It is my job for life to clear
a glacier from a deserted city block.
I’m given a garden spade
and an orange suit with reflective tape.
The street stretches beyond my sight
into a blue, cloudless sky, and to my right
one brick building, where Rachel sits
dangling her blistered feet over the roof’s edge.
She says she’s from the Bible.
Her story rings few bells.
In the end, her death in the desert
taught us only that beauty is skin deep.
I tell her the sun has lost its power to thaw
and of a vague sense that I’m saving lives.
I heave the spade into the ice and feel no muscle strain,
only the chips that fly and tick my face.
The ice re-forms. I chisel faster.
Wiping my forehead, I steal looks at her legs
to break this eternity into instants,
to tell my friends at the bar when they ask.
Q: Do you remember where you were and what you were doing on the day you wrote the above poem?
A: I started the poem after a dream I had in which I was chipping away at a glacier. Someone asked me what I was doing, and I though I didn’t respond, I had a “vague sense that I was saving lives.” This was in the fall of 2004, I was living in Newmarket, NH and had just started my MFA at UNH. The poem took a couple of months, I think.
Q: What is the last book you’ve read that made you want to grab a pen and write?
A: Actually, I just had a week off and read Mark Strand’s Man and Camel, Twenty Poems of Tomas Transtromer (translated by Bly), and Jack Gilbert’s The Great Fires — all of them, for different reasons, made me want to write. It takes me a long time to read a book of poems. I am constantly sent off into my own daydreams and memories, sometimes after reading only a line or two.
Q: What is the most sublime meal you’ve ever eaten?
A: Summer of 2006. Players on Madison in Lakewood, OH. My brother and his wife took me and my then-fiancé out for dinner to celebrate our engagement — I had sesame encrusted ahi tuna, a special that night. I don’t remember the appetizers we ordered or the sides, but I remember it all being delicious. I’m sure the meal was enhanced by the occasion, it being a beautiful summer’s night (we ate outside), and a couple bottles of red wine.
Jason Tandon is the author of Give Over the Heckler and Everyone Gets Hurt, winner of the 2006 St. Lawrence Book Award and available for purchase at Black Lawrence Press. For more updates on Tandon’s writing, visit his website: http://jasontandon.wordpress.com/.