National Poetry Month Spotlight: Lisa Fay Coutley

Call it a burning building or a sinking ship,
either way you’re in it when you phone to say
you can’t tie your shoelaces. I say report card,
a boy who rips the sole from his shoe on purpose,
alveoli. Not sure what this has to do with plants,
you say—this burning ship, this sinking building.
I don’t either. On tossing nights, I get out of bed
to smoke, just to watch my breath in, to see it out.
I tied my first laces on old clown shoes, one bunny
ear over another, under, through and pulled tight,
easy as a cursive L or anything else before Velcro.
Here’s a burning building. There’s a sinking ship.
Here’s me, two arms bent for buckets. There’s you,
two faces shaking through water, through smoke.
I’m double-knotting the world’s shoelaces for you
but the carousel keeps spinning, the balloons
keep twisting themselves into silent llama-dogs.
Maybe we’re all barking buildings, spitting ships,
all the laces in a sailor’s knot, a fistful of spoons.

Q: Do you remember where you were and what you were doing on the day you wrote the above poem?

A: I do—very clearly, actually, but to answer this question reveals a great deal about the content, which is risky for me because it steers the reading in a definitive direction. In any case, here goes: I started drafting this poem last spring when my father called me early one morning (something he doesn’t ordinarily do) to tell me that he was in the emergency room, that his emphysema had gotten much worse, that he couldn’t even tie his shoes. Later in the day, a family friend likened living with this disease to living in a burning building, and I couldn’t get the shoes or the burning building out of my mind, hence the villanelle.

Q: What is the last book you’ve read that made you want to grab a pen and write?

A: Adrienne Rich’s collection of poetry: Diving into the Wreck. In fact, some of the poems from In the Carnival of Breathing began while I was reading that book.

Q:  What is the most sublime meal you’ve ever eaten?

A: I don’t know about sublime, but I ate one of my most memorable meals in Pecos, Texas, while visiting my dad. He was working there at the time, and I had just flown for the first time, traveled alone for the first time, and ate authentic Mexican food for the first time. I bet my dad that I could eat the entire plate of enchiladas without a drink of milk. I won. But I have yet to find comparable enchiladas since.

Lisa Fay Coutley is the Fall, 2009 winner of the Black River Chapbook Competition with her manuscript In the Carnival of Breathing, which will be published by Black Lawrence Press in mid-2011.