Category Archives: On Wisconsin

Behind. Alive. So Bright.

New snow and hoar frost and every cliché
about crystals and diamonds and stars—
my commute the other morning was bright
while my mood was altogether grim, standard
mid-semester stew of “I am so far behind”
with big chunks of “I live in squalor” and
an extra soupçon of regret. Remonstrance
aplenty as I set out for work and yet
those damn sparkles everywhere,
especially on the red blackberry canes,
and I won’t say the grimness diminished,
but I played like each spot of silver
shining in the morning sun was one more thing
I needed to do that wasn’t yet done
and honestly I’ve never felt more alive.
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The snow, thankfully, is mostly gone. But the bottles in my garden are glowing.

Routine Magic

Attention, please–both from and to the very best
of audiences any company could ever hope
to play to, so we hear–that cellophane
you’re crinkling deci-bells itself far, far beyond
your little ears–and also, when the music starts,
post-intermission but before the actors
reappear, that’s not your cue to talk
a little louder–no, it means shut up.
What’s more–I could go on. I won’t. It’s just–
we’re so lucky that it feels routine.
Each night they crank up the volcano, test
the atom bomb, make love from paper, walk
a cobweb tightrope, grow trees from lowly beans….
We’re privy to it all, all summer, face to face.
There is more than routine magic in this place.

picture of lit path with nearly-full moon

American Players Theatre on a moony night.

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This is the last weekend for up-the-hill shows at American Players Theatre and for most of the shows in the Touchstone Theater. A Doll’s House, Part 2 begins later this month and runs through the middle of November–I’m super excited to see it.

It was a fantastic season and I’m so happy it’s not quite done.

The first bit of that very nonce-y sonnet up there–that’s me being crabby. I’m more and more comfortable being crabby. And then the sestet–that’s me being appreciative. Which I’m also more and more comfortable being.

So lucky to live down the road from this routinely magical spot.

Everything.

Like when there’s a good-looking man on a tractor
driving on the shoulder and he’s bouncing
because it’s an old tractor, a Farmall, the best kind—
before I got up to him, he was in silhouette, all black
because the sun behind us was orange and pink, a peach,
the whole sky was a peach, the sun a bright red frisbee,
on probably the last truly muggy day of the year,
the last day of September, before the cold in October—
I’m telling you it was hot and he was hot and I was hot.
Everything was on fire—that’s what it was like.
What? What was like that? Everything.

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Garage Sale Liver Disease–a tiara of sonnets

Day 1
We were running anxiously, ridiculously late in the dream
I had right before I woke up this morning. At first
I was driving and realized I was taking the scenic route—
I go that way a lot when I’m asleep—
and then I was on my bike and completely lost track
of where the sidewalk was and all the sudden
I was inside a hospital. I couldn’t find my way back
at first and by the time I did, it was noon….
In real life, this morning, we started right at 8:00
to a flurry of people looking for cameras and toys,
of which, of which, of which we have a great,
vast really, trove; along with other…joys (?)
just waiting to be yours, all priced to sell,
and so much more we’ll be bringing out as well.

Day 2
There’s so much more to bring out, but it’s just as well
the sale ends tomorrow. Even though
we have enough to hold a goddam sale
every weekend from now until…who knows?
I’m fond of saying we are just one half
a matchbook collection away from being an episode
of Hoarders. This sale has pulled us safely back
from the brink. A house can only hold so much.
A house is like a liver. Everything
goes through and if you have too much of everything,
production slows. Deposits accumulate.
“Fatty liver.” A disease I have. A name I hate.
With virtuous living, it can be reversed.
What happens to an abused liver? Does it burst?

Day 3
What happens to an abused liver? Does it burst?
The sheath around it a shoe that pinches.
My liver gets uncomfortable. It hurts.
My ability to overindulge is diminished.
All those years of “Yes, I’ll have another,”
of thinking, saying, “too much is just enough.”
My body’s damaged. My house is still too full of stuff.
Less and less is the way I’ll recover.

“Well, no, I won’t take $10 for that. $15.
No lower. I’d rather give it to St. Vinny’s for free.”
“I’m sorry, no, we didn’t end up bringing out
any CDs or DVDs. Yes, those are all the tools we’ve got.”

