Spring 2014, Volume 16

Poetry by Dana Roeser

Be Where Your Hands Are

Be where your
         hands are
                   my friend Anna

declared in
         the Sunday

“Surrender to
         Win” twelve-
                   step meeting.

I am
         where my

is. Because my rust-
         colored vintaged

                   still has

one pristine white
         stain like
                   a powdery

fingerprint from where
         the original

of ectoplasm
         essence life
                   force prana

jism—blood—landed. The
         lobster had
                   been so

recently alive. It was
         scalding orange persimmon
                   piping hot I took

the nut cracker
         lobster cracker and with
                   my race

knowledge from
         40 years ago
                   when I

had a life of
         privilege (though
                   in my

misery I didn’t
         know it)—
                   and lobsters—

cracked the widest
         point of the claw
                   I could grasp

in my cracker/vice
         and squeezed.
                   Out flew

the glob of snot,
         white and surrounded
                   by a splash of clear

fluid. Cervical
         mucus. Fertilized
                   egg. It struck
my—dry cleaned—
         arm. (I had

whether to
         wear that
                   shirt!) A

white spot
         in a wet
                   areola; three

times at least
         I went to the
                   kitchen and

patted my arm
         with a water-soaked
                   dish cloth,

or sponge. Fat lot
         of good the

plastic “lobster bib”
         did!  Still, I was
                   so grateful
it wasn’t
         melted butter. I saw

in the
         kitchen. They
                   weren’t running

around. They
         were confined
                   like liquor

bottles vertically
         in individual

in a cardboard
         box. They had

shipped from
         Maine. They had
                   thick rubber

bands on their
         claws, of course. I paid
                   $20 for mine

and it was
         delivered to
                   my place

at the table. I saw
         the trim athletic

my high school graduating
         class, as were

rest of them—
         “Kim,” I think,

them one at
         a time from
                   the crate

to the kettle
         with tongs. Somebody
                   looked. She

said, Don’t.
         She was Hephaestus
                   metal worker

at the forge
         and what she did
                   there was

not for
         the tourist.
                   Oh, I know

it. I know
         what sort of
                   grim business

I was involved
         with. And
                   I wanted to

fork that
         prehistoric mythic primal

thing, crack the moment
         open and find
                   that interstice/juncture

where it had
         so recently
                   fought to live.

Nail the moment
         to the moment. Something
                   to the present. These were

women I had not
         seen in 40 years
                   and did not

think to see.
         Shadowy figures
                   with hockey sticks,

lacrosse, capable of
                   Latin and solving

complex equations.
                   only as
spirit attendants
         to my unhappiness. In
                   blazers and

tunics wearing
         their cleated athletic

traversing fields with hair
         flying or talking
                   in the locker

room about getting
         into Princeton.                      

the jism
         accident, I found
                   I had

survived. I prided myself
         on removing—
                   with precision

instrument tiny twin-
         tonged fork—
                   the inner claw-shaped

meat from each claw—
         and then
                   the tail meat—

intact. A sculptural mold
         of the outer
                   enameled red

“mortal coil.”
         They didn’t
                   tell me

if Kathy cried
         out. I know
                   even four months

ago the last
         time I saw her
                   her life force
was waning
         and I didn’t

her capable
         of crying or
                   anything else. We

         drily. As in
                   the old days,

only nine or
         so years
                   after those

I shared with this
         mélange of women
                   I’d graduated

from high
         school with and was
convening with
         on the Jersey

however many hundreds of miles
         from my
                   Indiana home.

But I didn’t even mention
         the couple of

I spent drinking red wine
         and whatever
                   with her

and her then-
         husband—and watching
                   “Dallas.”  Or the

time, before that,
         before he came
                   into the picture,

even earlier, after
         Kurt left me, when
                   we sat on her

sofa at 2001 Minor
         Lane, vegetative
                   in the heat

or loaded my
         car (she didn’t
                   drive until

she was over forty)
         with yellow
                   beach chairs

from K-Mart, beach towels,
         the New York Times,

our laundry bags and
         set off
                   for her acquaintance’s

apartment pool. We did
         eventually get
                   caught, mid-

Times and laundry load.
         Do lobsters
                   cry out?

