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Mary Karr

February 27, 2010

THE CHOICE
by Mary Karr

Once in northern England, I got a few pub drunks
to drive to Wordsworth’s house, local thugs
whose underheated VW (orange) took me
fishtailing down icy hills,

through hedgerows in an unlit labyrinth
reminiscent of the library stacks I wandered around
zombie-like each day, not composing
verses but waiting in scarlet lipstick

for the bars to open. I’d left my homeland
fleeing a man I’d faked first caring, then
not caring about, and in months of Euclidean solitude
I’d writ no cogent phrase. The notebook in my knapsack

was a talisman I carried into train stations so as not
to look like a bimbo. But bimbo
I was, and open, the bound pages were only white wings
to nap on. Near dawn, our caravan came

to a sheet-glazed window– a child’s stumpy desk
with the poet’s initials penknifed on top.
It was my first stab of reverence,
when that hunger to emblazon

some surface with oneself became barbarous
wonder at someone else. W.W.
jagged as inverted Alps, unscalable
as a cathedral’s gold-leaf dome.

After that, grad school was a must.
There I posed as supplicant till enough
magnificence had been poured
down my throat that I could whiff

the difference between it and the stench
I spilled. When I told the resident genius
that given the choice between writing and being
happy, I’d pick the latter, she touched my folio

with her pencil like a bad fairy’s wand,
saying: Don’t worry, you don’t have that choice.
And in a blink of my un-mascara’ed eye
the intricate world bloomed into being– impossible

to transcribe on the small bare page.

(for Brooks Haxton)

__________________________________________

The above poem is from the sequence Sinners Welcome by Mary Karr. I’m currently reading these, and I found an NPR interview with the author. Check it out.

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