Poetry Sunday: The Well-Wisher

This poem from 2008 was written in a workshop with lovely poet and human being Sidney Wade, who was also my thesis adviser. I used it to open my graduate thesis, Squall Lines, because it quite neatly introduced the themes countained therein.


“If you ever had magic powers descend on you suddenly,
out of the blue, you’ll know how Jane felt.”
– Edward Eager, Half Magic

Tomorrow will be the morning of discovery.
A translucent egg, as big as the bough of your arms,
will lie on the sidewalk on the way to school,

cracks splintering the amethyst shell while something
inside glows, growing. Or maybe a creature
with skin like flints of green glass will stumble out

of the honey-suckle brambles during recess, craning
his neck toward you, opening a hungry mouth
of little needle-teeth, bleating and unfurling

still-sticky wings. Maybe you’ll pull the right book
from the right shelf in the library and the carpeted floor
will open up like supermarket doors—breathless

—revealing a dark tunnel down, its metal walls dim-lit
by winking jewel-toned lights and lined with rusted cogs.
Maybe tomorrow the little brown ants that form

a dotted line across your desk will stop to watch
you do your long division, waving their antennae
at you, forcing whispered answers through

their saw-mouthed jaws. Maybe tomorrow you’ll amble
into the neighbor’s yard and the oak trees
will sway to the side, revealing a tiny village—

saltbox houses in miniature, stores filled
with little burlap sacks of grain, horses trotting
at shin-height pulling matchstick carts. Maybe.

Still tonight you can’t help but stay up late, clutching
the Eveready you poached from the junk drawer,
heavy blankets tented over your head,

savagely feasting on your chapter-books
and wondering what morning, its yellow light already
smothering your gray suburb, might bring.

Exegesis: The Well-Wisher

This was the poem that made me realize I was in the wrong genre.

I’d always written heavily about my own childhood–my college honors thesis was titled Nostalgia, for god’s sake. And I’d always loved children’s literature too. I took courses on it in college, and then, when I arrived at the University of Florida, quickly enrolled in classes within their excellent children’s literature department. I think I most like the intensity of childhood–from the way that your senses are more acute (I used to be able to tell the difference between family members’ footsteps on the stairs) to the way that your emotions are all raw and new. And I also enjoyed the sense of possibility. One reason why kids love portal fiction so much–why loved portal fiction so much–was that as a child, I hadn’t really experienced enough to think it wasn’t possible that someday I’d stumble across ruins in the woods and be transported to a quasi-medieval world.

“The Well-Wisher” plays on these themes. I hadn’t read The Magician by Lev Grossman at this point, but I would soon, and as you can imagine, I felt I could relate quite a bit. It’s a good poem, but frankly, I soon realized that I would have rather written any of the fictional books described than a poem summarizing any of them.

Also, the ending is rushed. I won’t call it half-assed but I might call it not-fully-assed.

Also also, Half Magic is a damned good book. Read it!