If every stanza is a room, as the Italian definition for “stanza” tells us, then a stanzaic poem might become a home. If 39 sonnets numbered the years of my life when I began composing If You Have to Go, then might I have made a transformed life in which to dwell?
Poems want to inhabit us, but they are lonesome, too. A poem wants to become the inhabitance, the dwelling place of those of us wrenched and made anew by its nowhere-else power. The sonnet sequence that dominates If You Have to Go taught me, via lines I laid down daily in the terrible predawn hours of sleepless months, that my marriage was too distant—for both of us—to bear. I allowed the sonnets to say this in their own encoded speech, since I wasn’t yet ready to state things blatantly. I also feared the writing might be read before I was sure of what would come next in my life, although my husband was not the rifling type. My instinct toward him was more protective than that; I didn’t want him to read any deliberately transparent lines at the heights of our mutual ache. So I relied on oblique angles and dreamscape figuration to shroud language enough so that if it were to be found, it would maintain its own privacy. Once I began writing this way, saying, in the first sonnet, “Empty with me, though here I am, I saw/ some soul set my meal with dream,” the course was charted. So I got out of its way. And burrowed into my poems’ many rooms, which I open now to the reader, privacy to privacy.
–Katie Ford, July 2018
Over my home I rise on a trembling
wood-and-rope bridge. Sundown comes
in light-light red, lamps hung now in my hair
alight one question into the air:
Home, I made you best I could,
please don’t break again beneath me?
I beat heavily upon my life until it gave.
As for prices, I’ve paid and paid.
All the while I cut the tiniest chairs,
a thimble ship, rice-paper walls
and Japanese fans cut from receipts
no wider than a little girl’s nail.
Upon them I drew hills of wild plum, then
a hover of birds.
Katie Ford, “37,” from If You Have To Go. Copyright © 2018 by Katie Ford. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org
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