We did the best we could. It wasn’t great.
As always, we were running anxiously, ridiculously late.
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Imperiled

The snow’s off-white, the house is white, the sky
is pewter-gray, the buggy’s black, and also black:
the horses and most of the laundry on the line
except for a little rose and green and one kind
of blue so patently Amish it should be called that.
Oh, and the underwear, the private flying
proudly in the open, nothing white,
just various degrees of beige that look like linen
sails billowing, contrasting very slightly
with the piles of dirty snow they’ve shoved aside,
the temporary patio furniture of winter
the children might jump off of when there’s time,
when they’re not hard at work or cutting a slice
down the shoulder of the road: when it’s ice
I’ve heard they skate there but I
have only ever seen them standing by
their parents or in a circle outside
what I think is a school where they were either
playing or getting ready to fight,
which I know they aren’t supposed to do. So why
did it look so menacing, the four or five
boys I saw, closing in on another child
as I drove by, that’s what I do, I drive on by,
that’s what we do out here, the road signs
with the graphic horse and buggy trying
to tell us slow down, watch out, use your eyes,
because the next hill you’ll go over is blind
and you won’t see them until you’re right
on top of them, a whole family on your right
with bright specks of color but mostly wearing night.

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This month I’m trying to hunt for green as I drive–I’m considering it mindful driving. One of the shades of green I see on Mondays when I’m driving to Kickapoo High School, as I drive through Amish Country, is the occasional green shirt on the clotheslines of Amish families–close to the shade above. The laundry on the line is mostly black and beige. But some blue and green and a shade of kind of rosy-plum.

Brushy Creek Runs Through It

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The beautiful Brushy Creek on the campus of UW-Richland.

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.” Norman MacLean A River Runs Through It

“It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free”  Elizabeth Bishop “At the Fishhouses” 

Running water changes everything
and nothing. You can stand on the banks and count
the number of trout you see in Brushy Creek

just like you’ve done for half a century
or more, fishing or just thinking how
running water changes everything.

I like to pause there and pretend every morning
that some of my stress is floating away and down.
The number of trout you see in Brushy Creek

does vary, depending. I confess I’ve never seen
a single one, but that doesn’t make me doubt.
Running water changes everything

about a place. It gives our landscape meaning.
It shows us how to shift some things without
running the risk of harming the trout in Brushy Creek,

without giving up the goal of learning
who we are and what our genius loci’s all about.
Running water changes everything
except the number of trout you see in Brushy Creek.

 

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Post script:  apparently it’s BRUSH CREEK, not BRUSHY CREEK.  I think maybe I knew that at some point.  Or maybe not.  There’s not a sign anywhere, and I am very texty….  And I don’t hear well… But really, no excuse. I’ve been here since 1992.  I really ought to know better.  But I ain’t changing the poem because Brushy Creek scans better than Brush Creek.  Honestly, I think it should be Brushy Creek.  I might keep calling it that and see if it catches on.

I wish I could read poetry for the UW Board of Regents again…

But what would I say this time? Here’s what I said last time, thinking, among other things, of Shelley’s saying that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” Emphasis on unacknowledged.

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THE VOICE OF THE LEGISLATOR

To those who currently do more with less,
Consider doing even more with even less.
For those requesting more, remember that
We’re giving less and less to those who ask.
Those golden days of doing less with more
Are gone. Don’t ask o where o where o where.
It’s like your family. All the good vacations
Got took before you could even walk. Unconscious
In your baby haze, you never knew
That Polaroid of everyone at the zoo
Captured the last moment in time and space
All the feelings inside matched the look on each face.
Grow up. You weren’t abused. No matter how bad
Things look, there’s always room to make more bad.

From the minutes of the April 10, 2003 meeting of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents:

Report of the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs
1. National Poetry Month
In recognition both of National Poetry Month and of the outstanding creative activity in which UW System faculty engage, Senior Vice President Marrett introduced poet Marnie Bullock Dresser, Professor of English at UW-Richland. Professor Dresser read several poems, including one she wrote especially for the Regents entitled “The Voice of the Legislator.”