This week we are featuring two poems by Chloe Honum: “Dress Rehearsal” and “My Great Aunt Billie, at 92.” The poem “Dress Rehearsal” originally appeared in Poetry Magazine in November 2009, as one of a selection of poems that garnered Honum a Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. We had accepted the poem for publication also, but in honor of Honum’s award we agreed to delay publication. Now we are delighted to feature both that poem and a new poem, “My Great Aunt Billie, at 92.”
Honum grew up in New Zealand. In addition to Poetry, her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Orion, The Paris Review, and The Southern Review, among other journals, and were included in Best New Poets 2008 and 2010. Honum has also received an Isabella Gardner Fellowship from the MacDowell Colony.
“Dress Rehearsal” stems from my early teenage years, when I wanted to be a professional ballerina. One winter, I practiced for many hours a day. It was a lonely time but also thrilling. Through the dancing itself, I learned something about art and obsession.
While writing “My Great Aunt Billie, at 92,” I was thinking about love in an earlier time, when it was much easier for a person to fully disappear from another’s life. My hope is that the poem conveys something of my great aunt’s vivacious and resilient spirit.
Branches etch the film of ice
on the studio window. A crow looks in,
hopping and shrieking when I dance
in my black tutu, trimmed with silver.
The ballet master says, you are its mother.
But in a crow’s sky-knowing mind
could I be so misconstrued?
Out of the blackest
cold-wet air, the crow seems molded.
The stars will not wake up to guide it
back to the creek of shadows
where it was formed. Practice, practice.
I am smoke in darkness, climbing away
from a burning hut, in an otherwise empty field
on which the fire is slight and low,
and the rest of it is snow.
My Great Aunt Billie, at 92
How often did she think of him,
the American soldier
who said that he’d return
and they would marry?
Did he already have a wife?
Did he die? Did the days
feel like wave after wave
of silence? She was a chorus girl.
We were out walking.
On the ground were tiny
birds, like wet handkerchiefs.
I was the girl who came back,
she said, as the curtain lowered,
and with a little hop
she blew the woods—
the river, the birds—a kiss.