On the Other Hand
In one hand my father holds patience,
in the other, rage.
I wonder which one held the telephone
through which the lieutenant, at four a.m., delivered the news
that he stopped a young woman tonight on the freeway
who thought she’d been released by—and here he paused
to say—aliens. And then, did my father switch hands,
to correct the lieutenant
***************************that aliens appear
********not when she’s on drugs but when she isn’t?
I know with which hand my father slammed the phone, and
with which he woke his wife.
**************************What I’d like to know
is when he goes to wash up, alone,
which hand holds him up on the sink, and which
holds his mouth closed?
Poem first appeared in Third Coast, Fall 2007.
Q: What is your writing process?
A: I look for the first line, and that means not only the image from where the poem will begin but the tone that will move that poem forward. For my first book, my poems were all about heavy private issues: mad sister, immigrant family. After ten years of writing from that place, I’m now obsessed with public events of the absurd: pregant woman becomes pregnant, inappropriate quotes from students I pass on campus. Tone is becoming increasingly relevant in my work. Larry Levis once said that he tried every version of the poem he could think of before finally deciding on the direction. Sometimes it’s like that. Other times, it’s like how Louise Gluck described her process: that she knows what work the poem must do in her head before she starts. Sometimes there’s a lot of moving the hand across the page stuff, sometimes the poem’s on the computer, typed, each line making the poem as it goes.
Q: Is there an exciting poet (emerging or established) whose work you just discovered this year?
A: I’m a big believer in reading new poets. But as I’ve been generating new material for a second book for a while, I’m in the throws of revisiting books that echo my interests aesthetically: Campbell Mcgrath’s Spring Comes to Chicago, Pax Atomica, American Noise, and Marcia Southwick’s Saturday Night at the Flying Dog have been on my bedside table.
Q: If you could go on a one-week writing retreat anywhere in the world, where would you travel?
A: Where I would want to write, and where I would want to travel are, for me, two different questions. In my mind, I’d love to be writing at a cafe in the central square of San Miguel de Allende or Nice. Some nonconsumer focused, history-rich, wine-drinking-in-public place. What would work, though, would be one of those mini houses you pay then thousand dollars for and they send, I imagine, in a big box you with parts construct in the back yard like a bike. And a maid. Writer-Val and Mom-/Wife-Val. Separating the two would be my retreat.
Valerie Bandura’s collection of poems, Freak Show, is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press. Her recent poems have appeared and will appear in
Alaska Quarterly Review,
Cimarron Review, and
The Minnesota Review. She teaches writing at Arizona State University.