGookey world.

McGookey writes picture perfect short little prose poems, they never tease but they are frequently testy.  Stay is all over the big issues, love and death, but her sting on these framework motifs has a much bigger bite than we expect.

Two Kinds of Anger

A possum on the dirt road, pink mouth open, insides bare to sky.
Alive with flies. Their mechanical buzz rises into the day, into the
promise of heat shimmering over the swamp. A swallowtail, its
yellow wings bright with sun, dips and swoops through the swarm.
It lands at the wound to feed.


Today's book of poetry is going a little wider of our mark than usual, we're including four poems today by McGookey simple because we like them that much.  McGookey isn't afraid to haunt your future dreams or to dissect a circumspect past, these poems are subtle darts.

Notes on 'The Accident'

I knew you had dogs--I didn't know their names--and they were jealous
of your baby. I never met your husband or saw your house in Arizona. I
knew you hated to lose things, but had to buy another plane ticket to Chicago,
another college algebra book. I keep dreaming I've misplaced my baby--
did you?

Years ago, at Wendy's wedding, you wanted to be married; your eyes filled
but the tears didn't spill over. I didn't touch you because I thought a touch
would make you cry more. Then you said, I believe Jesus died for me.

I know you remember this: the summer after we graduated, we met in Detroit,
in front of the Renaissance Center's fountain. You arrived first: tall, lanky,
short brown hair, and smiling broadly. The fountain's rainbows glistened
behind you. The last time I saw you, I told you I always thought of you in
this moment, walking towards me and smiling.


Kathleen McGookey has much to say about family, the intersection of generations, the illness and inevitable death of parents, childbirth, children: all common enough ground for the average reader.  But there is nothing common about McGookey's grief and anger, she owns it.  What she shares is the emotional space around the tragedy and small misfortunes of daily life.  And then there is hope.  

Like the very best of us do, McGookey is willing to spill her eloquent sorrow, render it until it becomes hope.

Birth Poem

Mention mother and I think of birth--my son's, five months ago--and
blood and cramps and more people putting their hands inside me than I can
stand. Someone drew four vials of blood and left quarter-sized bruises on
my arm. Dizzy, I watched the blood, thick and dark. Urine, feces, amniotic
fluid--they tested it all. The vomit they disposed of. They carefully measured
what went in and what came out. No matter--everything forced itself out.
I feel so strange, I said. But it felt good to hold handfuls of ice and sleep on
wet sheets thought I couldn't swallow the glass of ice water I'd dreamed
about. My room had no lock, but my favorite nurses knocked. People said
later, You poor thing! Nine weeks flat on your back. No one said, If you get up, your
baby will die. The nurses all said, This will give you something to write about.

Writing's more private than birth. No poem's lifted out whole, like my son.
But some, like him, in need. And--with luck--a moment of grace. . . A
stranger, a doctor, held my hand while another stitched me up.


Today's book of poetry has never had children but Kathleen McGookey surrounds the reader with such convincing evidence you might feel you've shared her experience.  You certainly get a little closer to the intense drama of your body being a vessel beyond your authority.

McGookey is a poet of intimacy and the precise fluctuations of the heart between joy, anguish, exhaustion and fear, all those real human moments that push us through the day and into the night.

This morning's read at the Today's book of poetry offices was a rapid fire cavalcade of McGookey as Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, insisted we include Heart In A Jar for another kick at the can.  The two books are seamless, it is clear that McGookey has found her voice.  

Today's book of poetry loved the "anger" poems in Stay.  McGookey allows her "anger" a personality and character all its own.  She may also be absconding all responsibility for her "anger's" actions, we just like watching her play.  "Anger" follows McGookey around like a spoiled younger sister.

My Anger Takes a Road Trip

Right now My Anger's stuck on a two-lane highway under construction,
slowly driving past heaps of concrete and bent rebar, a pile of burning tires
sending up tarry smoke. She likes how the long grass in the median bows
down as she goes by. Near the overpass, a bunny the size of her hand
crouches in the weeds. My Anger sets it on the concrete, stirs the flames,
and reaches for a sandhill crane made of steel, each outstretched feather a
razor. She wants to flatten the lindens shading the riverwalk, their delicate
perfumed bells opening over her head. She wants to uproot the tin sunflowers
that line County Road 81. Next to the highway, cattle lie in dirt stockyards
that stretch for miles. My Anger likes to imagine she is one of the last to see
those animals alive.


Today's book of poetry is grateful that we got a chance to see Stay by Kathleen McGookey.  We were certain of how we felt about McGookey's poetry after reading Heart In A Jar, Stay only confirmed what we already knew, our best feelings.

When you can cook like this you're always going to be welcome in our kitchen.

Kathleen McGookey


Kathleen McGookey’s prose poems and translations have appeared in many journals and anthologies, including Crazyhorse, Denver Quarterly, Epoch, Field, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Quarterly West, The Best of The Prose Poem: An International Journal, The Party Train: A Collection of North American Prose Poetry, and The House of Your Dream: An International Collection of Prose Poetry. The forthcoming anthology Nothing to Declare: A Guide to the Flash Sequence includes her work, and her poetry collection, At the Zoo, will be published by White Pine Press in spring 2017. She has received grants from the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation, the Arts Fund of Kalamazoo County, the Sustainable Arts Foundation, and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She has taught creative writing at Hope College, Interlochen Arts Academy, and Western Michigan University. She lives in Middleville, Michigan, with her family.

There is such pain and such beauty in Stay, and there are so many astonishing moments of what I can only call distilled reverie, I feel nothing short of awe after reading this collection. McGookey's poems shimmer with a profound sense of love and loss and wonder. Each one is like a section of stained glass window. Together they are an illumination.
     —Nin Andrews, author of Why God Is a Woman
The small spaces of Kathleen McGookey’s intimate prose poems are uncannily expansive. As they move through experiences of caretaking and motherhood, birth and death, grief and anger, wishes and prayers, they challenge ordinary conceptions of what domestic life is and what it can be. Stay casts a spell that slows time down, allowing us to enter the vibrant and variegated texture of real alertness.
     —Mary Szybist, author of Incarnadine

I love Kathleen McGookey’s poems — their tenderness and their strangeness, how the spareness of their language points to both absence and presence, how the poems go, unflinchingly, straight through grief to beauty, and the heart.
Each of the prose poems that make up Stay is a small window into a life lived with almost excruciating awareness, filled with the details of “ordinary” life, made extraordinary by the poet’s luminous attention to what goes on around and within her and those she loves. Family life, especially, is rendered with such exquisite precision and compassion — the loss of beloved parents; the birth of children — that we’re reminded what it’s like to be fully human, under “a sky that keeps right on vanishing,” haunted as much by “the kiss on the shoulder” as by “the fledgling death working its wet wings.”
McGookey infuses her poems with sensuality and mystery — the mystery of being alive, and of death, and of love — and yet the poems are open, accessible, quietly startling in their unfolding, each playing out like a fable or a fairytale, each with a kind of aching magic inside it.
     —Cecilia Woloch, author of Carpathia

Kathleen McGookey is poetry’s Joseph Cornell. In her daring new collection, Stay, she re-assembles what we, without a nod, pass by every day. In doing so McGookey reveals that—no matter what the arrangement—the world is seamless. Her stunningly uncommon intelligence shows us that if there is order, it can be created from most anything, and yet her fresh and penetrating perceptions are never arbitrary. Like Cornell’s deceptively welcoming boxes, these poems leave us refreshingly off-kilter and deeply grateful that we have been invited to stay.
     —Jack Ridl, author of Losing Season and Practicing to Walk Like a Heron 


Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.

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