Ingrid Wendt’s books of poems have won the Editions Prize (for Surgeonfish), the Yellowglen Award (for The Angle of Sharpest Ascending), and the Oregon Book Award (for Singing the Mozart Requiem). Her first book, Moving the House, was chosen for BOA Editions by William Stafford, who also wrote the introduction. Her next book, Evensong, will be published in 2011 by Truman State University Press. The co-editor of two anthologies, From Here We Speak: An Anthology of Oregon Poetry (OSU Press) and In Her Own Image: Women Working in the Arts (The Feminist Press & Mc-Graw Hill), Ingrid has taught in the MFA Program of Antioch University Los Angeles, and, as a three-time senior Fulbright Professor, in Frankfurt/Main and Freiburg, Germany. She has also taught poetry writing in hundreds of classroom, grades K‑12. Her book-length Starting With Little Things: A Guide to Writing Poetry in the Classroom is now in its 6th printing. A pianist and organist, an avid scuba diver, a frequent presenter at teacher workshops and conferences, and a popular keynote speaker, she performs with The Motet Singers, a 13-voice women’s a cappella ensemble in Eugene, Oregon, where she lives with her husband, poet and writer Ralph Salisbury. You can find her at ingridwendt.com.
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On the Nature of Touch
My daughter's cat in the morning, before he'll eat,
needs to be picked up and petted, cradled (as I used to
carry my daughter) on one hip from pantry to counter
and back to the dish of food that was fresh the first
time he sniffed it, but not good enough.
This cat can be roaming all night, returning ravenous.
This cat can be let outside at first light and stand, moon-
patient, at the door, in rain, until we rise again. His fur
can be six soggy layers of needles and moss on the floor of the Oregon
coast range and still the Salmon Supreme we spoon into his dish
holds that scrupulous tongue only an instant before his voice
stalks our slippers, our wonder again at such
hunger for touch that goes beyond all bodily need.
So we stroke him between the ears, stirring up the same food.
And we rub his nose just over the spot where the whiskers sprout,
run our hands repeatedly down the long rapids of his spine
until dander and fur rise like spume, drift in the imperceptible
breath of the furnace, saying Good cat, Good Pillow, Eat.
And my daughter, who hardly could wait to be out on her own,
phones from her student apartment once, maybe twice a day, to ask for my
stroganoff recipe, or if vinegar will, in the absence of cleanser,
clean a greasy sink. She reads me the funnies.
Will I give her a ride to the store? Each day, this
delicate sniffing the ground called home; the words we speak
a ritual independent of meaning: thin fingers sifting the rich
humus of memory: bright
splashes of hair dye she left behind
on the downstairs hall carpet, each color a different
year of her life: stones scattered by Gretel to find the way back.
There is no returning to where she has been. How can I
not cradle her; each time she calls, one more blessed
delay on the long, slow road from touching each of us took
for granted those years I held her in my arms at least once a day
and she held me in a gaze that knew nothing but trust: water
disappearing through cracks in my fingers I myself tried, as a child,
over and over to cup and drink clear in my small, close hands.
Published in Ms., Vol. III, No. 3
From Evensong, Truman State University Press, 2011
After the long drive north, relentless
the traffic, relentless the heightened news of yet
after each car, each truck, has clanged
from dock to steel-plated deck and parked, and I get out
to stand at the stern –
light wind, clouds breaking,
and the quaking of tethered engines,
beyond this iron chain the dark water churning –
without warning, the cloak of a great
calm descends upon me, like
the very word
“upon” – the way
it slows the sentence down –
a measured word, hinged – the way
fish, in their inscrutable
immobile, as though rooted
each to its own place –
and I enter again into the beneficence
of the world of water
whose rhythms will not be hurried
into whose covenant,
under the ancient composure of stars,
we pull anchor and begin to sail.
Published in GSU Review, 2003
From Surgeonfish, winner of the Editions Prize, WordTech Editions, 2005
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be.
Because I’d once been told what women always had done – though never
how, or why – after you died, the last tube taken out and gone,
and they offered to leave us alone, I asked if I could wash you.
The soapy water was warm, as you were, still, and soft. The basin was round.
The towels and wash cloths thick and white. And there was no strangeness in it,
really. And I didn’t cry, and that, too, was part of the wonder.
I began with one smooth, pliant arm. As once you daily must have done with me,
as once you must have done at your own mother’s death, I carefully dipped one cloth,
and carefully wrung it, and carefully bathed the whole freckled length of your arm,
your docile hand, each finger light in its yielding.
And though you had no choice in acquiescing to my love, I did not
revel in my power, but slowly lifted, washed and patted dry each limb, in turn,
your crooked toes and in between the toes; your shoulders, breasts,
the secret folds between your legs, thin pubic hairs, and with a different cloth,
which would have been your way, your face.
I took my time. I lingered in this unexpected absence of condition or demand.
And when at last with nothing more to do, I sat beside your bed and took
the hand I’d long since lost the need to hold, and laid my grown-up hand inside:
Oh, familiar shape my fingers knew by heart and had forgotten
that they’d ever known. How long this total rightness had been gone.
And, as leisurely as once I must have done, when simple being was enough
to please you, I let my eyes, without distraction, wander every
tiny detail of your face, its astonishing calm. I saw again your chin,
unguarded; saw your knuckles worn, arthritic; sang a tune that came
from who knows where: This is the hand that fed me,
Hand that held me, Hand that punished me, Hand that led me.
For hours, sunlight was the only thing that moved. And soon
would be gone. And your hand in mine, still warm!
I stood to kiss your forehead. It was cold. But I had been
in the presence of holiness. World without end. And was done.
Published in Prairie Schooner, Spring/Summer, 2007
From Evensong, Truman State University Press, 2011
Writer's tip: Who among us hasn’t been told – directly, or by example – we must write every day, else we’ll "dry up” as writers, or we aren’t serious about our art, or other such nonsense. For years I felt there was something wrong with me, felt guilty, because I never have been (and never will be) such a writer. Weeks, sometimes months, can pass without my finishing (or even starting) anything new; other times,
I might start two or three poems a day, to which I return in odd moments here and there, when time and energy permit. So if this is you, take heart: as long as you are in love with the world and with words, you’ll still be growing in spirit, growing in your craft, even when you aren’t actively practicing it. And here’s a bonus: the longer you live the observant life, the more images and experiences you’ll have in that hard-drive head of yours to draw upon, to make metaphors and connections with, when you finally do sit down to write. Which you will.