September 14, 2021

Christine Potter

MY SISTER’S BIRTHDAY IS THE DAY AFTER 9/11

And on it, twenty years after all that dying, I read
about the last person found alive in the rubble of
Ground Zero, a woman who still believes an angel
took her hand and pulled: a rebirth. I wish I could

have given Susan that for a present twenty years
ago, when we finally got email to each other; she
was stuck in Italy, I awake all night in New York,
smelling what we all did when the wind shifted.

I wish I could have said, “It wasn’t an angel truly
but here is someone who lived, for your birthday.”
When our mother died for four months, my sister
sat at her side for my birthday: two late September

nights on the Jersey Shore, my phone of course
ringing the first morning: Mom worse, not wanting
breakfast, not getting up. No, stay down there with
Ken. Who’s to say it’ll be today? She could die with

you stuck in traffic! Or not. Not on your birthday,
though, please. At least have your birthday. The
ocean went about its steady business at my feet as
I gazed out into all that gray: shush, shush, shush.

And so I stayed. Back in New York, my sister’s
friend Joshua arrived to perform all the Bach Cello
Suites so my mother could take peaceful leave of
herself. He kissed her hand when he was done. But

Mom opened her eyes and walked into the kitchen
to eat dinner. How many angels are there in this
story? And how many birthdays? How many bright,
indifferent clouds drift in a wind we cannot see?

from Poets Respond
September 14, 2021

__________

Christine Potter: “September 11th is something that’s maybe too big to catch in a poem. The 20th anniversary commemorations were too hard for me to watch (as a New Yorker especially), but I read about some of them and came across the story of the last survivor pulled from the ruins of the WTC site. My sister’s birthday is September 12th. I was thinking about how all huge historic events affect us one at a time, one by one. And I was thinking about birthdays and the days people die. So I wrote this.” (web)

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November 6, 2018

Christine Potter

ON THE ELECTION

How long, dear Savior, oh how long
shall this glad hour delay?
—Jeremiah Ingalls, ‘Northfield’

I am afraid and I am resolved. The sky is cloudy again
and the leaves have sponged up the light left behind.
It’s getting dark but there is no darkness in the trees.

My sister told me she was hired once as an editor
because the man interviewing her believed her capable
of talking someone out of a Turkish jail. I couldn’t do that.

I’d just see it coming: the folly, the arrest, the clamor
of a dusty street I can barely imagine. Some people say
I worry too much. Before the last Presidential election,

I saw two men, feet planted firm in front of a church
at the top of a hill where two busy roads intersected.
The men held banners longer than they were tall and

waved them out over traffic like a curse that was sure
of itself. Fly swift around ye wheels of time! We will
decide what we will decide and then it will be winter.

It’s dusk now, so I watch by the light of what’s left:
one last summer-red spray of roses lost in the garden’s
collapse: marigolds, nasturtiums, a sparrow pecking seed.

from Poets Respond
November 6, 2018

__________

Christine Potter: “I’m responding to about a zillion articles I’ve read in newspapers lately that say pretty much what this one does. Generally, I’d rather read poetry than tea leaves, but I’m on edge as much as anyone who cares about the fate of her country. Also, I got gut-punched when the church choir I sing with responded to the massacre at Tree of Life in Pittsburgh by singing ‘Northfield,’ a very old piece of Sacred Harp music by Jeremiah Ingalls. The two things rubbing together in my nervous heart set off a poem.” (web)

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June 26, 2017

Christine Potter

RECEPTIONIST (1972)

The men weren’t in charge. My mother was,
at her desk by the tall Third Avenue window:
Executive Secretary. The men tried to get me
drunk at lunch on magnums of cheap white wine

at the Indian restaurant by the river, and kept
taxidermied piranhas on their giant desks. I sat
out front, behind an even larger desk, guarding
a door two guys high, all summer. I was nineteen.

Mom had already taught me to drink Beck’s Dark
and whiskey sours. Fun City! said the mayor. I
was no easy prey. My acid-addled ex-boyfriend
cried on the couch in the lobby when I told him

to go away, his muddy eyes matching the awful
wall panelling. He seemed a nice young man,
someone said. The pay was good. I typed poems
on the Correcting Selectric with its magic white

ribbon that could lift mistakes right off the page.
The phone seldom rang. It was fine to crack jokes
when it did. I thought the job easy. Once, I watched
a solar eclipse with Mom, from her desk, and the

midtown air went grey as someone dying. There’s
a blackness in everything, Mom said, even light.
The real receptionist came back from vacation. I
went back to school. As always, my mother was right.

from Rattle #55, Spring 2017

[download audio]

__________

Christine Potter: “There were a number of things you weren’t supposed to do in my family: ride in Volkswagens (my dad was sure they were instant death), read comic books, or tell anyone anything about what went on in our house. And writing down that stuff? The ultimate no-no, the plutonium of taboos. The truth was, what went on in our house went on in everyone else’s house. The power was in the telling of it. How could I possibly have become anything but a writer and poet?” (website)

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February 16, 2015

Christine Potter

SAVE THE HUMAN RACE

Although she never did before, my mother lies.
She doesn’t have dementia. She answers questions

like someone drinking white wine at a dinner party,
pretending to have read the best-seller: Of course

I went to church! There was a skirt, she says, and
a dress—the same pattern? Red. I wore one of those.

The one we tried on Friday? I ask. A silence.
She takes a breath, relieved: Yes! The secret she

doesn’t have is safe. My father has been counseled
not to argue with her, or has his hearing aid off.

I think he’s going to say North Korea is planning
to nuke Hawaii, where my sister is on vacation, but

he’s into economic inequality and arthritis instead.
At least I don’t have to explain why I believe this is not

the worst time civilization has ever known, remind
him to take his pain-killers, cite the Civil War or

the Black Death. He’s in a good mood. He tells me
about the diversionary mission he never flew with

his Air Force unit, the medical discharge just in time.
I feign surprise; he’s shared this secret with my sister,

not me. So now we both know, I type into the email.
Dad wouldn’t have been one of the few survivors.

I think about not being anything at all, a missed beat,
a bright white screen with nothing on it. I hit send.

Outside, little brown and grey birds peck at the feeder.
A young hawk, mumbling his hunger, misses them

and takes off. And a jet in the cloudless sky is a silver
brooch on a white ribbon, up so high I can’t even hear it.

from Rattle #45, Fall 2014
Tribute to Poets of Faith

__________

Christine Potter: “About ten years ago, when my husband and I were making music in a high Episcopal church that was much into incense and bells, I sat in the choir loft and felt the connection between poetry and Scripture. It was a visceral thing, an awakening. In fairness, I may have been slightly oxygen-deprived at that moment (they were really into incense and bells there), but I still think of the two together. I believe in God and I believe in His presence here on earth in Jesus Christ. And I write poems. I think the spirit that makes poems happen is holy, even if the poetry is utterly profane. And even if you’re not choking on clouds of frankincense when you write it.”

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