July 1–7, 2013
Monica Ferrell is the author of a novel The Answer Is Always Yes (The Dial Press/Random House, 2008) and a collection of poems, Beasts for the Chase (Sarabande, 2008), selected by Jane Hirshfield as the winner of the 2007 Kathryn A. Morton Poetry Prize. A former “Discovery”/the Nation prizewinner and Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, her poems have appeared in Paris Review, Tin House, Boston Review, Fence, New York Review of Books and other magazines and anthologies. She is an associate professor of creative writing at Purchase College – SUNY and lives in Cobble Hill.
As the Eyelid Protects the Eye
Tonight, I might approach you;
That’s possible. Might creep over the ocean,
Whose grey-blue waves would bend to my foot
As they bend to any good purpose,
And slide myself down your street,
Up the steps to the room where you are sleeping
In the striped sheets. Down beneath the skin
Of your skull right now dreams are sweeping
The way water sweeps in the shallow edge of a pond,
Dark and murmurous, amoral; untrustworthy,
But you don’t know that. You let them drift,
Take pleasure in the sand they raise up, swirling
As if it were anything more than that,
The simple play of what is deathless
Because it has nothing to do with life.
And when I drape my invisible gauze
Body about you like the metal apron
In an x-ray chamber, don’t be surprised
How they fizzle out like moths in flame,
How their supernal voices go speechless
As beast-barks, so that helpless choir disbands—
Because it would have been for this only
That the moon held steady her milky flashlight
And the waves went lead as I crept from my window,
That the granite of gravestones tightened
In expectation, and even the flowers beating
Like time-bombs in the soil paused, breathless
At the event. Everything in the world knows
What you are too asleep to see. And wants
What you do not wish for now, tossing in transparencies.
Everything with life in it has my love
For you purled inside it like a strand of hair
Which, when plucked, releases volumes of feeling.
When I arrive, you will be like the sick girl
Of whom Jesus said, She is not dead, but sleeping.
With my fist on your forehead, my lips at your neck.
–From Beasts for the Chase, Sarabande Books, 2008.
Tell us about the making of this poem.
I wrote this poem in the spring of 2007. At the time, I was re-reading Anna Karenina, and I was struck by a phrase about Seryozha, Anna’s young son: that he protected his soul as carefully “as the eyelid protects the eye.” Seryozha has been left behind with his father and, while suffering the attentions of a sanctimonious do-gooder, one of Karenin’s friends, has to determine for himself whom to trust, whom to open up to. I thought about someone I knew, who that same spring was falling deeply into an attachment with a woman I worried didn’t have my friend’s best interests at heart. Part of their connection was their vibrant dream-life, and I started thinking about dreams as the insubstantial reflection of reality. From there, the poem took on its own life.
What are you working on right now?
I am finishing my second collection of poetry and working on a new novel.
What’s a good day for you?
A good day for me is waking up, getting to my desk with a cup of coffee, and writing for three hours. After that, yoga and voyaging out from my apartment for errands and a walk would be a nice touch.
How long have you lived in Brooklyn? What neighborhood do you live in? What do you like most about it?
I’ve lived in Cobble Hill for almost nine years. I love its architecture, its huge sycamores, the little inner streets that pop up for the length of a block–they feel like tiny secrets suddenly divulged as you stumble upon them.
Favorite Brooklyn poet(s), dead and/or alive?
Hart Crane. For his diction.
Favorite Brooklyn bookstore(s)?
Favorite places to read and write in Brooklyn (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
I like Café Pedlar on Court Street. The stripped-down interior allows me to have clarity of mind, and I appreciate their inventive and extravagant floral displays.
Favorite places to go in Brooklyn not involving reading or writing?
Last awesome book(s) you read?
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate __________,
And what I __________ you should __________,
For every __________ me as good __________ you.
Gosh, I could never mad lib Whitman! In part because I dislike those lines so intensely. Why should I care, I’d like to say to the self-obsessed and, to my mind, narcissistic speaker of those lines, what you celebrate? Why should I assume what you assume?
As my grandmother would say, Why not!