Denise Duhamel’s Poet of the Week:


Editor’s Note: After I read Denise Duhamel’s Queen for a Day: Selected and New Poems (University of Pittsburgh Press) I asked her if she would like to be the first, official MobyLives Poetry Empress and pick a new poet to spotlight each week of poetry month. She seemed to like the idea, especially the part where I referred to her as “Empress.” Some poems by the selected poet follow the Empress’ remarks.

Nin Andrews’ third book Why They Grow Wings won the Gerald Cable Award and was published by Silverfish Review Press in 2001. Andrews is also the author of The Book of Orgasms, recently reprinted by Cleveland State University, and Spontaneous Breasts, winner of the 1998 Pearl Chapbook contest. She is the recipient of an Ohio Arts Council grant and has published work in many literary reviews and anthologies including Best American Poetry (1997 and 2001), The Best of the Prose Poem, The Virginia Quarterly, The Paris Review and Ploughshares. She lives in Poland, Ohio with her husband and two children.

Nin Andrews is a complete original. Her underground classic
The Book of Orgasms was initially published as “fiction” by Asylum Press, but reissued last year as a book of prose poems by CSU. Gender–bending and genre-blurring, Andrews is a fabulous fabulist whose talent is only that much more pronounced in Why They Grow Wings. Full of nouveau folklore, quirky unrequited narratives, and mock dream analysis, her work is always surprising, sharp, and wild. What do angels, princesses, and orgasms all have in common? None are the same once they’ve passed through Andrew’s startling new collection of poems.

                                                     — Denise Duhamel

Three Poems by Nin Andrews
(from Why They Grow Wings)


The winter her body no longer fit, walking felt like swimming in blue jeans
and a flannel shirt. Everything stuck to her skin: gum wrappers, Band–aids,
leaves. How she envied the other girls, especially the kind who turned into
birds. They were the ones boys hand–tamed, training them to eat crumbs from
their open palms or to sing on cue. What she would have done for a red
crest and a sharp beak, for a little square of blue sky to enter her like
wings. But it was her role to sink so the others could rise, hers to sleep
so the others could dance. If only her legs weren’t too sodden to lift, if
only her buttons would unfasten in the water she kept swimming through, and
she could extract from the shadow of her breasts a soul as soft as a silk
brassiere, beautiful and useless, like a castle at the bottom of the sea.


At last I understand my problem. And after all these years. I have been
meditating incorrectly. I have been chanting Om to calm the vast ocean of
my mind. Only men who wish to leave the world of lust and lawn mowers
forever can say Om in peace. Om, I only just discovered, lacks the
sumptuous sounds and multi–syllabic soft centers appropriate for females of
my specific social class. A blonde, freckled woman from Suburban, Ohio must
never say Om. The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, his holiness himself, phoned me
from New Delhi to express his sincerest concerns for my health. Om, he
sighed, can never be kept awash with light. In Himalayan caves male
devotees chant Om until they levitate and hover upside down like bats. They
breathe only through their left nostrils, and in their spare time, they
balance cinder blocks on their cocks. Such performances are said to be
reminiscent of the seal acts at Sea World in Aurora, Ohio.
     Alas. What happens to the women of Om? Women whose perfect silence is
unpetaled by a tiny scrap of sound?
     Woe is me. For too many days, Om is all I have known. Om is all I can
think. Already my breasts are rising like the heads of seals beneath my
blouse and growing stiff with excitement.


Who says there is no healing? Just the other morning
my cousin showed me her saline breasts. In a matter of weeks
the nipples will be tattooed on. Size double C, she smirks.
Just like my adolescent dream. So it doesn’t hurt
when the body screams, she becomes a body without a mind,
a mind without a body. Like a letter without an envelope,
an envelope with no message inside. That’s how I see
life, she says. Sometimes, her breasts have phantom
pains. And leak imaginary milk when the baby cries.

After chemo, she forgets whose baby it is. And whose body
she’s in. Her lips travel the air as wings. We feel them
kiss us like dry stalks or leaves. Nights I imagine her
hovering in the doorway, though it’s only the dreams
gliding everywhere. Like strands of hair, they come loose

at the source. While the surgeon’s hands move behind her skin,
we wait, reading the manual of new age miracles, a dying man’s
last vision seen by x–ray, a one–way window through which
the dead look back and see only a child’s ballet. At last
we are ushered from the waiting room to join the other members
of the blond family running across the cover of the slick
magazine, Living with Cancer. We, too, could be endlessly
racing on a green meadow without a drop of sky I.V.–ed in.

all poems © Nin Andrews

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