This episode introduces teacher and poet Linda McCarriston who has composed award-winning poetry as part of her journey towards recovery from growing up in a household of violence and alcoholism. She is joined by Sandra McPherson, also an award-winning poet and teacher, who has written about such topics as her life as an adopted child and her daughter’s challenges with autism.
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BILL MOYERS: They are here to celebrate life. They are have come to celebrate language. Poetry readings are flourishing across America in many different places in wondrous variety. Nowhere is the renaissance of poetry more vivid than in the historic village of Waterloo, New Jersey. Every two years, thousands of people gather to hear some of the world’s best poets at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival.
In this hour we will hear from Linda McCarriston, and we will meet Sandra McPherson. Sandra McPherson and Linda McCarriston, theirs is the language of life.
LINDA McCARRISTON: When this book was first out they invited me to read it. Never seen me. And obviously he was expecting a great big wicked amazon, you know, like “fee-fi-fo-fum.” (Laughs.) And …
BILL MOYERS: Linda McCarriston now lives and teaches in Anchorage, Alaska, but she grew up in a working class family in Lynn, Massachusetts. She, her brother and their mother were brutally abused by her alcoholic father, whose violence often drove them from the home. Her prize-winning book EVA MARY is a collection of poems that attempt to confront and heal here childhood agony.
LINDA McCARRISTON: “Now hand is the hard bottom of the girl. Now hand is full of the full new breast. Now hand, square hand, cruel as a spade, splits the green girl wood of her body. No one can take this from him now ever, though she is for years a mother and worn and he is too old to force any again. His cap hangs on a peg by the door, plaid wool of an elderly working man’s park bench decline. ‘I got there before the boys did,’ he knows, hearing back to her pleading, back to her sobbing, to his own voice over like his body over hers. Laughter, mocking, the elemental voice of the cock unhearted in its own quarter. ‘A man is king in his own castle,’ he can still say, having got what he wanted, in a lifetime of used ones, second-hand, one girl he could spill like a shot of whiskey, the whore only he could call ‘Daughter’.”
LINDA McCARRISTON: Poetry’s about saying what we don’t want to know. Poetry is about saying the unsayable. And in the case of these poems in this book the unsayable was quite simply what the — the brutal, horrible, and cruel reality of the — the violence that has been a part of so many homes. That particular poem, of them all, is the most painful for me because I think it gets most profoundly to the root of my experience as a girl child in that family, “the whore only he could call ‘Daughter’.” But this is not an exaggeration, and there are many, many, many others with experiences in violent families. My task as a poet was to bring that brutal experience to light through poems. They’re rough poems. They’re painful poems. It hurts me to read them. It hurts people to hear them, but, you know, poetry is about real life. Poetry is about what kills us and what doesn’t kill us. It’s about what keeps us alive and poetry itself, in my own life, has been a tremendous avenue. It has been really the only avenue to speak the truth with power. And …
BILL MOYERS: How do decide to write about such unsayable experiences?
LINDA McCARRISTON: I really don’t feel as though I had a choice. That was my material and the difficulty was simply waiting and leaning on that material long enough until a way came to me in which I could speak.
BILL MOYERS: And poetry — what is it about poetry that enabled you to do this that prose wouldn’t have? Why poetry?
LINDA McCARRISTON: Wow, that’s a very difficult question. Poetry allows one to speak with a voice of power that is not in fact granted to one by the culture. In other words, as a woman in this culture, I did not have the stature from which to speak. I was simply a common woman. I was not a judge. I was not a priest.
BILL MOYERS: Mmm-hmm.
LINDA McCARRISTON: There are several poems in that collection that make reference to efforts to efforts to speak or to get help from the priest, from the doctor, from the lawyer, from any of those in possession of power and authority.
LINDA McCARRISTON: This poem is addressed to a judge. And, although I didn’t know it at the time, it is quite a strong example of the old Irish bardic tradition of flinging the curse. The Irish bards were meant to praise and to dispraise, to praise what was good and dispraise what was evil for the sake of the health of the tribe. And though I knew nothing about that tradition, I was, in fact, Irish and I threw this curse to a particular Irish judge who had denied my family the safety that it sought from him many years ago in the form of a divorce. And the’s a yellow jacket up here and I don’t like yellow jackets. I’ll fling the curse.
