After I posted my Robert Pinsky story, I sent the link to Facebook and got this comment from Sally T., a Facebook friend I know through homeschooling—not writing—circles:
Heh — that would have been about the same time that I was poetry editor at Quarterly West, at the U of Utah. Robert Pinsky didn’t visit us, though.
To which I replied, hastily and with much excitement:
SALLY!!!!! I was one of the AWP Intro Award winners in poetry in 1993. My poem appeared in the Summer/Fall 1994 issue of Quarterly West. I just checked the masthead and you were one of the poetry editors! How’s that for a small-world moment?!
My poem was called “Lena, Waiting for the Mail,” pub’d under my maiden name, Melissa Brannon. It was my first published work.
Here’s the poem, if you’d like to see. Reading it now, I’m amused to see there’s a character named Mack—I must have a subconscious thing for that name. I wrote another poem once (before this one) called “Mrs. Mack.” There’s a Mack in my last Charlotte book, Across the Puddingstone Dam. And it occurs to me I’ve got another Mrs. Mack in the draft of my current work-in-progress—may have to rethink that one.
Lena, Waiting for the Mail
This time of day the split-rail fence
lays its long shadow in the road,
as far from the house as it ever gets.
Straight and mean, that shadow,
like train tracks heating up in the sun.
I’m always watching for the train.
Plenty of shadows in this yard, but no shade.
Janie and Mack crouching in the spare grass
behind me pour the dogs’ water out for mud.
The ground sucks it in, little snaps and hisses
in my ear. Eleanor wrote last time her ears
are pierced, had it done when she was four,
I can’t believe it, and she got diamonds
on her sweet sixteen. That what girls
like Eleanor call it. I bet it feels sweet to be them, curled
and black-lashed, wearing Pop’s last forty hours
through your earlobes. Davy, shouting, runs
three times around the house, gets as far as Mars
before Pop hushes him. Mack orders him to help
with the mudcastle. “Lena,” Mama calls,
“I wish you’d keep them quiet.”
Patrick McFadden wrote to say he “freefalls
from airplanes for fun.” He’s the only boy I write.
Pop thinks “Pat” is a girl. Pat loves the color blue, the smell
of coffee, and Bruce Springsteen. This mailman
will never show. Anita’s letter is due today,
and maybe Sabine Heyl’s. That fragile paper like the skin
you peel out of an open eggshell. Purple ink
like you’d write magic spells with—Janie’s blinking
back tears. Mama’ll kill me. “You kids come away
from the house,” I say. “I’ll tell you a story.” Can’t I tell
myself a good one: A girl with a hundred letters
spreads them flat like a quilt. She sticks them together
with Elmer’s since sealing wax is in short supply.
She climbs on and waves her hands in a spell.
The rustling paper rises like a prayer into the sky.
(Originally published in Quarterly West, No. 39, Summer/Fall 1994, Salt Lake City, UT.)
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The Fruit of the Poet’s Tree