From PAPER COTTON LEATHER
By Jenny Sadre-Orafai:
RETRACT OR RECANT
This accordion love expands or exhales,
retracts or recants. It is only as much
as we allow. It squeezes out warnings
of cardboard walls closing in.
Its wheezing fills a willful tide
with dread. I turn to this gone
love. I was taught curve into the slide
when spinning on frozen road.
CUTTING YOUR HAIR
When I was done, a ring of hair
or a halo curved your hunched
shoulders. Your broad back didn’t
flinch when the scissors’ legs twitched,
when I wanted to cut more than you mimed.
I pretend you’re dead.
I don’t let them say your name.
I was taught it’s impolite
to talk behind a dead man’s back.
I wear black four months and ten days.
I smell your clothes before
hand washing, bagging,
and then giving them away.
I don’t give your mother a thing.
I pray for what’s left of you.
I stack the wedding ring, all the rings
you gave me on my right hand,
my proclamation that you are no longer
with us or like us, the living, listening.
I tell myself what I tell myself
to keep from going back.
Today’s poems are from Paper, Cotton, Leather, published by Press 53, copyright © 2014 by Jenny Sadre-Orafai, and appear here today with permission from the poet.
PAPER COTTON LEATHER: “The specter of divorce haunts Sadre-Orafai’s debut, although Paper, Cotton, Leather is much more than a lyrical response to loss. Paper, Cotton, Leather is an instruction manual for the amateur anthropologist, the domestic ghost-hunter, and the doomsday prepper. In ‘Retract or Recant,’ Sadre-Orafai writes: ‘I was taught curve into the slide/when spinning on frozen road.’ This is exactly what Paper, Cotton, Leather can teach us: how to navigate the heart’s switchbacks, how to survive a spin-out on its loneliest back roads.” —Shelley Puhak, author of Guinevere in Baltimore (From the Press 53 website.)
Jenny Sadre-Orafai is the author of four poetry chapbooks—Weed Over Flower (Finishing Line Press), What Her Hair Says About Her (H_NGM_N Books), Dressing the Throat Plate (Finishing Line Press), and Avoid Disaster (Dancing Girl Press). Her poetry has appeared in H_NGM_N, Gargoyle, Rhino, Redivider, PANK, Mount Hope, Sixth Finch, iO: A Journal of New American Poetry, and other journals. Her creative nonfiction has been published in The Los Angeles Review, South Loop Review, and The Rumpus. She co-founded and co-edits the literary journal Josephine Quarterly. She lives in Atlanta and is an Associate Professor of English at Kennesaw State University.
Editor’s Note: Reading Paper, Cotton, Leather is like reading a diary written in achingly executed lyric. The compact, controlled poems function almost ironically; tiny scaffolding straining beneath the pressure of massive weight and breadth. The poems are honest. Fiercely, unapologetically honest. Surely it took no small amount of courage for the poet to sift through the wreckage of her failed marriage and catalogue its failures for us in verse.
In the poem “Fortune,” Sadre-Orafai writes, “Our pictures live in a box marked / THE PAST in my parents’ garage.” Each poem reads like its own discreet picture from that box. Vignettes of trying, failing, moving on, and learning to let go. Together those pictures—these poems—tell a story. This book is carefully held by a narrative arc that gives the illusion that we might piece together the end of this marriage like a puzzle. And yet, You know nothing, Jon Snow. This is an expertly crafted book of poems, not a memoir. We are left only with what the poet chooses to reveal. With what poetry is perhaps best at conveying. A selection of life’s moments as if through lens and shutter. Emotion. Regret and loss and heartache. Experience that finds a kindred spirit in the reader. This is a book that one reads to remember that life’s trials are universal, that we are not alone.
We are not alone. So many of us know, or have known, love like an accordion, squeezing out warnings, wheezing and transforming into gone love. “Cutting Your Hair” recalls Delilah, in all her power, destroying her lover. So, too, does that recollection call forth Regina Spektor (who is quoted in one of the book’s epigrams) in her song “Sampson”: “I cut his hair myself one night, a pair of dull scissors in the yellow light.” In this manner one can read Paper, Cotton, Leather like an archaeologist, dusting away layers to discern history, or, as Shelley Puhak suggests, like an anthropologist, observing humanity, past and present. So how does the poet pick herself up, dust herself off, and move into the future? In the most human way imaginable: striving and imperfect. “I pretend you’re dead. / I don’t let them say your name.” “I smell your clothes before / hand washing, bagging, / and then giving them away.” “I tell myself what I tell myself / to keep from going back.”