Going Home in Flood Time

Going Home in Flood Time by Jay Paul

Author: Jay Paul
Publisher: The Ink Drop Press (1999)
Number of Pages: 63
How long it took me to read: 3 days
Where I got this book: This was a graduation gift to me from the author, my favorite professor, Dr. Jay Paul, who is quite brilliant and terrifying.
ISBN: 1-880016-28-1

Like a Moth to a Flame

Poetry has a way of undressing us. When you write it, you can’t help but reveal who you are. And when you read someone else’s poetry, you begin to learn things you hadn’t considered. Sometimes, you see that the poet is made of the same parts as you. And sometimes, you learn things you wish to unlearn. For this reason, I’m always hesitant to read another person’s poetry, particularly someone I revere. Dr. Paul gave me his book of poetry four years ago, and I have touched it and considered it, flipped through some pages, but never really immersed myself, because what if I find out something that might change my opinion of him? On the other hand, of course, there’s the chance that I might never get to know something I’ve always wanted to know. Besides that, I miss him. So I think it’s time to read his book.

Favorite Five

I propose that the top 5 quotes from this book are:

5. “Her dream was of water. Water because it was blue and lustrous. Because it lay below her and yet before her, risen boundlessness, swelling. Water and not other than her, as its temperature, like a body’s, told, as the soft sway it blended with air told. Her body was forgetting strength, forgetting movement, but she saw she was of air and water.” ~Her Dream Was of Water (p.46)

4. “…We want the air—by which we mean the resonance of the salt and breeze and any mammal leaping too far away to hear—want that great space against our pores. Windows? Want them open. Clothes: off. Do we think film lurks everywhere we have skin?” ~Harbors (p.48)

3. “On the enameled kitchen table, the professor of philosophy she married left his tea in 1901, and let a locomotive crush his old-country shirt and jacket, handshake, everything that told, persistent as his teeth and tongue, where, what he had been.” ~Tall House (p.58)

2. “…And when I got up, both arms full of your smell in blouses I catch myself watching for the flow of breasts, there you sat at the window, naked, turned to the sun, hip, back of your neck like flaring candles, though I know it will be days before you read this and want to tuck it safe in the babble of your purse.” ~Domestic (p.21)

…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…

1. “She lies away from me legs to belly to shield what it is that is more urgent than love.” ~Cup (p.24)

Conversation with the Reader

While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:

“I had to read Dr. Paul’s first poem about a church service (aptly named ‘Service’) twice. It’s familiar: the pattern, the stillness, the solitude. What’s missing is God. There’s contemplation and music, there’s the embarrassing discomfort as you wonder whether you can say hello to someone you know before the service, or if you should sit quietly and wait until the end. No God. When you remove God from the church, all you have left is a puppet show. No matter your religion, I think you can feel the stirring of spirits in a place, whether good or bad, yours or someone else’s. And I feel sad when I walk into a church without feeling that stirring. Temples and churches were created to be God’s home, a place where we knew we could commune with Him; have we forgotten to ask Him to join us there?”

“I seem to need to read everything twice. Dr. Paul’s pacing and love of words, each carefully chosen, invoke a need to be equally as careful when reading him.

“In ‘Memorial Day,’ a parade turns into a glimpse of marriage and at the same time, betrays our mortality. Much, in fact, betrays mortality. From poem to poem, I feel myself aging until I suddenly find myself in a casket in ‘Balcony.’ That’s something I hadn’t suspected might happen to me when I picked up the book: that I might feel emotions beyond my years.

“There’s something funny about reading of things that happened before I was born. I only imagine the way things used to be from years of reading Shirley Jackson, Ray Bradbury, Dorothy Parker and the like, and of listening to the music and stories from when my parents were children. Things I’ll never experience feel a part of me and often make appearances in my writing. There’s a déjà vu in these poems even though I’ve never been in these old towns, haven’t grown old myself yet. Some piece of me feels like it’s from a different era; I’m struggling as I recognize things that are unfamiliar to me.

“But let’s revisit that idea of mortality. My terror while reading ‘Balcony’ doesn’t come from a fear of my eventual death; it comes from the idea of being on display after a lifetime of comfortable reclusion. I don’t like crowds and I’m funny about attention being on me for too long. This poem gives me one more reason to want to be cremated: I have no interest in being dressed up, painted, and shoved in a box for people to stare at. I’ve never liked the idea of staring at dead people to begin with. I have uncomfortable recollections of looking at empty bodies, stiff mannequins with no discernible glint of the person I used to know. I don’t want people to see me when I no longer love them and they are unable to love me; nothing will be left to love when I am gone. My body will just be the shell that used to hold Alice.”