LINDA McCARRISTON: “To Judge Phalen, dead long enough, a summons. Your Honor, when my mother stood before you with her routine domestic plea after weeks of waiting for speech to return to her body, with her homemade ’40s hairdo, her face purple still under pancake, her jaw off just a little, her holy of holies healing, her breast wrung, her heart, the bursting heart of someone snagged among rocks deep in a shark pool. No, not someone, but a woman there snagged with her babies, by them, in one of hope’s pedestrian brutal turns, when, in the tones of parlors overlooking the harbor, you admonished that for the sake of the family, the wife must take the husband back to her bed. What you willed not to see before you was a woman risen clean to the surface, a woman who, with one arm flailing, held up with the other her actual burdens of flesh. When you clamped to her leg the chain of justice, you ferried us back down to the law, the black ice eye, the maw, the mako that circled the kitchen table nightly. What did you make of the words she told you, not to have heard her, not to have seen her there? Almost forgivable ignorance, you were not the fairest, the boot, or the blade, but the jaded corrective ear and eye at the limits of her world. Now, I will you to see her as she was, to ride your own words back into light. I call your spirit home again, divesting you of robe and bench, the fine white hand and half-lit Irish eye. Tonight put on a body in the trailer down the road where your father, when he can’t get it up, makes love to your mother with a rifle. Let your name be Eva Mary. Let your hour of birth be dawn. Let your life be long and common and your flesh endure.”
LINDA McCARRISTON: I have this vision of a room that was really under water at that point, the mako that circled the kitchen table nightly, this image of a great shark in this little room moving around the kitchen table every night, which was what it was like to be in that kitchen with my father.
BILL MOYERS: Is that why you placed a curse on Judge Fallon?
LINDA McCARRISTON: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: For letting your father get away with such brutality?
LINDA McCARRISTON: Yes. Yes, that’s why. I call him — I refer to his “almost forgivable ignorance” in not hearing what my mother had to say when she tried to divorce my father. And that is why I fling the curse.
BILL MOYERS: And the curse is “Let your life be long and common and your flesh endure.” Why common?
LINDA McCARRISTON: Because, essentially in his courtroom he was — I felt — willfully ignorant of the common women who were before him attempting to have safety and justice come from him.
BILL MOYERS: So that’s why you call his spirit back, divested of robe and bench?
LINDA McCARRISTON: Mmm-hmm. Yes.
BILL MOYERS: To be as vulnerable and as weak as — as you were?
LINDA McCARRISTON: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: He sent your mother back into the home didn’t he?
LINDA McCARRISTON: Yes, he did.
BILL MOYERS: If his flesh endures forever, what do you think will happen to his spirit?
LINDA McCARRISTON: I don’t — I didn’t mean to curse — I didn’t mean to make a curse that would destroy his spirit. And yet that’s implicit in that line. I think I mean to have his spirit in some way broken into knowledge.
BILL MOYERS: Of?
LINDA McCARRISTON: Of all that he did not see, that does not see, does not know of the suffering of those less privileged, less safe, who had depended upon him. I curse him into consciousness. I curse him into consciousness, into pain.
SANDRA McPHERSON: I generally do not know either what I’m going to say or what I want to say or even how I feel when I start with a blank page. You just feel full or sometimes you feel empty.
BILL MOYERS: Sandra McPherson is a native Californian whose 13 books of poetry have brought her many awards. She writes about everything from quilts to her daughter, from the blues to her own experience as an adopted child. She writes and teaches now in California, helping students find a poetry within their own lives.
STUDENT: I feel like when — when I’m just — everything’s going really well for me, I don’t have that much to write about.
SANDRA McPHERSON: It used to be — it used to be that way. I used to write out of pain.
SANDRA McPHERSON: You don’t — then you catch yourself.
STUDENT: Right. I don’t even …
SANDRA McPHERSON: “I’m writing out of pain,” and then you stop and — and you can’t use the same methods anymore. I could change my method sometime.
