Changing the Subject

05 Apr

I don’t want to say much about last night’s game except that I woke up this morning with a knot in my stomach and it didn’t get much better as the day went on. I think part of the problem is that now that Bulldogpalooza 2011 is over,  the upcoming school referendum that needs to pass for Brian to keep his job is even more immediately on my mind. Without a team to cheer on I find myself without much cheer. Where is Dallas Clark when you need him?

Brian is trying to relieve his stress by starting a new project he’s calling Lentferendum. Instead of the sacrifices Lent calls for (which might become an every-day reality for us if the referendum doesn’t pass), Brian decided to try to add something to make the days more tolerable. He’s pledged to write and post a poem every day between now and the impending referendum and has called on like-minded friends to make a similar pledge. So Brian has written a few new poems over the last couple of days and this got us to talking. He says that because it’s been so long since he’s written a poem that he feels no pressure to write anything good. For some reason, I feel exactly the opposite. I feel like if I sat down to write a new poem it’d basically sound like this: “LOOK AT ME. I AM WRITING A PO-EM.” I feel like if I can’t write a good poem it’ll be as embarrassing as forgetting to pull down your pants to pee. Brian suggested a couple of things, namely to avoid starting with a blank page and writing an entirely new poem. He told me to take my student’s poems and make them better, or to do one of the exercises I’d assigned to them this semester.

Well, something must have rubbed off on me, because I almost can’t believe what I did this morning. I caught the bug and worked on a poem. To be clear, I did not write a new poem, I revised a poem. And this particular poem has quite a history…

A little prefacing first. I am a horrible sleeper but a vivid dreamer. I remember many of my dreams and they are usually pretty complex. Lengthy story-lines, shifting perspectives, lots of charged imagery and I have a knack for remembering odd details. Sometimes the emotions in my dreams will be so strong that I have what my relative Lynn K. calls a “dream hangover,” where it takes a few hours or even a whole day to shake the feeling off. SO, one morning when I was in grad school, getting my MFA at Purdue, I told my good friend Casey about a dream I’d had.

I dreamed that I went to Mary Leader’s house (Mary was my thesis adviser and is a favorite of ours (Me, Brian, Casey, Gretchen, etc.), only it wasn’t Mary’s actual house. I went in and this was no normal house. The first room I went in was like a museum gallery, with lots artifacts and treasures on pedestals and under glass. There was a black panther walking through the gallery. Then I went deeper in the house and the rooms kept getting bigger and bigger, like ballrooms and huge halls. There was a room with a bunch of wax people. Then I felt like I was lost inside the house, like it wasn’t just a house but more of a universe with portals to new worlds. There were no doors, but I climbed through windows to get to new places. So, it was like I’d dreamed what Mary’s metaphorical house would be like.

So after I told Casey about the dream he told me I had to write a poem about it. Well, I’ve honestly never had much success with dream poems. So instead Casey and a bunch of our other MFA friends wrote a collaborative poem based on my dream and called it “The House of Mary.” That’s what happens in grad school when a bunch of writers share an office. They steal and play. I didn’t have much to do with the poem, it went its own way and I went mine.

Well, a few weeks ago I asked Casey to send me “The House of Mary” if he had it. I wanted to show it to my poetry students. So he did, and I did. He told me to revise it, said he was going to revise it. It’s been sitting on my computer ever since. So this morning, too afraid to write anything new, I decided to reclaim “The House of Mary” as my own. I started revising the poem from the bottom up… I knew I had a better last line, so I reworked the poem stanza by stanza, from end to beginning.

I was a little hesitant to post it on the Lentferendum blog, but I really wanted to show it to Casey and show Brian that I was participating in Lentferendum, too. So I sucked it up and posted it. It makes sense that I’d post it here, too, no? Well, yes and no. Many writers and artists will tell you that you never really know when a poem or a painting or a story is done. There is always some question of revision- could I make it better? So, sometimes it’s hard to share a poem so soon after you’ve just written it. You feel kind of like keeping it to yourself because you’re not sure if it’s an embarrassment or a masterpiece, and YOU want to be the one that makes this judgment first, not anyone else. As soon as you put it out there you see all its flaws, question whether you’re loving an ugly baby.

Plus, I know I’ve got family reading this blog who have never seen any of my poetry before. Just because I’m “brave” enough to share my poems with strangers and friends doesn’t mean I’m not a coward when it comes to sharing it with family. It’s HARD showing your poems to family! It feels almost like you’re inviting them to see you perform in a drag show. Suddenly their years-old idea of what and who you are has to absorb this new thing, it might be weird and they might not “get it.” I get into a cold sweat just imagining a family member asking me to explain what a poem of mine “means.” I don’t mean to sound like a snob, like my family isn’t intelligent or enlightened enough to understand poetry. But one time I caved in and showed a poem to my mother and she gave me this face. She didn’t like it, she didn’t like that it was “sad” or whatever, or that she didn’t understand what I meant. Well, my knee-jerk reaction was to never show her or any of my family anything again. It hurts a little to put so much of who you are into something and be misunderstood. Especially by family because so much of your relationship is built on connections, on understanding each other, being familiar.

