The Dollar Stays With

This poem comes from an exercise led by Cate Marvin. Each month a Stonecoast faculty Zooms a writing session. I’ve missed poetry, was excited. The return was clunky. I kept at it, had some fun, shared the revision with my kids.

The Prompt

We needed a dollar bill to look at, better if we had one to touch.

The _____ is _____
It looks like a _____, a _____, and/ or a _____
When I see it, I smell _____
When I smell _____, I remember _____
I think of the time _____
It looks like _____ and it makes me dream of _____

We Got Five Minutes to Write

The bill is flat
It looks like a stock or play money or foriegn
When I see it I smell O’Hare
When I smell O’Hare I remember going home
I think of the time I cannot
It looks like my ticket here
And it makes me dream of staying

There was time left so I tried again:

The dollar bill is on my screen
It looks like play money, a game, something squandered
When I see it I smell sitting on a plane
When I smell dry, recirculated air I remember
Wisconsin, humid July
I think of the time we left last
It looks like that is what we did
And it makes me dream of first light

After ELEVEN Pages in My Notebook Over the Next Few Days

Noodling this exercise because I could not allow the poem to rest because it wasn’t really a poem yet. I like the challenge. For me, the point of a writing exercise is just that. I do yoga so I can run. I write from a prompt or imitate or try a new form just to see because all the practice feeds my work.

The Dollar Stays With

I forgot to tell you get a dollar bill. Shit. You
could use foreign currency but let’s stay with
America. Five minutes
:

In my bag a Harraseeket keycard, a sleeve of
disposable masks, lip balm

a thousand won note shades of blue but no
one dollar bill

Let’s stay with America. Front back images
on my screen. I glance at

Washington delicate scrolls blue red fiber
squiggles heavy cream the eye

and light, cheap denomination almighty enough
that people live on

this, a day. The dollar is not in hand. In hand
it looks like a tip

for a tip jar at a cafe, a day old strawberry
doughnut at Skelly’s farmstand,

it looks like one of twenty I give my kids to
buy something American

(mint M&Ms, Lucky Charms, JoJo hairbows,
Doritos, fidget spinners, Silly Putty)

When I see an American dollar bill I smell
the recirculated air of a fourteen

hour flight home – cool dry antiseptic kimchi
lightly perfumed

When I smell a Korean Air cabin I smell
Wisconsin July – cut hay, bonfire

fish fry, my son’s sweaty hair like sun, clean
night slip through window screen

I think of the time when I stood outside during
a tornado warning

the night before our first flight to Seoul, Mom
and me watching dusk roil, churn

cold, strong wind cut a clear thought we could
lose everything here there

We really could. It looks like the four of us
fourteen hours ahead

this summer, and it makes me dream of
choosing this plenty, the dollar

not in hand

Aggressive Drafting

Semester one of Stonecoast MFA: cannot be precious about drafting. Must draft. I am so glad for Anne Lamott’s birds right now. I am also glad for a café with good light and ginger lattes. I am glad for my kids who come along with their art supplies so I am not always off alone.

When I write essay, I am quick. I am only quick because I’ve banked dozens of pages on an idea already so that when I decide to write its essay, the sentences are easier to put together. So the first draft is really a midway iteration of what I am trying to say. When I write fiction, I putz. I daydream. I note draft. I think it is probably a dumb story I shouldn’t bother with. Then I write out a few paragraphs. Sometimes I type two or three pages before I decide I have a better idea and it isn’t this story at all – it’s a new story, one that catches me before revealing that it is also probably a dumb story too. Finally I draft a story to its completion. Then the (great) work of revision. Then the wonder if the finished story ever is.

One reason I chose to pursue an MFA was for its rigor and due dates. I got really tired of making up my own assignments. Now I have lots of pages of new fiction due each month. I had the smallest panic my first week back in Korea when I thought about how to manage the process while also covering a maternity leave and then decided that no one dies if I teach well or even adequately (rather than spectacularly), but I don’t want to squander this MFA. I think teachers aren’t supposed to admit to doing enough. We’re supposed to froth inspiration. But I trust my teaching ability and care, and know that I can guide this group for the next few months without ruining my sleep or neglecting my own creative work. I shared this with a colleague who said it was great, that saying no to more for more feels good. My identity was entangled with my profession and I realized that when I left my own classroom and its warm circle of routine and rapport. Really I was headed this way, to let go teaching to pursue writing, but I didn’t know when: well, now.

This is what my writing looks like: on the flight back to Korea I sketched out two story ideas. I love note drafting. For the first few days back I steadied myself at school and continued to roll around a story, started drafting in my notebook. Then I parked myself last weekend for a couple of hours and typed. I thought I must be halfway to a page count. I was about a fifth of the way. Think of the birds. Midweek I got bogged by how to write one part of the story so I just typed LEAP and then wrote another block of story. All of this gets rearranged or removed or rewritten anyway. Yesterday I drafted a piece of flash fiction alongside the creative writing class and today I typed that up with light revision, to add it to my page count – flash pieces are like little pep talks: look what you can do! Then I wrote a lovely scene for the story at hand, a return to Colombia, the town a mash of two places Justin and I visited when Claire was a baby. It’s a little like going back which is nice on this dead winter day.

And this work is so much fun. Absolutely pleased to be aggressively drafting.