May 15-21, 2000: Joelle Renstrom and Mark Wakely

week of May 15-21, 2000

Joelle Renstrom and Mark Wakely

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Joelle Renstrom
jrenstro@umich.edu

Bio (auto)

Joelle Renstrom just graduated from the University of Michigan with an honors degree in English and creative writing She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan and will stay there until September when she’ll move to Ireland.

The following work is Copyright © 2000, and owned by Joelle Renstrom and may not be distributed or reprinted in any form whatsover without written permission from the author.

Untranslatable

The first thing she did was walk
into the door at the airport The first
time I saw her face it was pressed
against the glass, fogged with surprise
Barefoot she bounced on our Berber
carpet, tucking her head to her knees
and somersaulting across the floor She wrote the words “pelly putton”

and ate four barbecued chicken legs
and six corncobs that day We found
more under her bed days later, wrapped
carefully in a black sock In the mornings

she’d somberly dangle her black hair above
my face and I’d talk to her not by name,
but by tone, about eggs sunny-side up
and margarine because she liked the sounds
Once we were invited to a neighborhood
social and I pointed to “party” in the Russian-
English dictionary She cried out and I
noticed the word “Communist” in parentheses
Some nights I could hear her un-American
utterings, hear her shoulders shaking through
the walls, hear the drawing of her knees
to her chest, hear the slight rock of a child

without a wooden horse Sometimes she
became a mime, gesturing wildly into her
mouth I’d guide her down the hall, my
finger in front of my lips We’d share

ice cream in the quiet house, hand on
the kitchen clock moving in circles
like our conversation would have,
had either of us tried to speak.


Our House

The wind lifted a haphazard angel
with small wings from the curtain
of his father’s cold apartment
A turntable on a bench, its cover thick
with dust A shelf of records He pulled
a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young

album from its sleeve He wiped it off and
polished it up with the corner of his shirt Circular pathways like a musical racetrack,

vinyl sincere in its bigness He lifted
the cover and fit the record on, taking
up the arm as if kissing the hand of a

thin woman Music rising like smoke,
words from some childhood Bible
he could not remember reading,

song like a forgotten limb,
flexing with a familiar ache His eyes were lost in the grooves,

spinning, his mother turning pirouettes,
his father strumming a tennis racket
guitar, pretending to be Graham Nash
When they thought they could conquer
being twenty and pregnant, they
sang together, leaning over his crib,

maybe his father behind his mother, her
arms over her head reaching back like vines
clinging to the trellis of a strong house,

singing to him when they could still sing
in the same voice, back when they sang
“only for you ” Back when the house’s wall

rang with harmony, when even
earth on its slanted axis could
not spin them out of alignment.


Mark Wakely
msjw@mediaone.net

Bio (auto)

Mark Wakely, 47, lives in Lombard, Illinois, and is a college administrator at Elmhurst College in Illinois He is married and has three children
The following work is Copyright © 2000, and owned by Mark Wakely and may not be distributed or reprinted in any form whatsover without written permission from the author.


Miss Literate at Home

Verbs unnerve her She wants nothing to do with them,
those hyperactive words that race
around like unwelcome children,
demanding her full attention Adverbs annoy her She much prefers to remain
unmodified, cannot even imagine
being transitive; frozen in place,
she’s a past perfect scene preserved
for eternity, a living dictionary
with an inactive voice that
no one thinks to reference Adjectives aren’t her-
those words too won’t do;
she would rather live like
a proper noun in her proper house
filled with good, solid words like
table, chair, couch She’s both the subject and object
of her domain, not linked
to anything she can’t singularly
possess, yet at night she still
yearns for some wild word
to slip under her door and give
chase to her textbook life.


Paving The Road

The day the gravel road became
no longer our casual playground but
a hard, defined street, our
outraged mothers armed themselves
with brooms and charged right out
of their antiseptic kitchens to
confront the man who would dare
provide tar for their children’s feet Meanwhile, we children stared in rows
of unaccustomed silence at the stout
asphalt machine as it chugged along
like a smoky paddleboat, leaving
hot black swaths in its orderly wake
that steamed like a stagnant stream
at twilight Concerned only for their
waxed floors and new carpeting,
our mothers shook their makeshift
weapons in the oily air, a sudden
Luddite tribe opposed to the miraculous
transformation that transfixed their
humbled children, while the man
on the machine- seemingly oblivious
to their hurled threats and ramrod
straight on his slow throne-
glided by majestically in his
self ordination, a high priest
and we his witnesses to his
mechanical ministry, his
petroleum anointing.


What Was

Memory, those obsolete circuit chips,
misfires at the oddest moments,
stops current conversations with
shocking inappropriateness,
jolts us while we absently
stack the evening dishes or
idle in our daily dose of traffic Worse is when memory grows dim
and we grope in a landscape once intimate,
where all the names we knew are well
beyond our means, where strangers
prove they know us,
and we’re ashamed A tangled maze of
faulty wiring and switches that
inexplicably trip at the wrong time,
memory seems our imperfect appliance
that flashes in fits and can’t be fixed,
woefully inaccurate Or does memory serve only to protect,
a defense made perfect by its
clever imperfections?
Every written word can haunt us
by its permanent precision,
but memory flickers like a
dangerous lamp,
one that could split the night
with painful light,
but brilliantly, mercifully,
shorts itself out instead.


Einstein’s Brain

“Doctor Thomas Harvey, a Wichita, Kansas pathologist, has Einstein’s sectioned brain in a jar in his office “-news item

Einstein’s brain in a mason jar,
separated forever from that pipe and sweater,
swirling scraps of old, now unconnected memories:
Wife Fission Death Germany Those thoughts and others collide in that brilliant,
murky soup, heavy in their glass prison and eerily
cold They settle like an intellectual snowfall,
accumulate in drifts out of time and order Soon the liquid is clear, equations at rest
with answers the world will never hear
Another irresistible shake of the jar-
Einstein stirs once more.


The Problem With Death

The problem with death is that when it happens
to you, you don’t get to talk about it
There are no lecture circuits, no post interviews,
no chance to voice regrets or apologies due
No way to pick up a phone and call a friend
“Hey- guess what happened!”

Or otherwise spread the news
What happens when you die is of course
still a great unknown
Either there’s a Supreme Being you’ve never met
deciding forever which way you’ll go

as you stammer and sweat, or else Nada,
that cosmic black hole that pulls all life in
Whichever is true, I’d give anything to send back
just a word or two, nothing fancy
Wouldn’t you?