There’s also this other funny part that I can’t quite explain. You kind of put on a costume when you write poetry. Not that it’s fake or insincere or anything, but just like you can act differently at work or with friends, you become a little bit of a different person when you write poetry. The circle you’ve drawn around yourself stretches out a little, becomes more nebulous… that’s a bit too poetic, I guess. It’s kinda like you’re Bruce Wayne doing the Batman thing… they’re really the same person, but NOT the same person at all.

So, before I start digging my own grave by talking too much about something I hardly know anything about (Batman and comics), let me give you this one caveat before I post my revision of “The House of Mary”: please GOD don’t ask me what it means!!! Read it, like it or dislike it, comment if you have to, but have pity on a poor girl. and remember, it may not be finished!

The House of Mary

I remember the first room, the vestibule that Mary led me into.
It was humble, but after that the rooms kept growing and
there were no doors. Mary let me in. She took me to museum rooms
with glass boxes, I saw a glossy black animal pacing through the treasures.
She wants to show me a ballroom with still dancing wax figures. She
points out a mantle with stuffed birds and candlelight.

Mary leaves me in one room, and another. I am deep inside where
the blue walls lean back into the sky, they blossom. And if it rains here
it rains dust. And silence is the only word that echoes in these great halls.
In the House of Mary there are empty rooms and rooms with a tiny single
window that opens to other places. I crawl through them and fall into
the arms of a wax man, who holds me loosely, like a long satin ribbon.

Mary is humming like electricity, wired through the walls.
She is lighting up dark rooms as I walk into them. I have no map,
but all the long hallways head East. All the faces in the portraits
are turned away and they are all facing into a room I cannot find,
the holy place in the House of Mary. I can hear them praying.
There is a place for me here, with wax figures. A room.

The corridors are tangled, weave a pattern I am blind to
but there is no fear in the House of Mary. No hollow drumming.
I take great care to place wax figures in striking postures.
They will come to life soon, I hope they will appreciate how hard I worked.
They will smell religion burning and drifting through the house,
they will replace me, Mary, if I am not careful I fear.

Give me the tour Mary, show me the rooms I can find again.
There are pyramid rooms
, she says, but I can only point the way.
And Mary fiddles with the fit of her red draping garment and
raises an eyebrow and walks away down the hall, descending.
This should be a dream, I know but the wax people breathe.
They must be perfect and there must never be great heat.

If there are people outside of the House of Mary we never hear them
knocking. Beware says Mary and beware and beware, this house
has no memory of itself. But Mary remembers me and offers me a room.
It is right to accept. There is welcome here, I have a room, my room
in the House of Mary connects to a temple. I don’t know if I ever had a house,
where its halls may have led, what wax people I could have kept in the basement.

When I dream in the House of Mary I dream I am alone with the moon
in the middle of the ocean. I lift my arms and unhook it, bury the moon
in the water. But I know that I cannot dream here, that the moon will always
be a mute stranger pacing through the house at night. Nothing can be added
or stolen away by dreaming, Mary’s inventory is awake and breathing,
but hard to remember. The wax bookkeeper dreams.

I will awake some morning to knocking. I have forgotten the front door,
the house has forgotten its doors, there was only one door and it existed
only once. Mary has found a new-born room, is hammering it open.
She is picturing felted wallpaper, a claw-foot tub and yes, an open hearth,
tall enough to walk into. A credenza with labeled bottles and a cookie jar
full of blessed Eucharist. We line up with our wax mouths opened.

PS. If you are interested in other blogs I read or follow, besides the new Lentferendum, you should check out my friend Anna’s two blogs:, a vegetarian cooking blog; and a newly minted blog about post-MFA life.


Posted by on April 5, 2011 in Family, Poetry, Writing


Tags: ,

2 responses to “Changing the Subject

  1. Casey

    April 5, 2011 at 8:56 PM

    Mindy, you revised this poem into a whole nother poem, you know? Good work. It’s so catching-the-sense, you know? You know I had totally forgotten that it was first a dream… anyway, great post, good stuff. Happy Lentferendum.

  2. Brian

    April 7, 2011 at 6:11 AM

    I think this is the best version yet. I think the worst version was when Mark Leahy, fiction writer, revised the poem. I think maybe he should have instead made it into a short story or something.


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