Ann Fisher-Wirth


Sometimes, as in "1963," I write a prose poem to capture a fraught moment: how quickly, how succinctly, can the secrets and tensions bound up in a single action be suggested? Often, though, my prose poems are longer; they hover around a character, as in "The Girl," or succumb to mood--to the rhythms of sentences and the incantatory power of images, falling into the language like falling into the bed of "Rain. October."



The man who looked like James Mason walked me home at midnight through the playground of Hillside School. The second time he did this, I asked if he wanted to talk, if he felt surpassed, if he hated getting older. His wife was a famous painter, whose work covered the walls of their enormous Maybeck house. When I babysat they would get gorgeous and go to San Francisco for one of her openings. And all he did was make money.

But what I really wanted to say the second time—after the first time, when he walked me home, asked me, Are you cold? and snaked his arm across my breasts—what I really wanted to say was, Oh dear God, please make him do it again.


The Girl

The Airedale shifted on the yellow rug that would have been fluffy had he not lain eleven years upon it. The girl liked to watch him. She could tell he’d started to dream, because all of a sudden his nose would wriggle and one leg would twitch, then gallop, gallop, as a low hum growl came from his throat. Sometimes he had trouble getting up, sometimes he peed in his dog bed. He would not live forever, and neither would her father. Her father lay upstairs and her mother took care of him. She never left the house, climbing the stairs to feed him, wash him, read his books to him.

Fog in the fijoa trees, the yellow organdie curtains floating across the bay window. Outside, the old brick wall, curving around her father’s azaleas. And the olive tree that dropped its bitter fruit, small black olives that stained the walk and tracked all over the carpet. The mother ladled out grief, stirred and ladled out love, but all the while, the girl knew, she wanted to lie down in the middle of the street, wait for a car, and die.

The girl learned to make cake mix cakes and jello salads, chicken breasts smothered in onion soup mix. She did her homework, dusted her bedroom, curled her hair. The terms of her life defined her life. No escape forever, from the clock that did not move. No escape from the mother stirring soup, the father dying, the rungs of the chair that pressed into her feet as she struggled with her Latin. Not a happy life, but her life. And the Airedale dreamed of rabbits, perhaps, that bounded across the tulip fields.


Rain. October


            Minds like beds always made up…    
                        William Carlos Williams


Oh to dive into an unmade bed and sleep, and sleep, and sleep. The bedroom shadowy, covers piled in a heap with pillows still scrunched up, one halfway down the mattress for my knees, two near the wall for our heads. No one has made the bed today. No one has fixed the room just so, pulled it taut for the day’s activity. Bed’s a burrow, a haven. The leaves draw closer outside, and as night comes up from the forest, spills over the wet back yard, climbs the stairs to the deck, spreads its cloak and foggy stars across the window, I am a burier: die now for a little while. I close my eyes on the family photos in the Welsh cabinet nearby—grandparents marrying, grandparents aging, children small, children grown, children marrying, children smiling, husband and wife (that’s I) embracing—sixty years of family.

Sweetness of not making the bed today, not making the body today, not making the day today. The pilot light flickers in the small space heater that is our source of heat in this old, beaded-board house with its drafts and cracks and currents, and the three white roses on the ledge of the Welsh cabinet open further, ripen, slacken, begin to bruise.



Ann_Fisher-Wirth.jpgAnn Fisher-Wirth is the author of two books of poems, Blue Window (Archer Books, 2003) and Five Terraces (Wind Publications, 2005), and of two chapbooks, The Trinket Poems (Wind, 2003) and Walking Wu Wei's Scroll (online, The Drunken Boat, 2005).  She has received a Malahat Review Long Poem Prize, the Rita Dove Poetry Award, two Mississippi Arts Commission Awards, and six Pushcart nominations, including a 2006 Pushcart Special Mention.  Her poems have appeared widely in journals, anthologies, and online.  She teaches at the University of Mississippi; also she teaches yoga.  She and her husband have five grown children.