Poems by Pamela Spiro Wagner

Here are a few sample poems from my new book WE MAD CLIMB SHAKY LADDERS, (which, despite what many have been told IS available from Amazon and B & N and upne.com so keep trying if you have been told it is not…I know as I just got some extra copies from amazon). Here is just a teaser to get people interested:

These first two are from the first section, which concerns my childhood and the first intimations of illness. Here are the first indications that touch is difficult, even threatening to me. In the second poem, I describe my twin sister’s wholly different attitude towards her body, how in a more innocent time, wolf whistles by teen age boys were considered harmless, complimentary even, and wearing tight jeans was not an invitation to anything but, as in this poem, pleasure on the part of both young men and the young woman described…

AMBIVALENCE

Touch me. No, no, do not touch.

I mean: be careful —

if I break into a hundred pieces

like a Ming vase falling from the mantle

it will be your fault.

JUNIOR MISS

Cool as Christmas

plump as a wish

and simonpure as cotton

You stroll the avenue

mean in your jeans

and the boys applaud.

You toss off a shrug

like a compliment

with a flicker of disdain

Catching the whistle

in mid-air and

pitching it back again.

“Eating the Earth” is more or less a true story insofar  the little boy in a nearby neighborhood did rub a certain little girl’s face in dirt for telling him where babies came from  and she did dream the dream descrbed. What this all means is up to the reader to decide, however.

EATING THE EARTH

After Tyrone, the little boy next door,

makes her eat a handful of dirt

for telling lies

about where babies come from

her father says it will do her no harm.

You have to eat a peck of dirt

before you die, her father says.

He also says she hadn’t lied:

babies do come that way.

She cries after her father

leaves the room and she sleeps

all night with the lights on.

Her father tells her other things,

that earthworms eat their own weight in dirt

every day and that their do-do

(he says “excrement”)

fertilizes our food.

She makes a face over that

and doesn’t believe him.

Besides, she says, we’re people

not worms.

And we’re so great, huh? he says.

Well, I’d rather be a girl than a worm.

He says nothing.

He is grown up and a doctor,

he doesn’t have to worry about

being a worm.

But she does.

That night she dreams that Tyrone

dumps a jar of worms down her shirt

and that their dreadful undulations

become hers and she begins

eating dirt

and liking it,

the cool coarse grains of sand,

the spicy chips of mica,

the sweet-sour loam become her body

as she lives and breathes,

eating the darkness.


FUSION

It was a frying pan summer.

I was playing croquet by myself,

missing the wickets on purpose,

rummaging my pockets for dime-sized diversions.

It was a summer of solitaire.

I laid the cards out like soldiers.

I was in command.

Then you came out

with a mallet and a stolen voice

that seemed to rise disembodied

from the gorge of your black throat

and you challenged me to a game.

You ate me with your mosquito demands

though I, I didn’t want to play with anyone!

I hid my trembling in my sleeves

refusing to shake your hand.

I thought: this is how the Black Death was

transmitted, palm to palm, hand to hand,

a contagion like money.

You smiled the glassy grimace

practiced for boys all summer in front of a mirror.

If I looked you in the eye I would die.

I knew then all the sharp vowels of fear.

It was late in the afternoon

and I was frightened

when our shadows merged.


OUR MOTHER’S DAUGHTERS

I dreamed my mother cut off

my baby toes, the suturing so perfect

she left no gangrene, no scars, just a fine line

of invisible thread and four toes on each foot

instead of five. The job done, she left me

at the “crutches store” on Whitney Avenue

where I could find no crutches to fit

and so hobbled back toward home

alone and lopsided.

This is true, and she was a good mother

most of the time, which meant

that I never lacked for anything

she could buy, yet still I grew up lame,

disfigured (though not in any

noticeable way) and always with the sense

I had been abandoned before my time.

This has all been said before: our mothers

leave us, then or now, later or sooner,

and we hobble like cripples

toward the women in our lives

who can save us. Or else we limp homeward

knowing we will never make it back

before we wake up. And when we do wake up

we find we, too, are mothers, trying desperately

to save our daughters’ legs

by amputating their smallest least necessary

toes, taking the toes to save the feet

to save the legs they stand on

in a world where we ourselves

are not yet grounded.


PARANOIA

You know something is going on.

It is taking place just beyond the range

of your hearing, inside that house

on the corner needing paint and shutters,

the one with the cluttered yard

you always suspected sheltered friends

in name only. It may be in the cellar

where the radio transmitter is being built

or the satellite. A cabal of intelligence

is involved, CIA, MI-6, Mossad.

It is obvious plans are being made;

didn’t your boss arch his eyebrows

while passing your desk this morning,

grunt hello, rather than his usual

“Howahya?” There are veiled threats

to your life and livelihood. Someone

is always watching you watching

and waiting for whatever is going

to happen to happen.


THE CATATONIC SPEAKS

At first it seemed a good idea not to

move a muscle, to resist without

resistance. I stood still and stiller. Soon

I was the stillest object in that room.

I neither moved nor ate nor spoke.

But I was in there all the time,

I heard every word said,

saw what was done and not done.

Indifferent to making the first move,

I let them arrange my limbs, infuse

IVs, even toilet me like a doll.

Oh, their concern was so touching!

And so unnecessary. As if I needed anything

but the viscosity of air that held me up.

I was sorry when they cured

me, when I had to depart that warm box,

the thick closed-in place of not-caring,

and return to the world. I would

never go back, not now. But

the Butterfly Effect says sometimes

the smallest step leads nowhere,

sometimes to global disaster. I tell you

it is enough to scare a person stiff.

3 thoughts on “Poems by Pamela Spiro Wagner”

  1. Pamela,

    I was so moved by your book that I will be hosting a discussion with the 15 women in my book club on March 25th. Through my work with autistic children, I know the impact of a sensory system that’s askew. And through my husband’s volunteer efforts with the homeless, we have met many who have suffered with mental illness. I would love to give a current update on you and I pray that you are well. You are a courageous woman!

    Gayle Cole
    Southlake,TX

  2. I’d have to say that I enjoyed the poems with out the explainations the best, though that could be the first few gave a little history for the later that I read. I like your style, it is refreshing and reminds me of Robert Frost’s way of telling a story. Subtle yet vivid imagery is the only way I can think of the bits and pieces of your poems that lend power to the rest and tug the heart. Thank you.

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