Writer’s Workshop: Mary Slowik
Selections from Mary Slowik at the writer's retreat at Lee Kelly's studio
There is a darkness below
the abdomen, below the gut,
below the little pile of organs
shelved away – appendix, liver, spleen,
a darkness that
pulls your heart around it,
your flapping, breathing lungs around it,
even your shoulders, your clavicle
your terribly upright neck around it.
The darkness kicks you all night.
It scoops you out.
You think you can hear its voice,
tiny, squeaky, chewing out little words
in your ears, which aren’t your words.
The darkness sighs and you turn, rolling over it
there, solidly in your middle,
so that now your knees are buckling up
towards your chin
and your legs are flat and lifeless
and you are giving birth –
the sweetest birth you’ve ever imagined:
two fish, sliding through your slime,
entwined, you, holding the darkness
that contained them,
the caul you hold to your mouth,
the birth of the world.
Oh, what do the hummingbirds know about anything
The snickering of a hummingbird, or so we thought that day we walked through the woods in our anger and did not talk or hear or see anything except our feet tramping, one after the other, you, in front of me, me, behind, watching your bootheel go up and down, whisping to one side the low lying blackberries and Solomon Seal and wild plantain – the snickering of the hummingbird was what we thought we heard when we finally broke into the sunlight though no hummingbird could live on the edge of that wood and who has heard a hummingbird snicker though if a bird could snicker, a hummingbird would be the one, but at night in the tent there was a wolf, who, when the stream clamoring in my ear turned silent, I heard baying where he had never lived deep in the bitterest root of the Bitter Root Mountains.
Ode to the Face
I love the face –
that you have to wash it,
comb what hangs around it,
brush a few things inside it.
I love that everyday men have to
or should have to, or don’t have to,
but think about it anyway,
shave. And women don’t.
I love that my Dad would cup water
into his face every morning
and shake his head and burble
like a Snow White dwarf
because that’s the way you do it
I love that my Dad
on the coldest days in the orchard
held one nostril and blew a solid
stream out of the other because
that’s the way you do it
and that my brother tried it
out of his top floor bedroom window once
on a cold day and the Pennsylvania way
stayed streaked on the outside of our house
I love the way the cheekbones pull against the jaw,
the most with me so my face early on
lost its Polish roundness.
Not so with my sister,
who also kept the dark skin, the slight slant
to her eyes which my mother could never
live down in the Polish neighborhood in Detroit.
“Tartar! Cossack!” they spit at her and pulled her hair,
but her own sister chased at them, learned to climb fences,
learned to pull hair So did we –
our faces safe because we could grab
other faces first, before anyone else –
hair, chin and, if we were fast enough, an ear
Until one day Mom took us aside.
She looked straight into the middle of us,
and said, “You are never do that again.
You are never to pull or scratch
or spit. Never attack a face. Remember,
you are not barbarians! You are not barbarians!”
And we weren’t and we kept our faces –
eyes, ears, nose, mouth – and never let anyone
complain about them