SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: CATHERINE PIERCE

Katie Pierce--MSU Creative Writing professor--author portraitPhoto by Megan Bean

BECAUSE I’LL NEVER SWIM IN EVERY OCEAN
By Catherine Pierce

Want is ten thousand blue feathers falling
all around me, and me unable to stomach
that I might catch five but never ten thousand.
So I drop my hands to my sides and wait
to be buried. I open a book and the words
spring and taunt. Flashes—motel, lapidary,
piranha—of every story, every poem I’ll never
know well enough to conjure in sleep.
What’s the point of words if I can’t
own them all? I toss book after book
into my imaginary trashcan fire.
Or I think I’ll learn piano. At the first lesson,
we’re clapping whole and half notes
and this is childish, I’m better than this.
I’d like to leave playing Ravel. I’d like
to give a concerto on Saturday. So I quit.
I have standards. Then on Saturday,
I have a beer, watch a telethon. Or
we watch a documentary on Antarctica.
The interviewees are from Belarus, Lima, Berlin.
Everyone speaks English. Everyone names
a philosopher, an ethos. One man carries a raft
on his back at all times. I went to Nebraska once
and swore it was a great adventure. It was.
I think of how I’ll never go to Antarctica,
mainly because I don’t much want to. But
I should want to. I should be the girl
with a raft on her back. When I think
of all the mountains and monuments
and skyscapes I haven’t seen, all the trains
I should take, all the camels and mopeds
and ferries I should ride, all the scorching
hikes I should nearly die on, I press
my body down, down into the vast green
couch. If I step out the door, the infinity
of what I’ve missed will zorro me across
the face with a big L for Lazy. Sometimes
I watch finches at the feeder, their wings small
suns, and have to grab the sill to steady myself.
Metaphorically, of course. I’m no loon.
Look—even my awestruck is half-assed.
But I’m so tired of the small steps—
the pentatonic scale, the frequent flyer
hoarding, the one exquisite sentence
in a forest of exquisite sentences.
There is a globe welling up inside of me.
Mountain ranges ridging my skin,
oceans filling my mouth. If I stay still
long enough, I could become my own world.

(Today’s poem originally appeared in Diode and appears here today with permission from the poet.)

Catherine Pierce is the author of The Girls of Peculiar (Saturnalia 2012) and Famous Last Words (Saturnalia 2008). Her poems have appeared in The Best American Poetry, Slate, Boston Review, Ploughshares, FIELD, and elsewhere. She lives in Starkville, Mississippi, where she co-directs the creative writing program at Mississippi State University.

Editor’s Note: Today’s poem speaks to the troubled inner workings of the Writer. Writer with a capital W because the poet speaks for writers at large. For the crippling fear that lies at the heart of my new mantra: Everything you want is on the other side of fear.

Catherine Pierce gets it. And she says it better than most, despite her willingness to “toss book after book into [her] imaginary trashcan fire” for the frustration of “every poem [she’ll] never know well enough to conjure.” The road to creation is paved with becoming “so tired of the small steps” because “There is a globe welling up inside of [you,]… oceans filling [your] mouth.” Yes, and yes, and amen.

Today’s poem is dedicated to Jenny Stella. Because. And then because, again. As for me, I have shared the poet’s struggle in my own art, in comic form, though admittedly with far less eloquence.

I should also note that I have had the pleasure of sharing Catherine Pierce’s work on this series before, and am continually drawn to the poet’s unparallelled way with words.

Want to read more by and about Catherine Pierce?
Catherine Pierce Official Website
Poems in The Kenyon Review
Poems in Diode volume 6 number 1
Order The Girls of Peculiar
Order Famous Last Words

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: CATHERINE PIERCE

FIREFLY
by Catherine Pierce

Its six legs coated with disease, it’s vulgar
like the aphid, the earwig. Its eyes are nightmare

globes. It does not love you or thank you
for the glass jar with air holes. Still, you want it

in your hands. Not for its yellow light like the soft
glow in the wooded cabin. Not for the vibrating

wings against your palms like champagne
bubbles bursting. Not even for the perfect

metaphors that ride on its sunflower-seed back—
the catching of a gone childhood, the memory

of keeping something alive. You pursue it
because it’s a slow beast, easily captured. Because

it hovers and floats. Because you can win at this,
and because it will fly off when you unfold

your hands, single-minded, unmoved by its loss.

 
(“Firefly” previously appeared in AGNI and is reprinted here today with permission from the poet.)
Catherine Pierce is the author of Famous Last Words (Saturnalia, 2008) and The Girls of Peculiar (forthcoming from Saturnalia in 2012). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Slate, Ploughshares, Boston Review, Best American Poetry 2011, and elsewhere. She lives in Starkville, Mississippi, where she teaches and co-directs the creative writing program at Mississippi State University.

Editor’s Note: I saw my first firefly this summer. I know, for those of you who grew up in the Midwest or on the East Coast this is a bit blasphemous, but we don’t have fireflies in San Francisco. I’ve dreamt of seeing one for as long as I can remember, and this summer, when conditions were right, someone who loves me very much and wanted to make my dream of fireflies a reality took me to an enchanted garden, and, lo and behold–magical creatures of my imagination! To me, today’s poem is as if looking at fireflies through Alice’s Looking Glass. I never understood why people would want to contain the creatures, how children could tear their glowing orbs from their bodies and wear them on the tips of their fingers.

Today’s poem is about the darker side of the allure of the firefly. Those human traits that make people want to capture them, to keep them in jars, to pursue only for the sake of the chase. Of course, as with so much poetry, today’s poem is also about human nature. “It does not love you or thank you / for the glass jar with air holes. Still, you want it / in your hands… Because you can win at this, / and because it will fly off when you unfold /your hands, single-minded, unmoved by its loss.”

Want to read more by and about Catherine Pierce?
Catherine Pierce Official Website
The Paris Review
Blackbird
Diode
Anti-Poetry