A Dream Upon Waking
— after Claudia Lars
How effortlessly the morning star
puts an end to an anxious night:
again, my dead have not killed me.
Courageous in the face of fear —
fear redeemed only by yielding —
I rise, take flight, wide with new light.
Between rising sun and setting moon,
I am absolute master of the sky,
unbroken by burdens of maternity,
the sticky embrace that hinders flight.
And when I glide, I glide like Hermes,
up from the underworld.
I neither ignore nor intoxicate
the faithful who seek my example, for I am familiar
with the Mother of Abomination:
the spider, the weaver
of the sap-threads of immobility
And so I soar, breathing deeply,
dreaming of beating all sorrows
In Time’s Furrow
— after Julia de Burgos
This poem was not written by Sharon Mesmer,
whose name means “complainer of insomnia.”
This poem was written by me,
whose name means “my eyes are filled with the graves of stars,
and that’s why I can’t fly.”
Who am I?
I am you.
Don’t you know me?
Well, when God asked you
who you wanted to be,
and you said “someone who sleeps peacefully,”
God wrote down “insomniac,”
gave your mother amnesia,
and she pushed you out like a _____ pushes a _____ out of a _____.
You fill in the blanks.
I’ve already done all the work.
What, you don’t believe me?
Well, keep in mind that when Sharon Mesmer writes a line like
“I gambled everything to be who I am,”
I know she’s trying to sound like Mary Oliver.
And I know you have never written yourself
into a position involving career advancement
or happiness, because you are no mere witness
How do I know?
Because I know that Heaven kills
that which is delicate, ignorant,
and only pure sorrow transforms a witness to inertia into an embodied form of joy
for all eternity.
Besides, we both know who’s really doing the writing.
I am the scaled fish who is writhing, still alive, in your hands,
my wild eyes pleading with you to _____.
You know what to do.
Start with feeling the constrictions
of my sticky wings.
I Grew Wings For You
— after Juana de Ibarbourou
“Crecí para ti
Florí para ti
Fluí para ti”
I never write.
I simply speak:
“Crecí para ti
Florí para ti
Fluí para ti”
And I repeat:
“ . . . para ti”
But only now
is my poem complete:
“Creci alas di
When I speak
I bless the grief
Mori por ti.
Crecí para ti — I grew for you
Florí para ti — I bloomed for you
Fluí para ti — I flowed for you
Creci alas por ti — I grew wings for you
Mori por ti — I died for you
(lines from the poem “El fuerte lazo” — “The Strong Bond”)
The three poems here are from a series I’ve been working on called “Even Living Makes Me Die.” The pieces are based on, and in conversation with, works by selected women poets of the Americas from the late 1800’s (i.e., Delmira Agustini, Alfonsina Storni, Juana de Ibarbourou) to the present time. Woven into the fabric of the collection are themes from each woman’s life and work: abandonment/recovery; flight/confinement; obscurity/fame; joy/despair; dependence/freedom. I began this project after doing an article for American Poetry Review on the late Costa Rican poet Eunice Odio — she died in 1974, her body undiscovered for days. In doing research on her, I had to really dig around for information. Odio’s work was almost unknown in this country until now — Tavern Books is publishing, in four volumes, her 400+ page epic poem, The Fire’s Journey. Most valuable to me were two books: Spanish American Women Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Source Book, edited by Diane Marting, and Twentieth-Century Latin American Poetry, edited by Stephen Tapscott. I paired the bios and critical assessments from Marting’s book with the translated works in Tapscott’s book, for more complete pictures of these women. I also ordered available collections in English. The circumstances of some of these women’s lives were tragic: some struggled in obscurity and poverty; some were killed by husbands or lovers; some committed suicide; some, like Odio, died alone or under mysterious circumstances. One wonders: how many other women’s voices still remain unheard, because of poverty, illness, lack of opportunities, direct interference by the men in their lives, or just plain bad luck? A trope running through all the poems is “wings.”
Sharon Mesmer’s newest poetry collection, Greetings From My Girlie Leisure Place, from Bloof Books, was voted “Best of 2015” by Entropy. Previous poetry collections are Annoying Diabetic Bitch (Combo Books, 2008), The Virgin Formica (Hanging Loose Press, 2008), Vertigo Seeks Affinities (Belladonna Books, 2007), Half Angel, Half Lunch (Hard Press, 1998) and Crossing Second Avenue (ABJ Press, Tokyo, 1997). Four of her poems appear in Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology (second edition, 2013). Other anthology appearances include Poems for the Nation: Edited by Allen Ginsberg (Seven Stories Press, 2000) and The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry (Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1999). Her fiction collections are Ma Vie à Yonago (Hachette Littératures, Paris, in French translation, 2005), In Ordinary Time (Hanging Loose Press, 2005) and The Empty Quarter (Hanging Loose Press, 2000). Her awards include a Fulbright Specialist grant, a Jerome Foundation/SASE award, and two New York Foundation for the Arts fellowships. Her essays, reviews and interviews have appeared in the New York Times, Paris Review, American Poetry Review, and the Brooklyn Rail, among other places. She teaches in the undergraduate and graduate programs of New York University and The New School, and lives in Brooklyn.