STUDENT: Sometimes I don’t know exactly how to start something.
SANDRA McPHERSON: Yeah?
STUDENT: I know there’s something inside, but I don’t know how to get it out.
SANDRA McPHERSON: Yes.
STUDENT: Is that a good way to start?
SANDRA McPHERSON: Oh, yes. I was thinking the last — I think it was this last year. I keep a journal sort of intermittently. Sometimes I need it more than others. It’s a friend, you know. (Laughs.) And last year I had so little time and I’d lie down at night and I’d say, “I’ve got to put something down in writing that’s my own.” So there’s just entry after entry for months that began, “I have nothing in my head,” (Laughter.) But there’s always something there. There’s always something there. You get a paragraph. You get three pages and sure enough, it draws a lot out of you. There is something in your head. But I let images and words do that work. I think of them as workers. I mean you’re hiring this word. You’re hiring the color green to do a lot of work for you, and depending on what other words you put with it, you put two words together and they start up their little battle or their love affair or something. So I trust the tools that I’m working with and I trust the images, I trust the things in the world to say something about me.
SANDRA McPHERSON: These poems tonight will all be on the theme of my odd daughter. This summer I realized I had 27 years of poems about my only child and her oddness. She’s been diagnosed as “jazzy”, “hyperactive”, “schizophrenic”, “schizotypal” and now “Asberger’s syndrome autistic.” She’s a very high functioning autistic and interesting person and interesting to be a mother of. She was caught one night before Thanksgiving, shoplifting. She was 17, so this is — it passes off your record. It disappears if you turn 18 and you never do another bad thing, which she never did. But she was caught in a shopping center and she, ah — she stole things like Rubik’s cubes and pornography magazines and toy handcuffs. And I got a call from the deputy, Deputy Robin, she had my daughter, would I come down and get her? This was difficult to write about. I had pages and pages of long narrative notes on it and finally I thought, “No. This is a blues song. This is the one time I deserve to write in that form,” which is two lines roughly repeated and a third line which rhymes.
SANDRA McPHERSON: So this is called BAD MOTHER BLUES. “When you were arrested, child, and I had to take your pocket knife, when you were booked and I had to confiscate your pocket knife, it had blood on it from where you’d tried to take your life. It was the night before Thanksgiving, all the family coming over, the night before Thanksgiving, all the family coming over. We had to hide your porno magazine and put your handcuffs under cover. Each naked man looked at you, said, ‘Baby, who do you think you are?’ Each man looked straight down on you like a waiting astronomer’s star, slowly, disgustedly each wagged his luster. I’ve decided to throw horror down the well and wish on it, decided I’ll throw Horror down the well and wish on it, and up from the water will shine my sweet girl in her baby bonnet. A thief will blind you with his flashlight, but a daughter by your bouquet. A thief will blind you with his flashlight, but a daughter be your bouquet. When the thief’s your daughter, you turn your eyes the other way. I’m going into the sunflower field, where all of them are facing me. I’m going into the sunflower field so all of them are facing me. Going to go behind the sunflowers, feel all the sun that I can’t see.”
SANDRA McPHERSON: The life may be painful, but there is a joy and a power in writing even when you’re dealing with something that is hard to live through day by day and you’re trying to understand what you’re living through by using the tools of words and images and beautiful structure.
BILL MOYERS: You’ve been including the blues in your poems, too.
SANDRA McPHERSON: Yes, but that doesn’t mean sadness. That means … the — that’s a joy of creation and of singing strong and loud and saying, “This is my life. I know you share this.” … Our first year moving from Oregon, we had to rent a house. The house had lots of snails in the garden. And what they are, you know, they’re escargot. But they got loose and now they eat everything. And my daughter was 19 at the time. Her name is Phoebe. She permits me to use her first name in public. Walter, with whom I live, and I went out to do some bird watching. I said, “Phoebe, we’re going to be gone for a couple hours. Do a little of the yard work and, you know, rake some leaves and do something with those snails.” (Laughter.) When I came home, we pulled into the driveway and all over the front of the house were snails, just I mean by the door, you know? And, I thought, “Okay. She’s done one of her things again.” So I went in very patiently, hiding my exasperation and I said, “Phoebe, what’s — what are those things doing out there?” And she was very proud. And she said, “Oh, did you see them? Did you see them?” And I said, “Yeah, I am seeing them, you see.” She said, “Well, let’s go out and look.” And she came out with me and she looked at the wall of snails and she said, “Oh, no!” She said, “I’d arranged them in the shape of the word, Hi.” (Laughter.) So she was welcoming me back.