“Dr. Paul, are you comparing the final stages of a move to pregnancy? How are they the same…? Anticipation, I think. An entire life compacted inside a single space, making that space infinitely greater than it was. A destination, both known and unknown, friendly and frightening. Goodbye to an old perception of being, goodbye to a previous importance, hello to new purpose, hello to new faces. Goodbye even to yourself, as you leave a part of your youth behind to embrace something you hoped you would become.

“And when you arrive, the ungraceful spilling forth of that life, perhaps even discomfort or pain as you try to make sense of The Big Bang you have just been part of—and now what belongs where, whose is this, will I ever get laundry done again? And over time you recognize—yes, this looks like yours, that looks like mine, and all your pieces combined manage to create a familiar face, a familiar place, even though you never knew it before.”

“I enjoy reading Dr. Paul’s pregnancy-tinged poems because I’m always curious about men’s perceptions of pregnancy. It’s something I feel must be so mysterious to them, and I wonder whether they’re jealous that we women are capable of holding two lives at once inside a single form, growing a future inside of our bodies, creating a human who will one day love, build, destroy, imagine. I like to think that men have more reverence for it, since they can’t fully understand it. Women will bite each other down to the bone over disagreements on medications, labor, caffeine, breastfeeding versus bottle feeding, bedtime routines—I rarely hear men weigh in on any of it, and I think it’s not from a lack of caring, but because they’re so busy loving and respecting the mothers of their children, wanting happiness of those they love most.”

“Spending a good chunk of my life as a pastor’s daughter, I’ve been to my fair share of funerals and visitations. My father’s churches have been in old towns and are full of many sweet old ladies, some with equally sweet old husbands, but many widowed. I stopped being surprised by the empty chairs that accompanied the deaths of these parishioners, and grew to accept death as a part of life. I think it was good for me to learn about death so young, to know that the woman who has sat in the same pew every Sunday for forty years may not be there next Sunday, and while we will miss her, it’s the natural order of things. What I have not learned to cope with, however, are the deaths of young people. There’s a difference between a rose wilting slowly on the bush and a rose being snipped and trampled.”

“I love reading Dr. Paul’s poems about his wife and considering the many aspects to a marriage. In my marriage, my husband and I have grown together in a way that somehow connects us at every moment, all at once—he is a call-back to my childhood, and suddenly, five-year-old Alice misses five-year-old Justin and longs to be friends with him. Some days, he and I can be teenagers together, awkwardly flirting and not knowing where to put our hands. Or we might simply be pals who have known each other all our lives (even though we’ve really only known each other for five years). Some nights, we’re freshly married, and some nights, we become old together, married for a hundred years, wrapped in each other’s arms as we admire the lights on our Christmas tree.”

“Of all the funerals I’ve been to in Dr. Paul’s poems, I think that ‘Tall House’ moves me the most. In particular, it’s the very brief and painful stanza about the widow; I worry about my husband, thinking decades into the future, potentially dealing with that inevitable loss. I realized, after I got married, that the way I reacted to the death of a man had changed. In the past, I would’ve reacted as a daughter, empathizing over the loss of a father. But now, I react as a wife, and can’t imagine the loss of the man who has become a definite part of me. I would feel hollow without him.

“I went to the funeral of a friend’s father a couple years ago, and remember thinking how much the death of her father turned this girl, whom I had grown up with, into a woman. Her mother, lost in a mass of friends and family, appeared so brave in her solitude. I couldn’t help but think I would feel like half a person in her situation. When my sister and I visited her mother some months later, she seemed stranded in the middle of his belongings, and far too young to be a widow. Even I could feel his memory clinging to the antique furniture, the dishes, the funny refrigerator magnets, everything down to the immaculately painted front door. She laughed as she told us how carefully he tackled the project of painting it, removing it from its hinges and sanding it beforehand, when anyone else would have settled for slapping paint on overtop the old job without bothering to take it down. But, she had added, it probably wouldn’t need painting again for another twenty years. I ached for her; her descriptions of her husband made him sound so similar to my own that I still cry when I think of her recollections.”

“Dr. Paul’s poems make me view life as an ocean shore: restless childhoods are waves breaking on rocks and intimate family moments are patient waters training broken shards into smooth bits of sea glass. Footprints turn to puddles as I grow into my husband, and waves bring forth exciting flotsam and jetsam to mirror my own children blooming—yet the ocean doesn’t hit the shore without dragging something back. I know that paired with the outward flows of life are inward ebbs of mortality.

“So shall I grieve, knowing that there will always be the pull of death? Or shall I celebrate the flow of life, running fast into the ocean, meeting the spray headlong with my mouth gleefully wide?”

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