Monday, April 15, 2013

National Poetry Month—Laura Kasischke "April"

Today is tax day in the U.S. when every good citizen—and non-citizen of whatever legal status—is expected to have filed his or her Federal Income Taxes for 2012.  It is an important calendar date which is not celebrated, but feared.  A date fraught with angst and anguish even if you believe as Justice Oliver Wendell Homes, Jr. and I do (most of the time) that “taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.”
The chronically tardy are still franticly assembling the mind numbing paper work now required for all but the very simplest return and are scheming to at least be in line at the Post Office at midnight to avoid a late penalty.  Some are distraught about coming up with the cash to pay for what is owed—how well I know that feeling. 
Of course the smug filed weeks ago and have already spent their refunds, if any.
For the Tea Party and right wingers it is a day to thump their chests, snarl, and threaten revolution.
Whatever the case, the date is too auspicious to ignore, even for poets.  So I browsed for some suitable verse to share here.  I found a lot of allegedly humorous verse.  Alas, being an Ogden Nash, Dorothy Parker, or Billy Collins is a lot harder than it looks.  The political poetry ran to right wing screeds and barely coherent.  There were snatches here and there from Shakespeare and the Bible, but none I could find from men who made their livelihood in one way or another as tax collectors—Robert Burns and Nathaniel Hawthorne.
But finally I found a poem in a unique voice.
Laura Kasischke is a poet and novelist born in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1961. She was educated at Columbia University and the University of Michigan where she earned her Masters of Fine Arts in 1987.  She is currently a professor of English in Ann Arbor where she lives with her husband and children.
She is the author of five collection of poetry beginning with Wild Brides in 1992.  Her work, which focuses on domestic lives in a middle class suburban milieu is filled with distinctive imagery, supple and innovative narrative, and a respect for the lives of the people she chronicles.
She has won the Juniper Prize, the Beatrice Hawley Award, the Alice Fay DiCastagnola Award, the Bobst Award for Emerging Writers, and the Rilke Poetry Prize from the University of North Texas as well as several Pushcart Prizes and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation.  Her 2011 collection Space, in Chains won the National Book Critics Circle Award.
The prolific writer has also been a successful novelist who tackled difficult themes like global pandemics and school shootings.  Her novel The Life Before Her Eyes was made into an art house film directed by Vadim Perelman  starring Uma Thurman and Evan Rachel Wood.
While a respected mid-list literary novelist in this country, she enjoys great success in translation in France.  Be Mine was a national best seller in that country.
But today, I found her finely crafted poem April an evocative meditation on the human condition and grief.
That was the year in which
we had to pay
the tax on love, which

was grief, of course. Of
course, it was
more than we
could ever afford. They’d

heard that story before.

Don’t answer the phone.

But now we know:
If you don’t answer the phone,
they come to the door.

Our only deduction
was our only hope:
The expensive coat

she’d never worn. Not
once. Not a single
stroll along the lake.
Not one snowstorm.

But life went on
and would go on, and
there were atomic
stockpiles to pay for.
The schools
were failing.
The dogs
howled alongside
the coyotes every night.
For which, some personal
responsibility we bore.

But the days were
blinding, as
always, in April. All
that white paper. Such

light, like April. Like
the light that a child, lost
in a cathedral for weeks,
might finally need to eat.

The petals of the lilies
and the communion wafers
and the emptiness peeled
from the bottom
of the empty collection plate.

For instance, she died
with an eye
still open, and
in the pupil —

Yes, I hate to say it:

Of course.
In which a tiny agent
at a tiny desk
with a gleaming
pinprick for a pen

crunched her numbers,
pored over her forms.
—Laura Kasischke

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