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The Fat Lady Reads

A fat lady reads a book
she reads a book all day
and all day
she is not a fat lady

unless she reads a diet book
or Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone
and there’s a good chance she reads
one of those.

A fat lady reads a book
and enters a world
where there really are no fat people
of consequence

except old Mrs. Manson Mingott
in Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence
whose “immense accretion of flesh
descended on her in middle life
like a flood of lava on a doomed city”

and except the rude person
repeatedly referred to as “the fat man”
(corpulence meant to represent everything
unaware of its own privilege)
in Bharati Mukerjee’s “A Wife’s Story.”

Wealthy matchmaking fat ladies
and chubby men who use more than their half
of an armrest at the theatre
are just useful minor characters;
the fat lady reads
and identifies with the heroine (or hero)
and we all know who they are.
Their pants fit.

The fat lady understands
you cannot expect regular people
to identify with a tubby Ishmael
or believe he could carry that belly
all the way up the Pequod’s spars
or to relate with the poet Amy Lowell
who the Heath Anthology of American Literature says
was an unattractive, overweight woman,
an old maid, a lesbian
soundly rejected by readers
and reviewed as a failure because
she was “cut off
from the prime biological experiences of life
by her tragic physical predicament.”

A fat lady writes a book
she writes a book all year
and all year
she’s fat
but never writes about that.

She wants to be a serious writer.
What a tragic literary predicament.

©Nancy Pagh, No Sweeter Fat (Autumn House Press, 2007).

Unaccountable
for Gabi

I understand I should not write
of beauty these days
for all the obvious reasons
and my own friend dead these five months now
and I’m not over
not nearly over
any of it.

But I can’t help it, am powerless to stop
noticing the bug on my bathroom wall
is a miniature dragonfly,
iridescent blue counties
occupying the paper map of each wing.

Driving to the park-and-ride
I took a deep breath of May morning
and smelled summer coming
and joy
and the remains of Walt Whitman
in the scent of fresh-laid asphalt.

And today I am not afraid of death
because everything in this world is
beauty

even the coal-black asphalt
even the crows that dive and scream
at the confused young hawk soaring too near their nest
at the edge of the trailer park.

Yes, the trailer park too,
its magenta rhododendrons more brilliant than aluminum
its t.v. antennas writing the Chinese character for happiness
fifteen times against the sky.

And me, as I stood unaccountably still
in the graveled park-and-ride lot,
head back, watching a gull breaststroke the universe,
watching the chalky stream it shat
transform into gorgeous sunlit spangles
and did not even think of moving.

©Nancy Pagh, No Sweeter Fat (Autumn House Press, 2007).

You Are the Shape
after Olena Kalytiak Davis

the ridges of sand
the furrows, rib bones of sand
the outer coast of your mind
slipping away

returns with a glass circle, a japanese float
a swirl of kelp
some medical waste you kick along high-tide’s mark

from a distance
that kelp is an animal all made of tails

keep walking

the field guide to the littoral zone is on a shelf in your room
the latin name for green anemone hardly concerns
only the pendulous breasts stretching from stone
the shallow pool’s surface an oval below:
the sculpin, the miniature crabs contained in contour and fold

breast bone of sand breaks underfoot
what does it matter
that you are the shape of a body he once
had opportunity to love but turned down

and why did you do that? imagining he could imagine you
as you are, never seen, chartbook drawn
with fingernail tongue soul
unwritten still

periwinkles write it slow

he had already figured out
what was important to him, hadn’t he?
said he was a ship going down, radio out, wind
lots of it and no hope
closing the watertight doors

and did you ask for this?

surely you had
to walk so far from what is kind and good
to know it

there’s beach glass now, sugared, dull

brain coiled in a shell

can anyone hold the shape of anything?

©Nancy Pagh, Once Removed (MoonPath Press, 2016).

Trying
after Marge Piercy

The people I love best are the ones who try: the aged who rise
early each damp morning and part the clump of coffee filters
with arthritic fingers—and the others who stay up
late after working all day in retail, hot pink curl of ear
pressing the receiver, listening to the friend who is selfish
but in agony now. I love the men who are fathers
to children, not buddies not video-game rivals not boys
themselves but clumsy men who ache over the fragility of sons,
but preserve the fragility of sons despite what everyone says.
I love those who feel no skill has come to them innate,
who will hold their small inland dogs again and again
above the sea on vacation, to watch in amazement
the knowing animal body that paddles through air. I love
the B+ student. The thick-chinned girl always picked
fourth when choosing sides for the softball team.
The lover who says it first. The lover who says it second
after a long, long pause. The lover who says it knowing
the answer is no, no, I am too broken. People who knit
things together. People willing to take things apart
and roll all the strands of yarn into new balls for next time.
The woman who loaded her backseat full of blankets and drove
for three days to the hurricane site. Even the loafer who tries
his mother’s patience, who quietly speculates and eventually
decodes the universe for us all. Believe me, I have tried
to love others, the meager personalities who charm and butter,
the jaded the cynics the players and floaters all safe
in their cages, this life no responsibility they can own.
They see it too—how trying is always a risk,
a kind of vulnerability some choose for ourselves because
our fathers taught us well, our fathers taught us to try
to remain as fragile and full as this world that loves us.

©Nancy Pagh, Once Removed (MoonPath Press, 2016).