The Life

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Paperback
$19.00 US
5.5"W x 8.4"H x 0.31"D  
On sale Apr 27, 2021 | 112 Pages | 978-0-14-313601-9
| Grades 9-12 + AP/IB
An exquisite book of poetry with a lens on motherhood that’s existential, funny and tender.” —Elle

Acclaimed poet Carrie Fountain deepens her exploration of the domestic in a new collection of playful and wise poems


The poems in Carrie Fountain's third collection, The Life, exist somewhere, as Rilke says, between “our daily life” and “the great work”—an interstitial space where sidelong glances live alongside shouts to heaven. In elegant, colloquial language, Fountain observes her children dressing themselves in fledgling layers of personhood, creating their own private worlds and personalities, and makes room for genuine marvels in the midst of routine. Attuned to the delicate, fleeting moments that together comprise a life, these poems offer a guide by which to navigate the signs and symbols, and to pilot if not the perfect life, the only life, the life we are given.
Carrie Fountain was born and raised in Mesilla, New Mexico. Fountain’s books include the National Poetry Series award winner Burn Lake and Instant Winner. Her poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Poetry, and Tin House, among others. She received her MFA at the James A. Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin where she was a fellow. She lives with her husband, playwright and novelist Kirk Lynn, in Austin, Texas. View titles by Carrie Fountain

I

 

the end

 

Hanging the miniature ornaments

 

on the miniature tree with the girl

 

while the baby sleeps behind a sheet

 

of white noise and uncorrupted

 

darkness. Ow, she says each time

 

the needles prick her fingers. Ow.

 

There is no way the little tree can

 

wear it all, can bear it all; its branches

 

begin to droop under the cheer, angels

 

mostly. Now the girl goes to bed

 

reluctantly, falls asleep instantly.

 

Now the night comes full on. And so,

 

in this way, the Christ child will be

 

born again, his animal life will begin

 

again, the story will begin again, his

 

tiny mouth will curl toward his mother’s

 

breast, strong mouth of the newborn,

 

the part that comes knowing what

 

 

 

to do. They will meet for the first time.

 

She’ll have those breasts until the end

 

of her life. He’ll have that mouth until

 

the end of his.

 

 

 

the life

 

The toilet flows and flows

 

and nothing stops it

 

so I call a plumber but then

 

it stops on its own

 

so I call back and say it stopped

 

and cancel. I have these

 

little ideas for making my life

 

a marginally better life.

 

I can’t think of one

 

right now. Otherwise, I find

 

as soon as I come within range

 

the spirit retreats. Before

 

long, it never existed. As with

 

a celebrity, I will always

 

have to remember meeting

 

the spirit, though the spirit will

 

never have to remember meeting

 

me. Based on conversations

 

 

 

I’ve overheard, I think

 

my children believe the soul

 

is an organ of the body.

 

I know they believe in heaven.

 

I hear them talk about it.

 

But theirs is a heaven of their own

 

making, a place where you can

 

do whatever you want, eat

 

ice cream for dinner, play

 

video games with a God who will

 

drive you to CVS—yes, right now,

 

put on your shoes—for a new box

 

of Lucky Charms, a God

 

who will give you full possession

 

of his Apple ID. Theirs

 

is a heaven with no elsewhere,

 

a heaven with no hell.

 

For them there are three times:

 

 

 

the beforelife, which is nothing,

 

the life, and the afterlife, which is

 

everything. Who knows? Maybe

 

they’re right. If I washed

 

my face and brushed my teeth

 

and took out my contacts

 

right after putting my kids to sleep

 

rather than waiting until

 

before bed, my evenings would be

 

better and I’d go to sleep earlier.

 

There. You see, I can’t stop having

 

the smallest possible ideas. This

 

is the life. After a day of devout

 

silence, the toilet starts up again.

 

This time I’m waiting to see

 

if it’s serious.

 

 

 

poem on the inside

 

Writing in the silent

 

part of the morning, before

 

the baby and his toys

 

wake up and begin

 

their strange chatter,

 

the lawn mower’s insipid

 

giggle, the cell phone’s

 

hello and goodbye.

 

The only sound now is that

 

of the cat licking his fur

 

behind me on the bed.

 

In the short time after

 

we bought this house

 

but before we moved into it,

 

I’d sometimes drive by.

 

I’d stop. I’d park in the carport

 

and sneak around back

 

and I’d squint into the windows,

 

 

 

almost certain I knew what

 

our lives would be like

 

once we lived inside.

 

 

 

cold

 

Wind through the night, cold

 

wind to blow the dried skins

 

away, maybe. We woke to find

 

the thousand yellow leaves

 

of the pecan tree covering

 

the backyard. What is

 

the meaning of this? the villain

 

in the show my children

 

are watching asks, his face to

 

the heavens. I think he’s going to

 

turn good, my son says.

 

And I say, Hope so, because

 

I know how much he loves a bad guy

 

who just needs one experience

 

of goodness to turn good

 

himself—good again, finally

 

good, his evil so simple, just pain

 

and fear and shame, evil that begs

 

 

 

to be thwarted, to be finished,

 

solved, dissolved, like sugar

 

in water, no more next time, there

 

won’t be a next time, because

 

the curse is lifted, the lesion healed,

 

the disease cured. We thought

 

he was dead in the end, but then

 

no—look, he’s breathing, he’s

 

alive, he lived. Any of us

 

could be turned inside out

 

like that, then right side in—any

 

one of us could suddenly run

 

a finger over the tender spot,

 

the crack that could widen then

 

break apart cleanly, moved by

 

love, destroyed by love, and replaced

 

by love, a force so strong, a wind

 

that blows cleanly through

 

 

 

the darkest night, a wind that blows

 

the dried skins away, until we rise

 

again, ready to account

 

for the damage we’ve done.