SANDRA McPHERSON: “One way she spoke to me — I would say, ‘Whisper,’ and she could never figure how to do it. I would say, ‘Speak louder into the phone,’ nor could she raise her voice. But then I found such a whisper, the trail as she began to write to me in snails, in silver memos on the front door, in witnesses to her sense of touch. Home late, I found them slurred and searching, erasing the welcome she’s arranged them in. H, twelve snails. I, seven or six. They were misspelling it, digressing in wayward caravans and pile-ups (laughter), mobile and rolling, but with little perspective. (Laughter.) Their ice stalks smooth as nylons on tiny legs. I raised her in isolation, but it is these snails who keep climbing the walls. For them maybe every vertical makes an unending tree and every ascensions lovely. Why else don’t they wend homeward to ground? But what do we do? We are only a part of a letter in a word and we are on our bellies with speech, wondering, wondering slowly how to move toward one another.” Thank you so much.
LINDA McCARRISTON: This poem grows out that time in my life when I was first teaching high school English as a young woman just out of college in the town next to the town I grew up in. And it’s called HOTEL NIGHTS WITH MY MOTHER. “The hometown flop house was what she could afford the night, the nights he came after us with a knife. I’d grab my books, already dreading the next day’s explanations of homework undone. I ran out of paper. The lies I’d invent standing in front of the nuns in the clothes I’d lain in full-bladdered all night, a flimsy chair-braced door between us and the hallway’s impersonal riot. Years later then, in the next city, standing before my first class, I scanned rows of faces, their cumulative skill in the brilliant adolescent dances of self-presentation, of hiding. New teacher looking young, seeming gullible, I know I let them give me any excuse and took it. I was watching them all for the dark-circled eyes, yesterday’s crumpled costume, the marks, the sorrowful coloring of marks, the cuticles flaming and torn. I made of myself each day a chink a few might pass through unscathed.”
LINDA McCARRISTON: I was working on the poems of this book and my brother came to see me in Vermont because he — he felt that I was too caught up in the past. He has you know, he has a spiritual life and he has a way of dealing with these things. He says basically the father that I had on Earth was not my real father; my real father is — is a spiritual father and, pat-pat, “And we aren’t going to cry. It’s all in the past.” And I wanted desperately just to hold him and say, “This is 30 years too late.” (Laughs.) “This is 35 years too late, but I love you so much and it was so horrible to watch that happen to you, and to be a little girl and useless.” But he — we couldn’t do that. He would not permit it. It was too dangerous, and so he left. I mean he didn’t, you know, fling his cape over his shoulder and leave. He — we visited and we stayed within the parameters set by him, and then he left. And, I was really wrought up. I was really wrought up and, bam, I wrote that poem.
LINDA McCARRISTON: This is for my brother and it’s called BILLY. “As though a bare bulb hung over your head as it does in movie screens of interrogation, you are the single vivid thing in the shades of grey memory, the white center, out from which the whole dank tenement cellar, the dirt floor, the boulders that formed the old foundation, the three fat coal-burning furnaces, one for each of the three stories, the coal bins, hunky across from each other, the mud-thick little windows above that were coal chutes when the truck came, the new table saw, the new table saw overhead work light, and even our father, who stood beating you with his fists where had stuck you into a barrel as a mountaineer might plant a banner into a peak, to keep your skinny 13 year-old self erect ’til he was finished. The whole rest emanates and fades. It was winter. You had driven your home-made go-cart into a door that he was saving for something. I see the little V’s you made in the paint. I can see his upper body plunging up and down like one of those wind-driven lawn ornaments, the one that is pumping. The barrel reaches your bottom. You must be holding onto it. It must be braced against his table saw. There are no words. The barrel bangs and scrapes. Your body sounds different than a mattress. The noises he makes are the noises of a man trying to lift a Buick off the body of a loved child whose face he can see upturned just above the wheel that rests on her chest, her right on his eyes, as yours were on mine.”
