Hannah Baker Saltmarsh


Elegy for New Work

Stanley Plumly with former student Hannah Baker Saltmarsh.

A ghost going into a sure handstand, five-toed bird, wherever, everywhere, gentle as Kafka’s doll letters, insisting on poems having areal occasion. Still decrying the overspill

as in stop: the poem’s over at house. Always closer, like contractor’s specs: What’s better is truer. When we met, death-gripping our pencils, he drew out the secret voice that, at

twenty-two, wore identity, feeling. With all my commas wrong. He loved poems, poets, the messy shadows of new work, with something that is like passion but is not let go of like

passion. How are your poems? How are you otherwise? he’d ask, leaning at his desk, into the austere squiggly parenthesis of his face and left arm nook—blue-gray hair and eyebrows,

real scratchy suit with the suede elbow patches, to which my timorous, ridiculous, earnest self mused, How can there be an otherwise? A working artist is a momentarily dormant

volcano covered in rapt jonquils. An apple’s voluptuous skull railing into my vermin body’s antennae. A mender, horse hooves, in the sharp crease, embroidering something the way I

learned to hold a pencil. His poems, if poems are about anything, concern distances, which is also about closeness: watching the bird go into the point of vanishing, somewhere near

the fuzzy ocean though his mother never saw an ocean, not for real, and Wallace Stevens went no further than his mind. In her diary, my great-grandmother rewrote, No one called.

No letters. She wrote the birthdate of her dead child on his birthday. She was trying to stop time; as Stan says, all poems extend the moment, all poems are about loss. If you’re happy,

why write about it? Then, this urn that can’t hold what I want to hold onto. A blurry yellow garden of wet daffodils, a pencil-dark birdbath outside my window. Plague zigzags

houses in low-grade grief, cartoons people without wrists, the crescent of the head! At the end of the world, I was going to keep walking into the creek with my children,

bending the mulberries down, little hives, loopy purple earrings. See the bluejays drinking collapsed sea. How the sublime can go locket-small, fit through the ear’s porches.