Archive for the ‘Penelope Scambly Schott’ Category

HEART FAILURE, by Penelope Schott

Monday, June 21st, 2010

During our most recent interview, Penelope Schott and I discussed her writing of the following poem, “Heart Failure,” including its intrinsic connection to her relationship with her mother. The poem appears in Schott’s most recent collection, SIX LIPS (© 2009, Mayapple Press), and appears here with the writer’s permission.


This is the year I would like to find pity. I would like
to hurt for my mother the way I ache for my children
whenever anything major goes wrong in their lives.
I want to feel vicariously glamorous when she models
the umber cashmere sweater she bought half-price
in the overpriced boutique by her favorite sushi shop.
I would like to gasp for breath whenever she grabs
for her oxygen tube and jiggles the prongs into sore
nostrils. I want to tremble and feel confused
when she can’t retrieve e-mail messages and starts
to panic. When her skeletal legs burn under sheets,
I wish my own hard-muscled calves would throb.

I want to be sad that she’s eighty-seven and fading.
I want to invent memories of how she encouraged me
when I was a child, how she helped me when I
was a young mother, how understanding she was
when I got divorced, or else I want to stop caring.
Meanwhile, my mother masters forgetting: which
museum she means to visit, the name of the play
she saw yesterday, what day is today.

This is the year I intend to excavate my terror,
melt down my resentment, blow it into molten
orange glass, shape it into a shining sculpture
of one enormous woman and cool it and smash it.

My mother has become tiny and pathetic and brave.
Recently she has learned thank you or even please.
She lives in her elegant house like a black pearl
from a broken oyster drifting under reefs in a bay.
She lives in her house like a startled rabbit unable
to finish crossing the road. If I had enough pity,
I would dare to squeeze her fragile neck and kiss
her forehead as I press down on her windpipe and keep
on pressing with my strong and generous thumbs.


These days my mother surprises me, slowed,
gentled, taking trees into account.

It’s not what I’m used to, this appreciation,
watching the squirrels scamper up black bark
like acrobats of joy, while the long afternoon
withdraws into twilight, her mechanical tide
of oxygen yawing through waves and troughs
of breathlessness.

This drowning old lady is not my mother. Not
abrupt. As I stroke her knuckles, grace glints
in our salt hands.

Read more of Schott’s work here.

Poems by Penelope Scambly Schott

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

Penelope Scambly Schott’s publishing credits include a novel, four chapbooks and six full-length books of poetry. Schott has received the 2004 Turning Point Poetry Prize, the Orphic Prize, and a fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. Her most recent book, the verse biography A Is for Anne: Mistress Hutchinson Disturbs the Commonwealth, won the 2008 Oregon Book Award for poetry. She resides in Portland, Oregon, where she writes, paints and hikes. The following poems are featured here with the poet’s permission.

      from May the Generations Die in the Right Order, Main Street Rag, publisher

And I’m sailing in high silver over Pendleton and Bozeman
as you journey the last hard inches toward the sill of the pubis.

At 33,000 feet, the outside temperature, according to the screen
and these frost flowers blooming here on the window by my seat,
is minus 59 degrees Fahrenheit.

Council Bluffs and the rectangular plains marking buffalo bones
in late snow. Now the thick MIssissippi twists like an umbilical,
and the cord, coiled through generations, tightens my groin.

Push, they told me, and what else could I do, my back cracking
over the rim of the world?

                        At the darkening edge of the continent,
she is breathing and sweating. Let somebody’s cool hand
sweep damp hair from her forehead.

As I pass over Cincinnati, she is opening in waves and scarlet
birth blood is flowing through us all. East now of Pittsburgh
she is riding her moment of I can’t do this any more, the body
almost inverting itself, and clouds rushing under my wings,
until the lift and gasp in the moving air.

Sometimes we call this

Child, I will tell you every glorious thing I know:
We are made out of dirt and water. Someday your hands
will have freckles and lines. Many cherished people
have lived and died before you.

Oh, and child, one thing more:
this earth invents us and consorts with us willingly
only because we tell stories.

         from May the Generations Die in the Right Order

The white-faced cattle turning aside
their wide heads–

the afternoons are long catastrophes,
each sunset breakable.

Behind white railings of porches,
shadows fracture;

no one descends the steps.

All night,
during and during and during,

my cheek wrinkles
on a cool pillowcase.

The peace of pain: to expect nothing
and get it,

until all I recall about comfort

is a flock of birds
on the one flat spot in the ocean.

         from Baiting the Void, Dream Horse Press, publisher

Stand too long in tall grass,
and they will build their nests
in your uncombed hair.
With small twigs,

they will pick, pick at your scalp until
they unweave your cap of misgivings,
and give you up to pure despair.
A thousand sorrows

swoop and hover over bent grass.
For every clump of grass,
there are many sorrows
and each sorrow

is named sorrow or bunch-grass
or flyaway-grass or broken thing.
Winds rise until your eyes burn.
The round

black eyes of a meadowlark,
slit eyes of a barred owl,
shut and open,
open and shut.

Around you in frozen grasses
the feathers fall, unpreened.
You may say shroud
or yes, white birds,

come peck my eyes blind.

         from Baiting the Void

The spotted backs of your hands, smooth
as the palm of a catcher’s mitt, thump
of a called strike. We are two teammates
in an old game: the game of getting old.
How restful this scuffed field, the sagging
scoreboard. I need never be glamorous
of spiffy or sophisticated, never get rich.
I need only become your orphan up here
in the bleachers like the crotch of a tree,
peanut skins drifting to the dugout roof.

When I try to describe how safe I’ll be,
I remember the white backs of her hands,
her slim fingers, towers of golden rings,
two strikes against me, my rough slide
home. Now I am stacking the top half
of a peanut shell, lid of a sarcophagus
expectant in the great museum, empty,
though inlaid with topaz.

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