LINDA McCARRISTON: When the book came out and I went to Chicago to read for the award ceremony, bless his heart, you know, he came. He drove from the upper peninsula to be there. And I said, “Billy, I want to read that poem while you’re here.” You know, “I want to read it to you, with your permission, only if you allow me to.” And he said he would and he stood there and I mean it was an agony. You know, he — he wanted so much to have the indignity of this life be behind him and my necessity was to transform the indignity of this life into indignation and public speech and art. And he, so bravely and generously and lovingly, in his best suit, with a face that was a cross between pain and awe and love, stood in public while I read that poem.
LINDA McCARRISTON: “There are no words. The barrel bangs and scrapes. Your body sounds different than a mattress. The noises he makes are the noises of a man trying to lift a Buick off the body of a loved child, whose face he can up upturned just above the wheel that rests on her chest, her eyes right on his eyes, as yours were on mine.”
SANDRA McPHERSON: There is a Navajo term for the condition that we might call schizophrenia. It’s a much nicer word than schizophrenia. It is “moth crazy”. Moth, you know, moths, butterflies? Moth crazy. That’s mentioned in this poem. My daughter goes around in a wheelchair because all her friends are in wheelchairs. She gets on buses in wheelchairs and she goes out to eat in wheelchairs. But she doesn’t need one. This is a little song-like poem. It has some repeated lines, and after she had moved out — she moved out one Mother’s Day — I thought that was nice (laughter), and then she found out that she couldn’t live with her first roommate — no. Her first roommate couldn’t stand her and she had to move out in the middle of the night.
SANDRA McPHERSON: HARMONIES FOR THE ALIENATION OF MY DAUGHTER. “I wish I could put her in the bird house. Evicted from her rented room, she pushes a wheelchair through rain when only prowl cars can watch her. I am tossing. It is no dream she pushes her belongings through night rain to someplace wet and cold she will belong. How have I let this happen? I wish I could put her in the bird house. Some days she bikes to work, washes the unmovable man in bed, cleans the quadriplegic quarterback’s cave, and then his parrot’s cage, fastens baby’s breath in the paralyzed woman’s hair for the opera. Some days she comes home fired, lies down in earphones on the floor and can not cry. If she is moth crazy, nice Navajo for ‘mad’, she makes reparations to the moths by opening the night door to her light. Then she goes up on the roof, says it is ‘covered with little white rocks and mushrooms.’ Says: ‘It is so silent.’ Says: ‘It is so silent,’ says … Says: ‘The stars are writing a bit like you but not keeping a file on me like you.’ Says: ‘Mother— Mother’s crazy too.'”
BILL MOYERS: Names and the naming of things, very important to you in your poetry, isn’t it?
SANDRA McPHERSON: Yes, because at one time I had another name. I had another name for about one day, when I was adopted at birth. And on the adoption papers, the — my birth parents had to supply a name for me, even though my adoptive parents would give me their own name. So for about one day, I was Helen Todd.
BILL MOYERS: And you wrote a poem about it.
SANDRA McPHERSON: And I wrote a poem, wondering who would I have been if I had been raised with that name. I do believe that if you changed as much as one syllable in the pronunciation in your name, you would be different.
SANDRA McPHERSON: And this is called, HELEN TODD, MY BIRTH NAME. It’s addressed to Helen and it begins with the anxiety of the adoptive parents that my birth parents would come back and take me away. There’s a certain period in which when you adopt a child, that the birth parents have the right to reclaim the child. The setting of this is out in California, so it’s all dry. I like this.
