Pine Row Issue No. 3 Spring 2021 - Featured Poet
I was that hummingbird
who flew into your kitchen, my body
metallic with desire
because the hands that poured
red syrup into glass
would be stronger, I knew, than sugar itself,
sweeter to flutter under,
better to beat my heart beneath.
Your wife didn’t see you
toss a tea towel—Home Sweet Home—over me
and in the owl dark, finer than night,
I stilled for your palm, with only cloth between us.
You returned me to the sky
though I wanted to fall, and later
I was that small brown finch
who crushed quills coming through
a crack in the cabin
where a bare mattress lay on the floor.
I teased the hunting dogs, sang
a glissando, hit windows, turned
air into wind against skin
until, stirred by violent, swift, harmonic love,
you woke for me, divorced.
You knocked out a screen
and the morning breathed me
back into blue
but what loneliness!—
taking flight only in the atmosphere of you
so that night I was an osprey
who watched from my branch,
opening a pink trout
while you and also I walked along a river:
our first date.
My skirt rose and fell, passerine, just like the wings
you’d seen at dawn, a gesture of Home
and under the willow you asked
“May I kiss?”
High above, I finished my fish,
quiet with the pleasure of having entered
your world, where in the mountains
around your unfurnished house
I was that speckled grouse
who stood in wild geranium and grass
while you and I hiked up the path.
I hurried through clover
to cover my pale cream clutch
as also I knelt in buttercup
to show you the white spider on white yarrow,
how they matched, merged, blurred into one
as we did in the deerbed at the foot of the fir,
Home, in the sun.
“I recognize you,” you said,
tapping your chest
fast as a hummingbird’s heart
before its allotment of pulses
is spent, and I am that hummingbird
who circles us
while all colors milk the fleeting light
to tint each plank of a porch
where we sit in silence like people long wed
though as man and woman we have recently met.
Twice, I orbit the scene,
because an orbit is a measure of time
and a circle is two decades in hummingbird years
and two circles, especially in gold, the magpies say,
make a marriage. I send a beam
from my breast to the gods
asking that it be you who will bury me,
wrapped in a square of cloth.
Interview with Rose DeMaris
by Amanda Iacampo, Pine Row Editorial Board
Where did you find inspiration for writing “Bird Wife”?
Birds have long been part of my mythology. The first book I ever wrote, at age 19, was a collection of essays called “Birds Sing at Night,” which was a humble effort. I Xeroxed 12 copies and gave them to my relatives. Now I’m studying ornithology, and it often happens that at least one of these awe-inspiring creatures flies into a poem.
But, beyond those charismatic birds, there’s something that drives all of my poetry: my interest in using language to blur and break down the illusory boundaries we often perceive between ourselves and the rest of creation. I feel that this illusion of separation from the natural world and also from our fellow humans is the most dangerous and destructive. And when we break out of it, even if only momentarily, there’s a sense of being woven into life that I long to capture on paper.
Finally, Montana—where I lived for 18 years—inspired me. The birds, river, mountains, and plants in this poem are all threaded to my memories of places where I walked, and things I saw, smelled and touched.
Who is the intended audience for this piece?
There have always been powerful figures in my imaginative life who catalyze my daydreams and my writing—male muses, many of whom I haven’t met or are no longer living. As this poem made the journey from the first draft to the current version, it had different imagined audiences. Now it’s for anybody who might connect with it.
On a less or more abstract note, there’s a devotional aspect to my writing practice. As a receptive 12-year-old reader, I paid attention when Salinger’s Zooey encouraged his actress sister Franny to “act for God, if you want to—be God’s actress, if you want to. What could be prettier?” I feel this advice could apply to anybody doing anything at all.
Who is the poet who you most admire? What is your favorite poem by this poet, and why?
There are so many! I admire the anonymous 15th- or possibly 14th-century someone who wrote Western Wind (Westron Wynde). It’s the perfect little poem—the alternating lines of tetrameter and trimeter, the satisfying bit of sight rhyme, the universally relatable feelings of homesickness, loneliness, and longing—all these qualities are like strands of the beautiful braid. It’s a cri de coeur, and there’s a way in which it feels spontaneous and almost artless, but it isn’t; it’s crafted. I think that’s an eternal mark of great poetry. Although it is crafted, there’s a roughness to it, as if that braid feels slightly frayed. There’s something so disarming, vulnerable, and almost broken about “The small rain down can rain?” This poem accomplishes so much in just four lines.
In your opinion, what measures the success of a poet?
Success, for me, is a feeling of having pulled back the veil and revealed the poetry that’s inside of us and all around us, all the time, in the most everyday, prosaic occurrences, exchanges, emotions, and phenomena. It’s also about uncovering relationships between seemingly separate things. I have an ecstatic feeling when I think I might have managed to do this, a sense that I’ve expressed what felt inexpressible. Or maybe I’ve written about something millions have already written about, like the primal longing for love and union, but I’ve rendered it with some arrangement of words and details only my mind would design. This sense of success is only possible if I’m writing from my heart, rooted in my voice and vision. I know it when it happens; I feel it as a kind of unlocking. It’s a deeply medicinal, natural high—even if the poem is about something painful. So, I measure my success with my own emotions. Having a poem published is an extra gift I’m grateful for.
Do you have a writing community you share your work with? If so, who are they?
Yes! I wrote alone, obsessively and happily, for decades. Then I reached a point when I knew I needed a writing community and was fortunate to be accepted into the Poetry MFA program at Columbia University, where I’ve just finished my first year. I feel so much love for and from that community and sharing poetry with them is an intimate experience. We expose our psyches to one another regularly. Due to the pandemic, most of us haven’t even met in person yet, but we’ve had these deep looks into each other’s hearts and minds. I’m inspired and encouraged by the brilliance of my teachers and fellow students.
Rose DeMaris writes poetry, novels, and essays. Her fiction and nonfiction have been published by Random House, The Millions, and Big Sky Journal. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, The Fourth River, Cold Mountain Review, Asymptote, and Roanoke Review, and she was a finalist for the 2020 Orison Anthology Award in Poetry. Her website is at rosedemaris.com.