I, mother of three, can escape for a night. But I get a headache just trying to remember the last reading I attended...ten years ago, was it?! I think so...Tess Gallagher, talking about her life with Raymond Carver. I wondered what Gallagher meant when she mentioned the obligations of running a household (I was teaching a couple classes--using Carver’s Where I’m Calling From--pregnant with my first child, clueless). I remember thinking, Gallagher keeps house? Writers keep house? I clung instead to her next image: Gallagher and Ray looking over one another’s work (guests gone, dishes done) like a pair of horses, one black, one white, pulling the chariot of poetry behind them.
Everything’s lined up: the husband agrees to watch the kids, Liz will drive. I don’t even know who we’ll hear at the bookstore, but I’m busting out. Glitch one: my husband’s cross-country team needs a chaperone for the weekend. Liz’s husband graciously offers to entertain, in addition to their son, my three children; embarrassed by the last-minute ditch, I agree. My two-year old clambers up beside Liz’s husband, and says, Go away Mom, bye. Liz and I don our coats and head for the door. Until (glitch two) my middle child (the five-year-old) falls to the ground, wraps his arms around my ankles, and cries on my shoelaces.
Sure, bring him-- Liz says kindly, she in her lovely black pants, top, scarf. I disengage my son from my snot-damp sweats, zip up the old blue overcoat and take his hand. We’re late; when we walk in a poet’s wrapping up a stanza. We grab a couple seats on the fringe; my son plunks down on the floor. We make it through the next speaker’s comments about the book he’s compiled on Philip Whalen. Then my son (on his stomach) creeps towards the bookshelves on the far wall. The weight-loss section keeps him a few seconds: on one cover, a woman in tight scarlet pants holds a platter of fruit. A few headshots of perky brunettes, blondes, tilted and smiling. My son stealth-crawls, fist over fist, to Relationships: beaming couples that beat the odds and stayed together. I’m wondering where photos of all the couples that didn’t make it end up. My friend’s listening, probably actually absorbing the poetry. When my son starts drumming on the shelves, I scoop him up and step outside.
I’m sorry, I say to Liz when we reappear (my son and I having downed ice-cream cones around the corner and yet another poet at the mic), I have to go. I’m worried about the two-year-old (who informs me indignantly when we get to the house that he’d like to stay longer). It’s not that I can’t stomach poetry anymore--though, on occasion, I too, dislike it (as Marianne Moore opens with in her crucial poem Poetry)—but after eight years of either being pregnant or nursing a baby I’m used to sleeping by 9. I’m grateful we escaped, edging back to the public world of poetry, and for those rare minutes I got to spend alone with my son over scoops of mint-chip ice-cream. I’m just a bad date these days, I remark on the way out of Liz’s house. Don’t mention it, she says, and shortly scores us a pair of tickets to hear Mary Oliver, balcony seats, the parking lot and entire theater--we note with glee--full of people who came out just for the love of poetry.
(See also: A Dangerous Mission: Tess Gallagher by Gary Lehman on Gallagher’s trajectory as a writer and which portion of her writing defines her in the public eye at: http://jmww.150m.com/Gallagher.html )
(For complete text of Moore’s poem: http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/poems/1169.html)