SANDRA McPHERSON: “They did not come to claim you back, to make me Helen again. Mother watched the dry hot streets in case they came. This is how she found a tortoise crossing between the cars, and saved it. It’s how she knew roof rats raised families in the palm tree heads. But they didn’t come. It’s almost 40 years. I went to them and now I know our name, quiet one. I believe you would have stayed in trigonometry and taken up the harp. Math soothed you. Music made you bold, and science completely understanding. Wouldn’t you have collected curated in your adolescent mother lode pyrites out of pity for their semblance to gold? And three-leaf clovers to search for some shy differences between them. Knowing you, myself, at last, it seems you’d cut death in half and double everlasting life. Quiet person, named as a formality at birth, I was not born. Only you were.”
BILL MOYERS: You’re addressing this other child, named briefly and then disappeared.
SANDRA McPHERSON: Mmm-hmm.
BILL MOYERS: Was it important to you over the years to imagine the life of that other child?
SANDRA McPHERSON: Once I found out I had a name and I realized that I was that person perhaps, a shadow person living alongside, not too far from where I actually was raised.
BILL MOYERS: And the poem helps you unite the two, bring them together?
SANDRA McPHERSON: Yes, it does.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah.
SANDRA McPHERSON: They both divide and multiply at the end.
BILL MOYERS: “At birth, I was not born. Only you were.”
SANDRA McPHERSON: Yeah. Sandra McPherson was never born. Helen Todd was born.
BILL MOYERS: And now is Sandra McPherson real?
SANDRA McPHERSON: (Laughs.) Oh, yes. I’ll never get rid of her. (Laughs.)
LINDA McCARRISTON: “So I put my soul to bed by itself, so far away that as a woman I still can’t find it, and waited to grow up, to be a person in the real world where men would be as safe to know as dogs.”
BILL MOYERS: Have you reached that place?
LINDA McCARRISTON: Yes. Mmm-hmm, I have. It took some doing, but I have.
BILL MOYERS: Your soul’s awake again?
LINDA McCARRISTON: Yes, I believe it is.
BILL MOYERS: Not in bed by itself?
LINDA McCARRISTON: Not in bed by itself, no. It’s been — it’s been a very deliberate journey.
BILL MOYERS: And poetry has been?
LINDA McCARRISTON: Poetry has been … poetry has been the place where everything that was sealed and hidden that had really no root out into usefulness in my life or no — no root — things I could not use, but knew. Poetry has been the avenue down which those things were able to walk and find expression, validation, and truth, from which I really have built life.
LINDA McCARRISTON: I’ve written quite a bit about horses and when I finally got a horse I was 40 years old and I really should not have waited that long (laughs), because our bones aren’t made of the same substance when we’re 40 as they as they are when we’re younger and we don’t bounce quite as well. My kids used to refer to this particular horse, Shawnee James, as the “mother bucker.” And he put me in the hospital. And this little poem, called BUCKED is written about that occasion.
LINDA McCARRISTON: “Balanced for that instant in mid-air, I watched his rump and white slow motion rise, heart cleft, perfect to deliver the awesome blow. How beautiful the muscles of the world in their uses, great limbs of trees, waves scaling sea walls, the moon’s dreadful flecks on everything, heart valves and minute vessels, the spiraled cues for weakness that I pass on to my children, of which might one ask to be spared.”
BILL MOYERS: Animals are all through your poems.
LINDA McCARRISTON: I think some of my very best poems are about animals, in fact, and …
BILL MOYERS: Why is that, do you think?
LINDA McCARRISTON: Well, I’ll tell you, this brutal environment that I was growing up in, this family, it was very crazy-making and what I could see all around me was the pretty consistent sanity that seemed to be going on in the lives of animals, you know? Animals seemed to be physical, at home in their bodies, relatively predictable, relatively — you know, that if you treated them a certain way, they responded in a certain way. And I think that in some spiritual sense, I became as sort of animal-identified person. I’d decided that if the choices were to be like my father, that I would choose to be the victim rather than to occupy his shoes. I knew I didn’t want to be a man, if being a man was like him, and I certainly didn’t want to be a woman, if it was going to be like my mother. But I’ve come to realize that it was a very healthy thing for me to just sort of say, “I’m just going to take a step to the side here, folks, and continue my spiritual development in the company of dogs and horses and cats and birds and worms and anything else, because you guy don’t have it. You guys — this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be or the way it has to be. And, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to do some kind of psychic maneuvering here off to the side and ally myself with the animals.” And — and at some level, I did.
