October 5–11, 2015
Regan Good is the author of The Atlantic House published by Harry Tankoos Books. She currently teaches poetry and creative writing at the Fashion Institute of Technology. New poems from her manuscript The Needle have appeared recently in FENCE, Hinchas de Poesia and Ladowich Magazine, and are forthcoming in The Literary Review.
Author photo by Marion Ettlinger
By Order of the Eastern Star
By the Rings of Hester and the Armies of Ruth—
with emblems of biblical heroines and lopsided brick
molds, needles, and roped weights. Roster marks
defined your comportment by systems and degrees.
And so by continual refinements you advanced.
In this assembly, your sisters were ever angels, Mother.
Each in white floaty dresses turned black in time.
The fathers carried caliper and flathead trowel.
They laid the paving stones and built the domiciles.
In secrecy and togetherness, you were never Widow
Mother, only Star Point. And Rainbow Girl.
Fairest among Ten Thousand, Altogether Lovely,
an orchid corsage straight-pinned to your fatal bib—
with a rusted adder clasp.
The color ladder you climbed led to a pot of pagan gold.
With your white-buck Pocahontas apron and a book of rules,
you extended beyond your station, until all of Egypt lapped
at your slippered feet. The crouching lion drew its beaded
jaw along the mud, startled by your smell, and fled.
Your future was Damask Rose and Lily of the Valley.
A Yankee Doodle fair with blue and red sugar cones.
All Blue Willow swallows turning over an oriental bridge.
One promised gold armatures in every drinking-water well.
And leafy celery stalks in an etched and fluted glass.
A failing brass-hearted Patron undermined your Electra.
With you well dressed in the house of Dutch Reform, facing east,
the belfry called the poor through its doors—
and married them.
Witnessed by the Dutch buried in their autumn graves.
By the orders invested in the elected and in the webby dross—
Will you or won’t you wind your worm’s way through the core?
O Sister of Hope, what is the Season called where you are?
–Originally published in FENCE (winter/spring 2015).
Tell us about the making of this poem.
Recently, I’ve been doing family research and going through family ephemera. I’ve found some serious treasures. One thing I found was my mother’s ritual book from her time in The Order of the Eastern Star (OES), a funky fraternal organization for women in Masonic households. There were (no doubt totally lunatic) Masons in the family in Scotland on my grandmother’s side, and that tradition was carried on in America once some of them got to Brooklyn. The OES was basically pomp and circumstance for poor people. My mother’s father was a letter carrier and supported four girls on a small salary; they lived in Flatbush on Erasmus Street. Despite their sometimes grinding poverty, through the OES my grandmother and the four girls owned crazy puffy tulle dresses and took part in secret rituals in fancy OES meeting halls—all this activity was bound up in a kind of half-baked Christian regime. It’s true that the OES pentagram is upside down or downward pointing, and it’s unfortunate because my boyfriend gets to remind me that there were “Satanists” in my family.
What are you working on right now?
Poems for my fourth manuscript. Many of the poems take place in/are occasioned by the streets of Bed-Stuy.
What’s a good day for you?
Looking back at my work and seeing how it has developed, remembering that art is not a race—that art is beyond time, beyond careers, beyond nepotism, beyond awards, beyond my own short life here on the earth. I try to make my contributions pure.
How long have you lived in Brooklyn? What neighborhood do you live in?
I lived in Brooklyn before I went to grad school in 1991 for a year or two after college (Barnard). After attending the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, I came back almost immediately. So, I’ve been in Brooklyn, the Borough of my Birth, since 1994. Currently, I live in Bed-Stuy. Brooklyn is not a new thing to me, nor is it a hipster paradise; it is family territory and much more interesting than kale chips and skateboards.
What do you like most about it?
I love Bed-Stuy. I love the weird farmland with egg-laying chickens, the urban (deeply sad) gravestones, the social clubs, the volunteer ambulance corps (The Bed-Stuy Vollies), the Johnny Appleseed stray cats, the storefront churches. I’ve lived in Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope, and Carroll Gardens/Gowanus, but Bed-Stuy is the most magical place I have lived in this Borough.
I wish I could have seen Sheepshead Bay before Robert Moses killed it; my father grew up there when it was a bucolic paradise. And Red Hook, too—a grandfather was born there, and it had its seafaring charms and a Vaseline factory where my great grandmother worked as a girl. The family itself had a butcher shop on Van Brunt.
Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.
I was born in Brooklyn Hospital on February 10, 1967. That was pretty defining for me.
Favorite Brooklyn poet(s), dead and/or alive?
I hope I don’t disappoint when I say Whitman. Why? The enormity of the poems, the American-ness of it all, the emotion that buoys the galloping nature of much of the work. I love to think of him in juxtaposition to Dickinson, her economy to his excess.
Favorite Brooklyn bookstore(s)?
The Community Bookstore on Court, the one that’s always closed and sells bloated, sunbaked, swollen paperbacks from the 1970s.
Favorite places to read and write in Brooklyn (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?
I like to go to Black Mountain in Gowanus because of the fireplace. It’s like being in Vermont in Brooklyn.
Favorite places to go in Brooklyn not involving reading or writing?
Coney Island and (until a few years ago) Red Hook. Deeply strange urban environments. Add the bodies of water, and I’m done.
Last awesome book(s)/poem(s) you read?
Miranda Fields’s book Nest in manuscript form, soon to be published by Four Way Books.
Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:
I celebrate cosmic frivolity and profundity,
And what I see, you also see,
For every cavern that resides in me as good resides in you.
Because besides my ancestral attachment to the Borough, when I think of the entirety of Brooklyn (and its history) I think of E. B. White’s idea that a city is a poem: “A poem compresses much in a small space and adds music, thus heightening its meaning. The city is like poetry: it compresses all life, all races and breeds, into a small island and adds music and the accompaniment of internal engines.”