Maryann Corbett

About "Anger Against Sapphics": About a year ago, I really was just learning the sapphic stanza, and at first it really did feel odd and wrong, as compared with iambic pentameter, which feels to me as natural as breathing. I was also reading Timothy Steele's book on meter, All the Fun's In How You Say A Thing, and his poems, including "Saphhics Against Anger." When it occurred to me that a great many expressions of anger provided just the trochees I needed to start a sapphics line, it was clear what I needed to do. About: "Maintenance Work": I was inspired to try terza rima after reading Jacqueline Osherow's The Hoopoe's Crown. 



Anger against Sapphics
          with apologies to Timothy Steele

Dammit. Why is everything always harder
every time I try to use other meters,
striking ones, not regular, plain old iambs?
What is my problem??!!

Iambs flow like cream into morning coffee,
roll like rills of metrical maple syrup.
Why does this feel clotted and unpoetic,
lumpy as oatmeal?

Clomping like a polka with oompah-oompahs,
bumping, banging: That's what a sapphic sounds like,
blaring on and off like a warning buzzer,
never relaxing—

What? You think I'm whining? You think it's easy?
All I have to say to you then is, try it.
There. What's that? You're not having any trouble?
Dammit. I hate you.


Maintenance Work

Start with the plain directions for the task
of puttying window frames: Carry the tools
out to the summer lawn. A moment, bask

in sideways-slanting sun. The dew's jewels,
set one per grass-blade, Tiffany paveĢ,
could launch ten poems, but I stick to rules

and center my being on this work. I lay
one frame on the old sawhorses, pockmarked
with spatters of ancient paint. My job today:

to proof these storms against the evils worked
by northern winters, every element
of weather---and do it with my mind unforked.

The goal is contemplative: to be transparent,
be doing only that which I am doing:
be now, without distraction, in the moment—

just what my brain resists. It keeps pursuing
tangents of things. The now, for one. Maintenant
pops in my head like a flashbulb, and bang, I'm reviewing

French etymology, thinking: It's tenant
and main; it's holding in hand. Yes. Understood:
It means grasping this now like a solid—just what I want.

So should I let this thought play out? I could.
But I'll save that up for a now of writing, revising.
I straighten, breathe, center again. The wood

is filled in where it was rotted; the loose glazing
is balanced woozily on new glazier's points.
I open the putty, scoop a glob, start squeezing.

Goosh: the putty between my fingers. Faint
chemical smells, and the goosh, and I'm gone, away.
A thousand miles and fifty years, at Saint...

Saint James' School's preschool, Arlington, VA
I'm a concentrated knot of wonder, sitting
at a long table, gooshing modeling clay.

You see? I'm bad at this. The mind-moth, flitting
past every light bulb, wanton, never true,
needs cloistering. I straighten, breathe. Fitting

comes after squeezing: carefully prodding goo
against the glass and frame with a fingertip.
I take my time. The sun warms. Scraps of blue

blink sky-light through the maple. A fat strip
of putty lumped with fingertip indents,
in place at last. I'm here, now, but the grip

of presentness is weak. The shapes of the dents,
and the scents and textures racket it off again
to pie crust, pastry, bread dough, the intense

muscle knowledge of kneading. To hell with Zen
for five seconds! I'm powerless faced with food.
But lunch is not yet, and I'm not sure when,

so I breathe, center. Focus on the wood.
Steady the knife against the frame, and pull
gently, planing the clay to a clean edge. Good.

And it comes to me that the now is not simply the dull
literal and empirically verifiable
now of the right-now hand and eye, but the whole

constellation of catch in the mind's nets, friable
clumps of realness squeezed to a different juice,
the meltdown of one to another by mind, the pliable

putty of sense in the fingers of mind. So I loose
my hold on the leash of wordplay and let it run,
and it veers from maintenant to maintenance, whose use

in modern English is upkeep, but here's the pun:
it's tenere again, and manus, hold and hand.
To hold your wealth, hand-work it. Stand in the sun,

the now, and fix your windows. It's a grand
satisfaction: putty ready for paint,
and a poem. Your sensei will understand.



Maryann Corbett's poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Measure, The Lyric, Alabama Literary Review, The Barefoot Muse, First Things, Mezzo Cammin, The Raintown Review and other journals in print and online. She is a recent Pushcart nominee and serves as a moderator on the Eratosphere online poetry forum. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, and works as a legal-writing adviser, editor, and indexer for the Minnesota Legislature.