Nebraska Center for Writers

HEAT
by Deborah T McGinn


It's sand hill heat rising
coming up the highway you can see water,
but then it disappears.
Five big quilts from winter
are hanging over the line and drying,
and when I park this old pickup
I'm going to sit right under them and let
the drips come into my blouse
let the big yellow dog lick my face.
Out back
on the other half of this dream
there is a whale of water
an ocean almost.
My dead Grandfather, my mother and I moved there
in the middle of the night.
Our neighborhood
just like the ones we owned in town
steps peeling paint,
and flag poles snapping.
In the next scene
the land suddenly dries up
and our houses are floating in air.
We leave metal flowers behind
under the rugs
away from the quilts.
I didn't see where the water was headed.

Reprinted with permission
from South Dakota Review, Summer 2006
Copyright © 2006
by Deborah T McGinn


CONSTRUCTION SIGHT
by Deborah T McGinn

“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul —
And sings the tune without the words 3 And never stops at all.” — Emily Dickenson
It was Friday when a colleague and I searched
what was left of our staff parking lot.
Eagle Services, the portable out house
was no nesting place. No eagle wingspan of beauty
only broken beak, talon and feather.

Heaps of brick, old wood, broken fence—
denim covered men in hard hats
cigarettes on their lips
and a graveyard of tree stumps.

If you used your imagination
jagged branches looked like fractured arms
coming out of the earth—
remains of prehistoric beasts.

To our right were four still thriving trees
multiple twigs dipping the earth
and raising the sky.
A mote of red tulips
little beauties holding on.

Reprinted with permission
South Dakota Review, Spring 2008
Copyright © 2008
by Deborah T McGinn


TO GO FROM PRIVACY
by Deborah T McGinn


Look at the seven Americans who have won the Nobel Prize for literature —
five of them were alcoholic — yet we can’t prove alcoholism and creativity are related.
— Ann Waldron Washington Post, March 14, 1989
I wrote I knew William Faulkner
on a math test,
and the eighth grade teacher held it
like an ax, insinuating I had lied.
Of course I lied.

I would have liked to ask Mr Faulkner
what it felt like to win
The Nobel Prize, to go from privacy
into the prying hands of strangers,
their speculations, and intrusions,

to be sweat and agony
to a white leaf page,
where heart is in battle with normalcy,
compassion is thin ribbed, starving on the side.
I would have known his hand, writing fast,
penning hard marks,
creativity pounding thick-skinned.
I would have known his let up,
the mad hooch swallow when he shut down
and stretched, one shot to five too many.

It works awhile, enhancing senses—
the mansion, basement, the writing room won’t tell—
sobering up on one ounce left, mixing fiction with life,
rewriting the same story
until it almost drowns.

I was three when Faulkner died
of a heart attack—
call it kidney failure, liver disease, hardening of the arteries,
stroke, high blood pressure,
they’ll disguise it eighty ways from Sunday.
William Faulkner won the Pulitzer for a fable.
Our hallways related: escape quickly,
disappear for a spell, roll a dusty tongue.
His words belong to wide skies,
recovery and a few modest poems are mine.

Reprinted with permission
Copyright © 2008
by Deborah T McGinn


THE TOILET IS STILL WARM
by Deborah T McGinn

Jan calls me on a Saturday evening
I'm in my pajama's watching Paper Moon in black and white
My cat on my warm lap
Eyes red-strained from grading papers
She's at a writer's residency 44 miles down Highway 2
And Ted Kooser, United States Poet Laureate is reading at 7:30
She offers

And it's five after seven
Bare feet sticking out of a blanket
I tell her I can't make it on such short notice
Then I'm brushing my teeth
Putting on clothes like there's a fire alarm
Wrapping a scarf around my neck
Zipping up a White Sox coat
Forgetting my gloves

I take only eight dollars
Pens and notebook
Traffic is fast-full with semis and black sky
Too broke for a speeding ticket
I'm cruising 65
Miss the turn off into the Lied Lodge
Circling Nebraska City

He's finishing a new poem, one I know already
Because I follow his books
(Each autographed in skinny felt tip)
Anywhere.
There is an empty seat
Jan is one of the unknown heads I'm staring at.
When it's over she finds me and we make quick plans
To do a little fireside writing

Before I return to Lincoln.

Ted is posing for pictures. I wait. Give him a hug.
I tell him the pajama story and he says I ought to be wearing them.
He's going home for the night
Would I like his vacant room?
His hotel key card
Soft as a worry stone twirls in my hand
And I hold jumping for joy until the door closes

His wife and dogs will be happy to see him
And we'll be strutting the carpet
His famous bare feet have traveled
Jan calls her husband to state her unyielding happiness
To be in a Pulitzer Prize winner's chamber
Of course he's not staying with us
She exclaims ... but that's not the point

She takes one of the beds
I sprawl on the other kicking off my shoes
Two middle age teenage groupies and I'm making
Like I'm the luckiest aspiring poet in the Midwest —
One night in these cool sheets I'll touch fame
Just for being at the right place at the perfect time
Just for sitting on his toilet seat
For using Ted tissues and soap
Brewing Ted coffee
I am spoiled

Reprinted with permission
Copyright © 2006
by Deborah McGinn


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