The Last Ten Years by Laurie Filipelli
Post-MFA, I feel like a non-writing statistic—but a lucky one. At 1:30am, I work on wedding vows in our tiny attic while radar shows a storm called Rita threatening Houston. I’ll soon give up my space for a friend seeking refuge, and forget the perfect wedding.
For me, this is where it begins.
Nights after the ceremony, while plastic tulips still parade in our yard, I dream ancient turtles run the world. I dream the neighbor’s dog leaps over the fence and pins me in piles of fish gravel. The book I was reading is blown away. And I wake up feeling lost.
Aside from dreams and laments, long-winded comments on student essays, and one piece of flash fiction in which Jim Lehrer offers life-changing advice, I don’t seem to write at all.
At first, I’m unwilling to conceive, and then I am unable. My second miscarriage starts in a Starbucks bathroom. My husband is stranded in an ice storm back East.
I dream of trumpets in a disarrayed parade, ugly growths scissored from my head. A stranger reaches from the mirror to hand me a towel. The me of the dream is a ventriloquist’s dummy. I try to speak on my own, but it feels like marbles are in my mouth.
I find Simic’s Dime Store Alchemy and copy out this line: “People who look for symbolic meaning fail to grasp the inherent poetry and mystery of image.”
I give up. I am pregnant. I wear an X-large Texans for Obama T-shirt and drink free 7-Ups in the Driscoll Hotel as I watch the map of our country tip. This unfamiliar feeling has a name; it’s called winning.
Our daughter is born and, almost as miraculously, I have a writing job. I create Wisdom Acts to go along with a series of fantasy books for girls. In essence, I’m paid to make small poems that translate teachings from a dream realm into our present.
Maybe this is what happens when you let go of wishing. Some kind of small fairy tale enters your life.
The lead artist on our team dies of meningitis. She is fine one day and gone the next. She has left her two-year-old daughter behind, painted on an elephant’s back.
I cling to my daughter. I dream of snow. I finish a book of poems and call it A Mapmaker and the Town Only She Can See.
My husband hands me a simpler title, one he’s been saving all along. The plan is to try for a year for a publisher, and then to do it ourselves. Waiting no longer seems like a good idea.
An email arrives from Brooklyn Arts Press; the first paragraph begins “We love your book….” I’m afraid the next word is “but.”
I work with the editor on revisions, with a sculptor friend on cover art. I like that it looks a topographical map, but really it’s the top of someone’s head.
My father is hospitalized on Halloween. By Thanksgiving, he’s gone. When the phone call arrives, I’m dreaming he’s a boy-monkey waving his arms. “Look at me!” he shouts. “Look, I’m free!”
I write the obit and remember lines from John Donne’s Meditations on Emergent Occasions as the only literature my dad ever loved: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.”
I reread King Lear, searching every line.
My book is launched, and, at the party, my daughter’s friend listens intently. At the end, he turns to her and says, The tiny dot in that poem was you!
I don’t know where I write things any more. Essay drafts on my cell phone. Scattered dreams. Arms outstretched, I fly through darkness above a dinosaur pit and land in the home of a childhood friend.
I’m tired of Texas—politics and the smell of my sweat. I read Rebecca Solnit and think about place. In my application for residencies in upstate New York, I write a statement about my dying hometown, 30 miles west of Saratoga. I won’t rest until I go back.
My daughter makes a set of tarot cards based on images in my newest poems. I pack the cards in my suitcase alongside William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience and Rachel Zucker’s MOTHERs.
In the library of my hometown, I read about elephants parading down Main Street. I read Anne Sexton’s Transformations. Outside, I snap photos of dilapidated mills. In one, I find seamstresses still at work. I buy a pair of Air Force issue gloves.
When I look back, it seems I went years without writing a thing. For so long, I shook a small fist in the wrong direction. I now have on my desk an inkwell from shipwreck, a mermaid card, a pair of fire resistant gloves, a mug from my residency, a stack of old journals, and a drawing of a flying heart.
I think I’m good to go.
More work by Laurie Filipelli in apt:
“Texas SB 5″ (April 2014)
Laurie Filipelli is the author of a collection of poems, Elseplace, released by BrooklynArts Press in 2013. Her poems and essays have recently appeared or are forthcoming at BOAAT, The Pinch, Redheaded Stepchild, The Rumpus, Salamander, So and So, Superstition Review, and Xavier Review. She is the recipient of a Yaddo fellowship and lives in Austin where she works as a writer, editor, and writing coach.