Deborah Bogen


I'm girlier than most of you because I was born in 1950 in Billings, MT where girls wore dresses daily, quit taking math their sophomore year, slept on uncomfortable rollers at night to produce helmet-like hairdos and identified themselves to strangers as So-and-so's' daughter. We were not expected to do too much but get married and produce off-spring. Ambitious girls (for ambitious, read "strange") might become dental hygienists or attend business college or perhaps become piano teachers but by and large it was better to marry up, be pretty and sing in the choir on Sundays. I never dreamed of being a writer. I dreamed of babies and had some as soon as I could. That experience - that gender/mother/body/woman experience of child-bearing and rearing still gets into my writing. The body's significance shifted once it gave me children. It loomed large and still does. I learned to trust the body's intelligence, to not care what someone else thought about my functional breasts, and to enjoy the music and motion the body so generously provides. Even at 60, those pregnancies make appearances in my poems and I still trust my body's logic more than my own good ideas. It's a female body so to whatever extent you find gender-ness there I am deeply inside it.



About A Girl I Once Was

The country clubs of America look bleak.

She wants to leave, wants to peel her stockings off —
                     but there’s something glinting out
by the 17th hole,
                              a silver egg asleep in the sand.

And she desires found objects.
wants them to split her tongue, cleaving minnows
from water, sequins from satin.

Her party toenails glisten. Her back
sleeks down to her hips and she swears she can feel
something swannish in that egg.

                                            So what should I tell her?
That night is just a painted backdrop?

            In that dark, she feels a great Nothing —

hears only the Voice saying

do not try to cover yourself.
Do not drop the egg.
Soon it will begin to hum.



Injured Swan


The nights I sleep best I dream about being
shot. Not getting shot.
I’m already shot.
The dream’s flimsy. I’m silky. The hole in my shoulder
goes straight through, but there’s no blood —
                     I barely bleed at all.

Undress slowly, he said, and in the dream
I did that. Then he did something, then I did too but
there was a hole in that doing.
a soft weeping wound in it, and a comma
before the kissing commenced.

Sometimes there’s a gun. Sometimes not, but the dress
is always filmy, my shoulders always bare.
In dreams, they say, your heart will tell,
so sometimes I wonder,
             maybe this dream is a wish my heart fakes
sleeping deeply, wearing the billowy dress
— for I dream often of being shot, but
I barely bleed at all.


Young Swan


The teenage girl has a heart like a toaster oven.
It doesn’t help that she’s always hearing
the drunks on the corner say: That one, she’s
a little heart breaker.

Her mother doesn’t like the way she wears
her fuschia lipstick — she keeps threatening to
cancel the tooth-whitening sessions but
the girl with the toaster oven heart comes to my
after-school art class wearing that pink
to light her slick white teeth.

I have a heart like a TV. Someone out there’s
always pressing the remote. The girl with
the blinding teeth has artificial hair,
but it’s not right to say it’s not really her hair.
She saved up to have it crimped and curled
at the corner shop. And me, I’m an old bird
               — too old to be surprised.
All swans busk to claim their territory.



Bogen's latest collection, Let Me Open You a Swan, is the winner of the 2009 Antivenom Prize from Elixir Press and will be released in March 2010. Her earlier prize-winning books are Landscape with Silos and the chapbook Living by the Childrens Cemetery. Recent work has appeared in Poemeleon as well as New Letters, The Iowa Review, Crazyhorse, Ploughshares, Shenandoah and others. Her recent essay on the writing of Lynn Emanuel can be found online by googling "Emanuel Elegies Bogen."