I just had the worst
         glimmer of a

that they cried.  But the
         internet says
                   it’s “simply”

steam being released from 
         their shells. The
                   din of the reunited
school mates—
         all women!  a plus!—was
                   so loud

I wouldn’t
         have heard them.  We
                   got skunked

later through the
         open window;
                   I wondered

if the overpowering stench
         meant there’d been
                   a transliteration,

transculturation, a
         lobster metamorphosis!
                   Transfiguration, tran-

substantiation . . . no more
         anthropomorphosis! The women
                   had their

own authority. At 58, or -9,
         each had
                   her own

tragedy engraved
         (except the one
                   who’d worked

in an office
         her whole
                   life and

lived on
         the DelMarVa

only learned
         last night
                   what that

stands for!—was that
         her tragedy?)
                   and hence
each was

I never learned
         the details about
                   Kathy’s death

or about my
         dying friend

Marty said she wanted
         to be remembered
                   as she was

alive. And not
         in-between, not
                   on the seam,

suffering. So I don’t
         know if at
                   a certain

moment she squirted
         out her
                   life force

in a glob. I know
         she was mean
                   to the nurses

at Clarion Arnett.
                   agreeable Kathy

         it in herself
                   to kick ass

in the hospice
         she was in for those
                   last couple of weeks.

There was
         a woman, Carrie, at
                   the beach reunion,
whose child
         had died nine
                   years ago

in an accident. Had been pulled
         straight out
                   of this life.

I don’t
         know if
                   at the dinner she ate

the food of the
         gods, or

one of the
         little Jesuses
                   in the kitchen

the squeaking
         hissing furious
                   lobster. If

when she was

cried out, perhaps
         it was just
                   vapor escaping simply.  




About the poet's work: Acclaimed poet Tony Hoagland says that “Dana Roeser’s lanky poems are neck-deep in life, and relentlessly intent on learning the truth. She has her own charming and muscular prosody; she tells lively, moving stories; but it is the determined persistence of their very human speaker which drives the poems.” Rodney Jones, recent winner of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Prize, says that her “overarching theme is individual, feminist, contemporary: how does a woman know herself apart from convention and duty?” Dana Roeser delivers to us a world filled with cars breaking down, young children throwing up, a mother dying, women in their underwire bras getting struck by lightning—all the usual, casual, catastrophic events of our lives folded together with other foreign objects into a child’s crazy King Cake.

BIO: Dana Roeser is the author of three books of poetry: Beautiful Motion (2004) and In the Truth Room (2008), both winners of the Samuel French Morse Prize, and The Theme of Tonight’s Party Has Been Changed, winner of the Juniper Prize (University of Massachusetts Press, March 2014). This most recent book was recognized by Library Journal as one of “Thirty Amazing Poetry Titles for Spring 2014.”

She has been the recipient of an NEA fellowship, the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award, and the Jenny McKean Moore Writer-in-Washington Fellowship. Her poems have appeared in The Iowa Review, Harvard Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Antioch Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Laurel Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Massachusetts Review, Prairie Schooner, Southern Review, Northwest Review, POOL, Shenandoah, Sou’wester, and other journals, as well as on Poetry Daily and Verse Daily.

Roeser has received fellowships for residencies at Yaddo, Ragdale, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Le Moulin à Nef (VCCA France), St. James Cavalier Centre for Creativity (Valletta, Malta) (VCCA International Exchange), and Mary Anderson Center for the Arts.

Dana Roeser's website: www.danaroeser.com/

Dana Roeser's most recent book – The Theme of Tonight's Party Has Been Changed: Poems (Winner of the Juniper Prize for Poetry) Paperback – Univ. of Massachusetts Press (March 31, 2014)