Poem of the Week | September 14, 2015

This week we feature a new poem by Molly Spencer. Spencer’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal, Linebreak, Mid-American Review, New England Review, and elsewhere. She’s a student at the Rainier Writing Workshop and a teaching-artist for California Poets in the Schools.

Author’s note:

For many years when my children were small, I was ill but undiagnosed. This poem began its work in me after an appointment during which a doctor said to me, “Your disease is still ripening.” He meant, I suppose, that it was still developing and had not yet revealed itself fully. I was disturbed at his use of the word ripening—a word that, until then, had been full of only positive meanings and connotations for me—so his phrase began to haunt me. Around the same time, I went with my family to the Minnesota History Center near our then-home in St. Paul, where I read about the locust plagues of the 1870’s and one community’s response to them. Somehow, these strands wove together in my mind: the idea of ripening, the idea of plagues; the uncertainty of waiting for something (bad) to unfold, our powerlessness in the face of things outside our control. I write to puzzle things out, to understand the world and myself in the world. This poem was the work of interrogating that space of uncertainty and powerlessness, and how to live within it.


After Reading the Story of Assumption Chapel in Cold Spring, Minnesota


The doctor says, Your disease is still ripening.
Ripening? you ask, and feel your teeth slice late plums
through to stone. You think of seeds swollen
into fat hearts of summered flesh, then storms
of locusts shearing bare the fields.
He says, It may be years. And you watch linens vanish
like dreams, swallowed off clotheslines.
You see a boy, he is small, he gathers
locusts like stones that might save him
on a roofless night in the woods. Ten cents a bushel,
he’ll have new boots for winter. The doctor says,
This is the nature of your disease. Long growing
season beset by plague and fire, good years
and lean. You sigh
against the hollow cheeks of the farm wives.
Their husbands are building a chapel
to the Virgin, a hillside plea, small cape
of prayer. You say, Please I have built a roof
over my children’s heads. It is close to collapse.
You say it—Ripening. Imagine a woman carved
in stone above a doorway,
floating skyward, her hands
held out to the locusts at her feet
as if to say, Yes,
even this.