Red Dress by Tatyana Ostapenko

I remember
I had to have it,
Sensing somehow
It was already mine,
Sewn to my heart
Torn from me and
Set in the window
For others to claim.
I was desperate
For mending,
Desperate to have that dress
Knitted to my skin.
You understood.
You bought it for me,
Let me wear it home,
Let me wear it everyday
As I skipped through the woods,
And every night you washed it
And told me the story
Of the girl and the wolf.
I thought it was a story
About a girl and a wolf,
Until I met the wolf
And he ate me.
He told me he loved
That red dress,
The way I wore it
When I walked,
Like it was part of me,
Like it was my skin
Flush with the blood
Of my heart.
When you pulled me out,
It didn’t feel like saving
Because I’d already died.
You claimed the body,
Filled it with food
And words,
Until it stood up,
In high heels,
And set off across the land.
It took me a long time
To see the earth
As it is,
As you knew it,
With its dark holes,
Harrowed soil,
Restless waters and
Perennial forests.
Before I enter the room
I see you
Looking out the window,
Seeing yourself
Out there
Among the trees.
I am tempted
To leave you there,
But then I hear your voice
Telling me to do
What I’m supposed to do.
I think you know me,
Though you call me the wrong name,
Because you ask why
I’m not wearing
My red dress.
I tell you I’m grown up,
It doesn’t fit,
It’s been gone a long time,
But you shake your head,
As if I don’t understand
And ask me again.

Last week I participated in SPARK, an internet event in which visual artists and writers share their work to inspire new work. My partner Tatyana Ostapenko sent me the painting above. Over the next ten days I wrote my poem in response. My goal wasn’t to illustrate the painting but to allow it to spark my own creative journey. At the same time I sent my poem “Frog Woman” to Tatyana to inspire a new painting by her.

My favorite part of the process was opening Tatyana’s painting. I had absolutely no idea what I would see. I was immediately captivated by the little girl in her red dress, standing just in front of a deep, dangerous chasm and then far in the distance, a beautiful forest. As I sat down to write I drew on these experiences—sometimes feeling the need to own a piece of clothing as if it were somehow already mine, the innocent joy of Little Red Riding Hood as she set off into the woods, my father’s last days which he spent looking out the window at a beautiful field and forest, and, of course, my relationship with my mother.

SPARK happens four times a year, each time with more participants. For more information and to see more inspired art, go to the SPARK website.

To see more of Tatyana’s art, please go to her website or to her flickr gallery.

Finally, to enjoy more Poetry Friday go to Jama Rattigan’s Alphabet Soup.

(c) 2012 Elizabeth Ehrenfest Steinglass, all rights reserved


You might think
This mobile home’s
A perfect fit
For those who roam,
But this big wheel
Tends to sag,
So, actually,
It’s more of a drag.

I confess I have this fantasy that somewhere there’s a writer who is so amazing, he or she doesn’t have to revise. But I know in my heart of hearts that this perfect first-draft writer doesn’t exist. Everyone revises. Revising is part of writing. It’s necessary, and sometimes it’s even fun. It can be a process involving play, exploration, and discovery. I like looking back at what I’ve written to see what I’ve said, what seems to want to be said, and then revising to say it more clearly or artfully. As someone who enjoys revising and as an observer of kid-writers who tie themselves in knots trying to write perfectly the first time, I’ve been wanting to share some of my revisions. So below is the first part of what happened between finding the snail and this week’s poem. This is straight from my notebook:

Maybe you think
It’s so convenient
To have a mobile home?
Actually, if it has no wheels
It’s actually kind of a drag.
Drag sag wag brag tag flag bag gag hag jag lag nag rag stag
Actually it’s hard to wag
And since it’s heavy
It’s more of a drag.
it tends to sag
and it’s hard to wag
So having a shell
Is honestly,
More of a drag.
And it has no wheels
So it’s more of a drag.
You might think
I have cause to brag

I think you can see that my first attempt wasn’t so much about writing a good poem as it was about getting an idea going—discovering a seed that I could tend and grow. I also think you can see that I found that seed there right in the first five lines—the snail’s point of view, the misconception, and the word drag. Where did these ideas come from? The snail. This poem started when I leaned over to get a good look at the little guy, and I was struck by how hard he seemed to be working to drag that shell around.
I think you can also see that I pretty quickly settled on the word drag because of its double meaning. Once I decided to go with drag, I had the voice of the poem, and I had the beginning of the rhyme scheme. I then started exploring different options that rhyme with drag, like wag and brag. You can see that after a bit of experimenting, I went back to some words I had early on—mobile home, wheel, and sag. Once I had these pieces, the rest came together without too much trouble.
When I look back at my process, I think maybe I don’t need that fantasy of the perfect first-draft writer. I think maybe that perfect first-draft writer is missing all the fun.
For more Poetry Friday see Robyn Hood Black at Read, Write, Howl.

(c) 2012 Elizabeth Ehrenfest Steinglass, all rights reserved

photo by Hans Stieglitz

Dining up high
On leaves in the sky
With the clouds
Near your eyes and the
Swifts sweeping by
Is fine, until you find your mouth is
Dry and the water
Enveloping your toes.

I’m still reading The National Geographic Book of Animal Poems. Every day. Just like a kid. This week I stopped short when I got to the two acrostic poems by Avis Harley. They use such wonderful and fun language. One thing I appreciate about them is that the vertical words are not the animal’s name; they’re about the animal, another part of the poem, another expression of the animal’s essence. The poem above is my response to Harley’s poem about giraffes which is titled “Above All” and is from her book African Acrostics.

For more Poetry Friday see Amy Ludwig VanDerwater at The Poem Farm.

(c) 2012 Elizabeth Ehrenfest Steinglass, all rights reserved

grateful for extra helpings
of cousins

new world
learning to celebrate
turkey kimchi flan

The old table
We stretch ourselves to share
The year’s sweet and salty harvest

Last week Teaching Authors put out a challenge to write a Thanku. I’ve posted my effort above and a cinquain for dessert. It certainly was challenging to find a fresh approach to a holiday that is by definition traditional. I hope you all had a wonderful holiday.For more Poetry Friday go to A Year of Reading.

(c) 2012 Elizabeth Ehrenfest Steinglass, all rights reserved