LINDA McCARRISTON: HEALING THE MARE. “Just days after the vet came, after the steroids that took the fire out of the festering sores, out of the flesh that in the heat took the stings too seriously and swelled into great welts wore thin and wept, calling more loudly out to the green-headed flies, I bathe you and see your coat returning, your deep force surfacing in a new layer of hide, black wax alive against weather and flies. But this morning, misshapen still, you look like an effigy, something rudely made, something made to be buffeted or like an old comforter. Are they both one in the end? So a child and a mother with my sponge and my bucket, I come to anoint, to anneal the still weeping, to croon to you, ‘Baby, poor Baby,’ for the sake of the song, to polish you up for the sake of the touch to a shine. As I soothe you, I surprise wounds of my own, this long time unmothered. As you stand, scathed and scabbed with your head up, I swab. As you press, I lean into my own loving touch, for which no wound is too ugly.”
BILL MOYERS: So in HEALING THE MARE, the portrait, that stunning portrait of the wounded child tending the — the hurt animal …
LINDA McCARRISTON: Mmm-hmm.
BILL MOYERS: … that’s you?
BILL MOYERS: It’s suffused with healing. Just the sound of you reading it is a healing experience.
LINDA McCARRISTON: I think that’s why — that’s what people respond to, that sense that it is possible. — I like this poem. It’s a fairly recent poem. It’s called WROUGHT FIGURE and, this is partly also to demonstrate that although there was a great deal of violence in my home and there is in that book and the violence primarily was committed by my father — that these poems do not represent a man-hating woman or a man-hating consciousness.
LINDA McCARRISTON: “As though you were rare, you confessed at our second candlelit dinner to your history, your women. I must confess each name stung, each one’s beauty, gifts and wit, each one’s second language, hair and eyes hyped even the fights in which each ended it, or you did. ‘I’m hard on women,’ you said. It was July and night, heavy and fragrant all around the table set for the short season out on the porch. Shells of lobsters broken, were heaped on plates, each gruesome body part a woman scorned. You faced the red barn, your salt and cayenne beard, your profile inviting the still light my eyes followed still wanting you. Around and through the names, the scattered tasty bits of crustacean. ‘I love women,’ you said to the barn with a sigh almost of dread, ‘especially smart and pretty ones, Linda,’ to the fireflies, then turned your head to face me, indict me as victim in the sweet fresh crime. I took a week, ten days to think it through, what you had said, seeing myself sometime ahead named with the others over drained shells to some pretty other woman and smart, listening. I’m hard on men. I did not confess when you did. Used to not saying to. Used to the used in the figure ground problem of use. Ten days I took to trace the problem through, figure and ground, ground and figure, used and users, user and used, and worked that line back around to its start, our confession and a circle. And I love men, pretty and smart, as you are, and am not rare in this, but, as you confessed, successful, meaning bested by fewer than I best. Let us dance then on the lawn of what’s left of summer and be not wary as we dance. The smart and the pretty in the arms of one another, a woman turned by a man who loves women, and man turned by a woman who loves men.”
BILL MOYERS: Knowing what you know about suffering, having experienced pain as you have, how do you, in your own words, “dance on the lawn at the end of summer?”
LINDA McCARRISTON: I am blessed by my life. I am blessed by consciousness. I am you know at root a profoundly joyful person and I know great sadness and it is often with me, but I don’t know. It’s a paradox. I am in love with — I feel as though I wanted so much to get in. I wanted so much to get in. And I’m one of the lucky ones who knows I know I got in and that, you know — and it’s optional whether you’re going to get in, it seems to me. This is all very wild sounding, but …
BILL MOYERS: Get into?
LINDA McCARRISTON: … to the field of time, to the field of time, here. Here. Briefly. In the garden.
This transcript was entered on June 22, 2015.