“Now I wear the woods”


Thinking of the woods, I think of so many things. From Sleater-Kinney‘s album, The Woods, which carried me aimlessly on foot through all of Reykjavik in the sad spring of 2008, to the present surroundings, wooden entanglements in wooded environs I’ve been rooted in and uprooted from, the things that I’ve shaken off like so many pine needles but which still stick like sap…

It took me a really long time to read Louise Erdrich. Apart from the handful of poems I’d read just after high school, I’d had an aversion to Erdrich, seemingly only because a girl with whom I’d almost silently feuded/had a misplaced dislike toward, was a huge fan. The girl cited Erdrich constantly as a source of inspiration (the girl referred to herself with replete and self-satisfied airy tones as a “writer”). As I read somewhere the other day, you either are or are not a writer. Talking about it doesn’t do anything. (I, too, am a writer, but it’s a bit like Catherine Keener‘s abrasive character in the now-20-year-old (!) Your Friends and Neighbors, when asked if she had written anything another character would have read, “Not unless you read the instructions on your tampon box.”)

I got over the Erdrich thing, and my misdirected dislike for the girl, but still never got around to reading Erdrich’s wealth of fiction. Now I’ve read most of her body of work (recommend some, like The Master Butchers Singing Club, and not so much others)…

The Woods
Louise Erdrich

At one time your touches were clothing enough.
Within these trees now I am different.
Now I wear the woods.

I lower a headdress of bent sticks and secure it.
I strap to myself a breastplate of clawed, roped bark.
I fit the broad leaves of sugar maples
to my hands, like mittens of blood.

Now when I say ‘come,’
and you enter the woods,
hunting some creature like the woman I was,
I surround you.

Light bleeds from the clearing. Roots rise.
Fluted molds burn blue in the falling light,
and you also know
the loneliness that you taught me with your body.

When you lie down in the grave of a slashed tree,
I cover you, as I always did.
Only this time you do not leave.


From the Height of Emotion to the Dread of the Telephone



The day finally came, and when it did it was actually the middle of the night. Staring at the glut of white dresses that some e-commerce site ‘suggested’, evidence that they were listening in, spitting back all the recommendations the earlier eavesdropped conversations indicated. But who needs a long, lace dress to drag through sand… or dress shoes for that matter… when the whole point of the South Pacific destination is to be warm… to return to the shoelessness of Hawaiian toddlerhood?

After all, there is no more value to be found at this point in life for caution, trepidation and overthinking. Just enough thinking. As one of Louise Erdrich’s characters in The Plague of Doves states simply, “But it happened in the heat of things”, to which another replies, “What doesn’t happen in the heat of things?”

Photo (c) 2013 Daniel Chodusov used under Creative Commons license.



Advice to Myself
Louise Erdrich

Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don’t patch the cup.
Don’t patch anything. Don’t mend. Buy safety pins.
Don’t even sew on a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
Don’t keep all the pieces of the puzzles
or the doll’s tiny shoes in pairs, don’t worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.
Except one word to another. Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic-decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don’t even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementos.
Don’t sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we’re all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don’t answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything at all that breaks.
Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life
and talk to the dead
who drift in through the screened windows, who collect
patiently on the tops of food jars and books.
Recycle the mail, don’t read it, don’t read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.

not yet human


Louise Erdrich
When they were wild
When they were not yet human
When they could have been anything,
I was on the other side ready with milk to lure them,
And their father, too, each name a net in his hands.