Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Iron Lung: Iron Buttefly (poem)

(Mercury Zephyr)

This isn't new, it's a sort of poem-portrait of a long-time friend, Judy Steadman, who left catepillar stage a few years ago. One of the odd things is I wrote the poem convinced that the car she drove throughout her "independent" life was a Mercury Monarch, apparently it was a Mercury Zephyr which would have made for interesting imagery as well about air, wind, etc. but Monarch just seemed to work. She was a fine poet and I'll try to add some of her actual poetry to this post when I get the chance though I don't know that I can find the poem where she claimed she wanted Dobie Gray's Drift Away played at her wake. I sampled the song in the poem, not sure if the technique worked, but whatever :}.

One of the weird things about blogging is you, the blogger, often think it's a sign that people from your regular life care about you if they read your blog regularly. It doesn't always work that way at all. On the other hand, had she been around for it, Judy was a friend who would have read my blog regularly as her way to show that she cared. Few writers are actually that generous, but Judy was.

Iron Lung: Iron Butterfly

link to Dobie Gray's version of Drift Away

I gave you the breath to feel your soul
You were 41:
your second husband, the veterinarian
Bought you the baby blue 1980 Mercury Monarch
The next Christmas, he added a set of spinners from Kragen
Chromed strippers' tassles to adorn your hubcaps
Which you took to mean
that neither you nor the car
Were quite shiny enough for him
You liked the car just as it was
one of the last Monarchs off the East St. Louis assembly line
An unspoken kinship to obsolete metal containers, perhaps?
Having learned to drive after 40
Could you start your life as easily as your car?
The black raised knob
on the Monarch's steering wheel
the one hint that we had once been close
The wood-sided B st. House
fruit salsa and blue corn tortillas
blue-tiled kitchen hardwood floors
Law degree and real estate license
In drawer of vintage oak dresser
Wasn't this a better life than you dared imagine?
Even if the television was always on

When you were 8:
Your mother coaxed you to sleep
by telling you not to think of iron lungs
As a prison for polio
but science's promise
to take you
Where gravity and atmosphere couldn't punish children
who swam in the wrong creek
"Dream of flyingof outer space,"
She would whisper
You locked inside me
the middle of this rocket ship
mounted on a four castered gurney
the two of us plugged into the wall
Your breath: my electric motor and steel canister
Only your mind was free

Even at 23:
You never dared tell her
That you never dreamt of rockets
or of being the first woman supreme court justice
That I instead was a cocoon
that the catepillar inside
Was no American cosmonaut
Bringing democracy to the man in the moon
The benefits of electric kitchens to Phobos
or Troy Donahue to Demos
Just a butterfly
Feminine, beautiful, the insect world's version of purple
Yet Day after Day you were more confused
Even in the light of the pouring rain
At 42:
You found the key
You drove away
Traded 2300 feet of house
for one bedroom, a cat, a favorite couch
A front desk job at a motel
I didn't understand the things you do
your world looked so unkind

At 43:
You started writing
About a murderer just freed from prison
and a friend with AIDS
You cried as you read aloud
to an unmoved room
Only I understood:
You were finally plugging me back into you
Poetry was not protein
It was a cube of sugar
dipped red in Sabin serum
less to nourish than to heal.
Not steel and electric motor
Unalloyed sweetness.
you started counting on poems
to carry you through

At 51:
You found the breath to free your soul
living your life in your own rock and roll
you wrote away with
A lady who lived in a dome
An unwed grandmother who once ran a bar
A doughnut maker turned college professor
Family tied by words not blood

At 58:
You were the last responaut, the explorer of breath
Teaching your students
that if breath is proof of life
Words were proof of breath.

At 60:
Your mother's dream
Of rocket ship daughter as Sandra Day O'connor
Had burned in the atmosphere
Her unspoken fear:
That her iron lung daughter would never find a husband?
Your fear:
That your lost marriages and careers
Had been part of her overdose of unlaunched dreams
Lived through you
If only she could have seen
That even a rocket ship
Could be a kind of prison

Mrs. Steadman
Your daughter
Filled us with her breath
we believe in her song
she helped us along
made us strong
23 year old baby blue
Mercury Monarch
the engine stops
the window opens
From the steering wheel's black knob
A Monarch Butterfly
Spreads her wings
And floats away.

link to other Chancelucky poems here

Petaluma Poetry Walk organized by Geri Digiorno, Sonoma County Poet Laureate



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