Poetry from Naomi Benaron
followed by Q&A
The night you slip and hum her name
into my ear, I shall become light–
as wave reinventing myself in every warped
windowpane of your room; as particle
I will snarl your hair, tangle your bedclothes,
bind your lover in a knot of shadow and make
her watch me vibrate every atom in your blood,
sing hallelujah in the cavern of your chest.
Planck taught us that the body gives off heat
not as continuum but in discrete
quantum leaps determined by his constant, v.
But love obeys a different law; the heart
belongs to the sea–erasing your footprints as it ebbs
just to kiss them back when it tumbles toward your shore.
Studying for the Massage Licensing Exam
It is 5:00 a.m. and for an hour
I have been trying to draw the body
piece by piece from the page
the medial malleolus is formed
from the distal portion of the tibia.
Outside, cicadas rub transitional light
between their legs the thigh bone
connected to the knee bone
and I wish I could open the window
and cut a square from the dark,
Brachioradialis : origin :
lateral supercondylar ridge
and I wish it would be cool as stellar
ice so I could hold it to my face
base of styloid process of the radius :
action : flexion of the forearm,
but monsoonal summer lingers.
Night clings to the cheek like swamp-heat.
It drips from the skin, holds no lacunal relief in
bones of the wrist : trapezium trapezoid
capitate hamate scaphoid triquetrum
lunate : bone of the moon.
My old dog curls stiffly by my feet,
fur ruffled by the last gasp of the moon.
Nothing I learn prepares me
for this miraculous articulation
of joints deserting the body. Nothing
for the slow descent into disconnection
backbone from hipbone,
hipbone from thighbone
until I have to help him stand.
I will keep to myself the process
of cartilaginous breakdown. His feet
tell me all I need to know.
Eyes closed, muscles in almost autonomic
twitching, he does what he has done
all these years. He and I together: He runs.
And runs. And runs.
Naomi Benaron’s novel Running the Rift won the 2010 Bellwether Prize for a novel of “socially engaged literature” and is due out in 2012. Her short story collection, Love Letters from a Fat Man, won the 2006 G.S. Sharat Chandra Prize for fiction. Her poetry reviews, fiction and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in journals including New Letters, Poets’ Quarterly, Calyx, The MacGuffin, Spillway, Comstock Review, and Green Mountains Review. Currently, she teaches at a community college in Tucson, AZ, and online to Afghan women writers through the Afghan Women’s Writing Project.
Q: What was the inspiration for these poems?
A: I wrote “Dualities” because I felt guilty making my Composition students write a sonnet when I had never written one. I am a geophysicist by training and have always been fascinated by the pure poetry of physics. “Studying for the Massage Licensing Exam” came from just that. Although I have been a therapist for 13 years, I had to get recertified. I didn’t realize my dog (Scout – a poet in his own right) would be a part of it until I looked down and saw him at my feet. When he creaked into an upright position and waited for his walk, it all came pouring out. We trained for marathons together in both our better years.
Q: What can an old dog teach a poet about seeing the world?
A: EVERYTHING!!! They are so open, honest and holistic in their approach to life. So immediate, and so incredibly focused. Are we going to run now? When will you feed me? Will you pet me? Why are you petting that other dog? Also, Scout and I have been growing old together, so we have been learning about changing limitations and how to fight them as a team. We don’t give up.
Q: What new understanding of the body did you come to as a result of massage training?
A: It was an amazing revelation to learn about muscles and kinesiology. It’s like reading a map with your fingers, and as you feel the muscle, you visualize how it works, both on its own and with its partner muscles. It’s also such a gift to have someone get up off the table and say, “Aaaaaaah! I feel so much better now.”
Q: You’ve made a lovely connection between physics and emotion in “Dualities” – how, then, is time affected by the presence of a former lover?
A: What an interesting question! I suppose time becomes more fluid, the boundaries more blurred. A bit dangerous, too, I suppose. You never know when the past will whelm up into the present.