Susan Gubernat


When I started writing the prose poem in earnest recently I began to distrust this hybrid form, and my reasons for resorting to it, a little less. For a while, I wondered if I was simply abandoning the seemingly more difficult tasks of meter and lineation, but now I know that, in the prose poem, something else is, dare I say it, afoot. In a prose poem one can be both associative and narrative at once; that's a blessing. And maybe this genre marks the beginning of the end of those pesky right-brain, left-brain dualities; one can only hope.




Ground Time

My friend the harpist, a swami who read my palm before I took off again for the unknown, said Children will always be drawn to you, you have been a mother in many lives. But not in this life. As the plane plows to a halt, its wings flap open to reveal the bolts and screws that have kludged our flight. In the seat ahead of me, a big-faced baby with tufted hair screams again as if to match the roar. Then the anonymous, department-store bell. Then the silence that requires some speech, finally, between passengers: Nice flight. Where are you headed? And even I accept Have a good day from the baby’s family traveling on to the Cascades, a reunion.I tell them that their baby gets the prize for being best baby on the flight, avoiding gender terms because I can’t tell – the clothes too hip to provide a clue. Emboldened, their other child, a fantastically braided girl, starts asking me where and when and it gets so close now in this airless cabin I fear her inquiring next about my absent children. While I could take her sister’s (or brother’s) face in my hands and nearly crush it with love, so hungry for the puckered mouth, the ardent gaze of nursing.But the baby must be past that now, as am I. And how could anyone lay away someone else’s eggs in her womb? How could the sitter surrender her charge at noon, nape just damp from napping, then watch him shinny up the ladder-back to get a grip on his mother’s neck, anoint the top of her head with sticky kisses? I am dangerous to myself around children – as dangerous as the woman who drowned all five of hers, like cats, in a warm bath. (God, how do you hold a seven-year-old under?) I kidnap them all in my head, mine the gaze of predation. I’ve skipped diapers, and pre-dawn feedings and fevers,arriving at this: Mine, the best baby on the Earhart flight, under the radar, off the charts, churning in the horse latitudes; the dream-baby gathered in from the fire escape; the snow-suited astronaut tethered to the air.


The World of Our Unmaking

This Granny Smith apple tastes of crop dusters–label still affixed to its waxen cheek. All the way from New Zealand and no one has yet passed it under a faucet. The label I pull away rips off the peel, a gentle scab forming. And as the white skin’s exposure turns it a sickly brown I think of Jamaicans on the apple farm in New Hampshire, Mexicans among the strawberries near Monterey, where twin-engines fly low spraying poison onto the fields, onto their heads, some covered by flimsy straw hats, some, undoubtedly, not. My young friends are amazed at the power of boycott. We didn’t taste a grape for years and it was fine, it was quite okay. The freight train’s belly sloshes corn syrup in which, it appears, all the packaged food in fifty states has been bathed. What does it take to get a good cup of coffee around here? Deforestation. Cal the beekeeper warns of the disappearance of bees, how itinerant beekeepers lug their many-storied hives from farm to farm to jump-start pollination. Soon the queens will be as precious as, well, queens, and like medieval matriarchs, walled up in convents against rape and rapine, released for a rare ritual of fertilization, the race between drones in hot pursuit to mate and die. And everyone’s heard the story, apocryphal, no doubt, but true, of the immigrant couple’s first trip to a supermarket in America, how she, paralyzed in the aisle faced with hundreds of cereal brands she couldn’t choose from, how they wept amid the pyramids of fruit. In my grandmother’s village they told another story of the beggar and the plums: a poor housewife had little to offer him but some half-rotten ones in a bag he grabbed, ungraciously, and pissed on. By sunset, no one else had shared a crumb and so he returned to the curb where he’d left them, daintily spread his handkerchief, rubbed down each plum, saying, this one’s not so bad, and this,and this. And, as night fell, he ate them, every one.



435569-1178367-thumbnail.jpgSusan Gubernat’s first book of poems, Flesh, won the Marianne Moore Prize and was published in 1999 by Helicon Nine Press. Her second book manuscript, Shaggy Parasol, has been a recent finalist in the National Poetry Series and for Oberlin’s Field Prize, and was a runner-up for last year’s Dorset Prize (Tupelo Press). Individual poems have appeared most recently in The Cortland Review, Pleiades, McSweeney’s, Texas Review, and The Michigan Quarterly Review. An opera librettist, her first major work, the three-act opera Korczak’s Orphans (composer: Adam Silverman), was premiered in New York by the NY City Opera as part of their “VOX: New American Composers” series. Gubernat has been the recipient of many awards including New York and New Jersey arts council fellowships and a Woodrow Wilson grant. She has been a fellow in residence at the MacDowell, Yaddo, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Millay art colonies and is currently an associate professor of English at California State University, East Bay in Hayward, California. She received her MFA from the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa.