Poet of the Day – Joanne Esser

National Poetry Month April 7, 2020

Joanne Esser

They fall into exhaustion rather than into gentle sleep,
            each limb heavy with the ash of its bonfires burned completely down,
                        not curled but sprawled, claiming all the space of their bed,
Two bodies that attempted fusion. Both strained to push into
            what is impenetrable in the other, wanting in the only way they know
                        to try, to perhaps break through the inherent loneliness of skin.
Now, very late, leg over leg, arm across chest, they breathe deep as newborns, 
as if drawing from the stuffy air replenishment after their struggle. No dreams 
 tonight. Instead, only thick flesh, cooling back into their separate selves.
What will they say when they stir back into the world,
            conscious, suddenly, of their edges as morning sun floods their sheets?
                        What will their first words be upon waking?
They each will arrive in the new day alone, surprised, as they were at their own births, 
            and at death, and as after each sleep, utterly bound in the locked rooms
                        of their bodies. Will they recognize their loneliness? Will they speak of it?
If love resides anywhere, it is here: in the most fragile moment, the waking faces, 
their mussed hair. When habitual seeing returns. It is in their decision,
                        whether or not they will tell one another of their true need.

First published in The Sow's Ear Poetry Review
Also included in my recently published collection of poems, Humming At The Dinner Table
 (Finishing Line Press, 2019).

1.     What inspired you to write this poem?

This poem emerged from a deep relationship I had with a man over twenty years ago. As with many new relationships, I was at first caught up in the exhilaration of it, the thrill of getting to know someone in body and mind. But I also sensed the undertone of separateness that seems impossible to overcome – how each of us is, in the end, utterly alone. It brought me to a fresh understanding of what love really is – the willingness to be honest with someone about our human condition.

2.     What do you like about this poem?

I have struggled over time with finding a way to put physical lovemaking into words in a way that is not cliché. I think this poem’s focus on the moments afterward, the waking into a new day, is a successful way to suggest passion.

 3.     What would you change about this poem?

I wrote this poem long ago, and, unlike so many of my poems, it seems to have stood the “test of time” without too many revisions. I like the long lines and the three-line stanzas that slide sideways on the page. I wouldn’t change it at all; instead, I might write a new poem to explore how love evolves as people age – since that is what I am experiencing now.

4.     Where, when, and how often do you write?

I journal most days, getting up early in the morning and sitting with my coffee at my dining room table before work and before the daily to-do list takes over my brain. Much of my journaling is just top-of-the-mind thoughts, rattling on – just practice moving the pen across the page. But sometimes I discover a line or two from my journal that I can pull out to try to shape into a poem. 

5.     What poetry books are you reading right now?

I absolutely love the work of Ada Limon. Both of her books, Bright Dead Things and The Carrying, are full of music and depth of thought that inspire me to look anew at everything.

Picture of Joanne Esser