Lucille Lang Day



I let the poem tell me the form it desires. At first, both "What We Missed" and "Encounter with the Ancestors" were broken into lines, but they were unhappy that way. They kept nagging me, saying they felt constrained, forced into an artificial form. I threw up my hands and said, "Enough, already! I will let you fill the page the way water fills a vessel. One thought can flow into the next, without separation or pause." Then they left me alone. __________________________________________________________________________________________




Encounter With the Ancestors


A winter morning. Even before switching on the kitchen light, I see them in the dimness, sitting at the table, leaning against counters, standing at the sink—so many I can hardly squeeze my way through them: the Wampanoag chief and the white woman who bore his daughter; the nobleman who renounced the Church of England and received a one-way ticket to Massachusetts Bay; all the soldiers, farmers, ministers, and the women who fixed their dinners every night and kissed them on mornings like this as the dark began to fade; the teacher, the accountant, the miller, the milliner, the Mayflower passengers, the woman whipped at the post for adultery, the drunkard, the German baron who died in his fight against the king. A slender woman in a blue satin dress comes forward. "We've always been here," she says. "You just haven't noticed. We gave you your hazel eyes, high cheekbones and wavy hair; your stubbornness, love of chickadees and fondness for chocolate. Without us you'd be nothing but stardust—hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, and iron from a couple of supernovae—now scattered on earth or zigzagging through the sea." A man in a green coat rises. "I'm from Plymouth," he says. "It isn't true we always wore black or gray. We liked bright colors. Our most common crime was fornication. Our drink of preference was beer." All at once they shout their demands: Save the butterflies and whales! Do not blindly follow authority! Risk everything for love! "It's too early in the morning for this," I protest. "Can't you come back after breakfast? " "Fight your battles to the end!" the baron proclaims, as I fill the French press pot with coffee and boiling water, just as I spot a hairy person with heavy brow ridges and big teeth on the back deck. I wonder what he wants. He points at the redwood tree. A squirrel scampers up the trunk, past a howler monkey hanging by its tail. Cells from the Precambrian sea wink all around me. I remember that soil is not wholly determined by bedrock and coffee is a shrub in the madder family. New universes bud from old. I press.



What We Missed


Atoms churning in the nothingness that was everything before planets congealed like cooling candy spheres; tectonic plates grinding against each other, then upthrusting to form mountains like hopes rising against all odds; the first cells to grow in colonies on rocks, unaware of their own shining; the sudden cluster of neurons (a brain!) in a flatworm on the floor of the sea; the stubby legs of the first awkward beings that stumbled onto land; the dinosaur egg that cracked open, releasing a leathery bird into the empty sky; the asteroid that smashed into Earth, filling the air with so much ash and dust that nearly everything died; the first shrewlike creature to suckle its young in a tree; the first hominid who used a stone as a tool to smash another stone; the slow journeys that took people from Africa to Europe, Asia, and the Americas, one step at a time, through drought and snow; construction of the temples in Jerusalem, stone by pale stone. We missed the Ice Age, the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, the Dark Ages, the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution, the first staging of Hamlet, the Mayflower's arrival at Plymouth, Ben Franklin's kite, Edison's first lightbulb, the Wright brothers' flight. We missed it all—even our own births and all the moments of our lives—because we didn't go to the science center at Zilker Park. We stayed in our hotel room in Austin with the two double beds with gargantuan headboards and a view of cars and trucks, going somewhere, anywhere, one by one, rushing down I-35, leaving us behind.




Lucille_Lang_Day.jpgLucille Lang Day has published four poetry collections: Infinities, Wild One, Fire in the Garden, and Self-Portrait with Hand Microscope, which was selected by Robert Pinsky for the Joseph Henry Jackson Award. She is also the author of three poetry chapbooks: Lucille Lang Day: Greatest Hits in Pudding House's invitational series, The Book of Answers, and The God of Jellyfish, released by Cervena Barva Press in June 2007. Her first children's book, Chain Letter, was published by Heyday in 2005. Her poetry and prose have appeared widely in such magazines and anthologies as The Hudson Review, The Threepenny Review, Mother Songs (Norton), and California Poetry: From the Gold Rush to the Present (Heyday). She received her M.A. in English and M.F.A. in creative writing at San Francisco State University, and her M.A. in zoology and Ph.D. in science and mathematics education at the University of California at Berkeley. She is the founder and director of a small press, Scarlet Tanager Books, and the director of the Hall of Health, an interactive children's museum in Berkeley.