Poet’s Sampler: Lauren Jensen
September 1, 2011
Sep 1, 2011
Lauren Jensen’s poems are girded with titanium exoskeletons and wear their underwear on the outside.
In a 1966 interview in The Paris Review, Allen Ginsberg talks about the act of creating a poem: “If you put words to it by . . . trying to describe what’s making you sigh—and sigh in words—you simply articulate what you’re feeling. As simple as that.” What Ginsberg pegs as a “simple” process, though, is, for most poets, a deep struggle toward a feat of articulation, of communication. And most poems don’t acknowledge their own rhetorical scaffolding. Instead they try to smooth over (with sound, or symmetry, or rhythm, or any device, really) the moments when turns happen, images shift, new characters appear, and narrative pivots to statement. In contrast, Lauren Jensen’s poems are girded with titanium exoskeletons and wear their underwear on the outside. “I can’t decide,” she writes in “Willow,” “why my brother is even in this poem.” Jensen’s poems are laden with exquisite imagery—a specific willow tree, a caged bear at a gas station, a CPR dummy—signposting landscapes of memory, and she turns these personal talismans into graceful metaphors that get at the unspeakable crossroads of loss, fear, humor, and desire, making her work simultaneously whimsical and deadly sincere, playful and hauntingly intimate. “Without articulation / there’s no sense of place,” Rae Armantrout reminds us, and these poems are as much about the process of articulation as they are about the implicitly rural and semi-rural subjects they take on. In her voicing of the pleasures and dangers of desire and its consequences, Jensen also joins the very small canon of female poets—Lucille Clifton, Molly Peacock, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ann Lauterbach, Anne Sexton, Deborah Digges—who address the topic of abortion intimately and in all its complexities. Jensen’s unique and unpredictable voice bowls me over again and again in these poems. The sign taped to their collective back reads, Listen. Don’t touch me. Come here.
It had a whole marshy field to itself
or the field had it—the willow’s old roots
buried in a grassy mouth of dirt.
Sometimes my mind turns to killing without
any specific context, any weapons in mind.
The first breaking
steps after snowfall vs.
the first barefoot steps in dew-green come June.
Seems obvious to mention love here
then refine it by wrapping cold feet around
my boyfriend’s heated calves.
I’m always taking something away from someone.
Asking my brother to retell stories as we explore
old logging roads on our way to the coast.
I must have been seven or eight the summer
my mom began dealing antiques
with Mr. Zimmerman.
He had a yard full of apple trees with the kind
of apples only the bees seemed to like, and I would
always make my way around the barn, past the fence.
It was here where the willow lived, where I would
spend hours captive beneath those limbs,
and I envy bars.
Miss the Sundays my brother and I spent driving
with a loaded shotgun between us,
looking for grouse.
Seems natural to mention the abortion here.
That as kids, when my family used to stop to see
the caged bear at the gas station along M-55,
I always wondered if it would be kinder
just to put the hollow-eyed thing to sleep.
And there are those who believe in pro-choice
and those who have bumper stickers advertising
and then me.
I can’t decide if the willow was part of the field
or vice versa or why this even matters.
Why my brother is even in this poem.
Seems fitting to mention the room-sized cage here.
How the bear spent a lifetime next to a tree stump
planted on a concrete slab.
And it’s the strangest thing
to feel life in you before taking a test
to confirm life is even there.
Makes me wonder about the cage before the bear.
How I remember the story of when my
brother caught the salmon with his bare hands
and then let it go.
Why did I?
Some afternoons I would run to the willow
with the basket of my shirt filled with apples
and once there, I would take a bite out of each
It’s as if I needed to do this in order to know
for myself that the apples were better
left for the bees.
I wasn’t ready.
In math class, Mr. Walker never taught that addition
can also equal taking things away.
That in order to build a new school, the city had
to cut down the willow,
plow the field.
Seems sad to mention the way “I had an abortion”
looked in my brother’s eyes when I told him.
As if the first footsteps we took in the freshly
fallen snow as kids.
As if the time the bear was gone and the both
of us cried.
i played with dolls until i was almost fifteen.
every conversation real, everything real so easily taken away,
given back: it’s hard to share, breathe into something and feel no pulse.
the cpr dummy never even lived.
i never had enough air to raise the chest.
the instructor said make a tighter seal and my seal became a stronger grip on the
it’s tricky to hold a face while trying to resuscitate what can’t.
i had a great idea once:
put milk in a balloon and call it baby.
to consider the chance she could have cried and maybe it’s time.
the one day looking back when i realize if only someone finger swept the obstruction on
sometimes it’s necessary to break ribs in the process of mouth to mouth.
sometimes we give and take and give and take and it’s not enough.
it’s only a faint impulse.
it’s to say if annie was once alive, there’s a chance i would have hurt her on purpose.
because i could, because i forget how fragile these things are if given face and ears and
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September 01, 2011