We Have to Account for Gravity

Today the poets Heather Christle and Dorothea Lasky visited us and our students here in Kaohsiung via video to read for us their poems. Heather was visiting from the poet James Merrill’s house in Stonington, Connecticut, and Dorothea (Dottie) was visiting from Florence, Italy, where she is currently directing New York University’s Writers in Florence Study Abroad program. For Heather, it was 10:20 in the evening. For Dottie, it was 5:00 in the morning. She admitted that she had not yet gone to sleep because she was nervous she might not wake up in time to visit with us. I think both Heather and Dottie were visiting us from haunted locations, though the nature of each location’s being haunted was not entirely clear, but hovering about the periphery of their faces and their heads: furnishings and lamps in part possessed, ceilings on a mesmerized incline. Sometimes I feel ghosts too can be cremated, and often are, becoming part of the air, stretching substantially the troposphere, though not in any way attenuated—gathering constitution, however subliminal. The students had been reading Dottie’s first book, AWE, as well as poems online by both Heather and Dottie. Many of the students wrote imitations of Dottie’s “Ten Lives in Mental Illness,” coming up with their own mental illnesses by which to write poems. Many of the students wrote imitations of Heather’s poems, “Five Poems for America" and "We Have to Account for Gravity." Some of the students translated both Heather and Dottie’s poems into Mandarin Chinese. They were feeling especially shy, so could not be cajoled into reading their translations to Heather and Dottie. Some of the younger girls brought their stuffed animals to class. A pig, a chicken in a strawberry costume, a cat wearing a t-shirt, a pelican, a hamster. They too were present. This is Claire Yen:

Claire is an avid reader and writer. Every morning I play 10-20 minutes of music—Akron/Family, Boris, Built to Spill, Dirty Three, Ghost, Joanna Newsom, Neu!, Sigur Ros, Sparklehorse—for the students to write to. Its a way to wake up—to awaken the conscious and subconscious minds at once. Where most of my 23 students fill a page or two in their notebooks, Claire fills five or six. She writes ten emails a week. She also writes one paper letter a year. It is a special occasion. After Dottie read, Claire asked her, Where do your ideas come from?

I asked my students which lines in Heather’s poems were their favorites. Many quoted the lines from “Acorn Duly Crushed." Giovanni’s favorite line was, "Lost to me have been some lakes," from "Castle.” Giovanni’s sister Miranda’s favorite line was, “I weep all night for my child,” from “Because I am Looking to Complicate My Biography I Go Out to Buy a Tree.” One student asked Dottie, “What did you mean the dog is made of snow?” That same student also asked her, “Why is love the answer to God’s question?” We were gathered in Computer Lab 1 on the second floor of Kaohsiung American School on Sheng Li Road near Lotus Lake in the northern part of the city. It was raining, and has been raining for two weeks straight.