 

 

 

the beast is coming

 

is what my daughter

 

said all through the first

 

part of the song, where

 

Belle is singing about how

 

surprised she is to be falling

 

in love with a beast: The beast

 

is coming, right, Mommy?

 

What a story. He is a beast,

 

a true beast, with fur and

 

haunches and claws that slash,

 

no metaphor, yellow teeth, very

 

bad attitude, yet a woman

 

still finds a way to love him.

 

It was alarming how easily

 

my girl gave over. He’s not so

 

grumpy anymore, she said,

 

and look, he took a bath.

 

 

 

after the ascension

 

No one wanted to look at each other.

 

No one wanted to speak, to be

 

the first to speak. But we had to.

 

Walking back to Jerusalem, for instance,

 

we had to decide where we were going.

 

There was no one to follow home

 

anymore. That day and the day after.

 

Waking, it was the first thought. This

 

is the feeling of rising with faith alone.

 

We had to learn it like a skill. We had

 

to come to understand this would always

 

be the first thought. Things hadn’t

 

worked out the way we’d thought

 

they would. Eventually, we began dying.

 

Funny to say it now, but some of us

 

wondered, would it happen to us, too?

 

But of course it would happen. This was

 

the very promise we’d lived by.

 

 

 

one way

 

When I quit smoking it was only because

 

I’d come to understand without a doubt that

 

I was unable to quit smoking. I knew I could

 

not do it. I knew that if I wanted to not smoke

 

I’d have to maintain the specific circumstances

 

that would keep me from failing to quit

 

smoking, those specific circumstances being

 

that I not smoke. And it worked, which still

 

amazes me. When our daughter was a baby

 

and was learning to put herself to sleep

 

and was crying and crying—well, after a while

 

I would need to go into her room and make it

 

stop—I just need to make it stop—and the longer

 

it went on, the stronger was my need to make it

 

stop. No, my husband said. She’s wrestling

 

with the devil, my husband said. And we must

 

let her win. Now I pray, when I pray, understanding

 

I cannot pray—okay, fine—and also understanding

 

the only way to quit not praying is to enter the arena

 

of prayer, lay hands upon the devil—my devil—and

 

pin it down as long as I can, then a while after that.

 

first

 

There is a holiness in exhaustion,

 

is what I keep telling myself,

 

filling out the form so my TA gets paid,

 

then making copies of it on the hot

 

and heaving machine, writing

 

Strong start! on a pretty bad poem.

 

And then the children: the baby’s

 

mouth opening, going for the breast,

 

the girl’s hair to wash tonight

 

and then comb so painstakingly

 

in the tub while conditioner drips

 

in slick globs onto her shoulders

 

and her discipline chart flaps in the air

 

conditioner at school, taped

 

to a filing cabinet, longing for

 

stickers. My heart is so giant

 

this evening, like one of those moons

 

so full it’s disturbing, so full that

 

if you see it when you’re getting out

 

of the car you have to go inside the house

 

and make someone else come out

 

and see it for themselves. I want

 

everything, I admit. I want

 

a clean heart. I want the children

 

to sleep and the drought to end.

 

I want the rain to come down hard—

 

It’s supposed to monsoon,is what

 

 

 

Naomi said, driving away this morning,

 

and she was right. It’s monsooning.

 

Still I want more. Even as the streets

 

are washed clean and then begin

 

to flood. Even though the man came

 

again today to check the rat traps

 

and said he bet we’d catch the rat

 

within twenty-four hours. We still haven’t

 

caught the rat, so I’m working

 

at the table with my legs folded up

 

beneath me. I want to know

 

what is holy—I do. But first I want

 

the rat to die. I am thirsty for that

 

death and will drink deeply of that

 

victory, the thwack of the trap’s

 

hard plastic jaw, and I will rush

 

to see the evidence no matter how

 

gruesome, folding my body over

 

the washing machine to see the thing

 

crushed there, much smaller than

 

I imagined it’d be, the strawberry

 

large in its mouth.

 

 

 

how has motherhood changed the way you write?

 

The baby sleeps

 

and cries and sleeps

 

and cries in fifteen-

 

minute increments

 

for three hours

 

and wakes, unrested,

 

wanting something,

 

something I cannot

 

give him. Meanwhile

 

the sheets hold their

 

famous crumple,

 

their human scent.

 

Meanwhile, in the kitchen

 

the enchilada casseroles

 

wait in the freezer

 

for their big moment,

 

though casseroles

 

cannot wait

 

 

 

because casseroles

 

have no desires.

 

Look at the oranges

 

in the white bowl

 

on the table. Suddenly

 

they’ve been there

 

for weeks and have

 

hardened, been

 

rendered inedible,

 

despite appearances.

 

Suddenly a smell

 

comes strongly

 

from a hidden place

 

in the backyard

 

and we cannot

 

discover it and will

 

never discover it.

 

All we can do is say

 

 

 

Something died

 

out thereevery time

 

we go in or out the back

 

door.Suddenly it’s deep

 

winter and the baby

 

has produced one crude

 

tooth and the trees

 

in front of the house

 

across the street

 

are bare of leaves

 

and the people we knew

 

have moved back

 

to Houston and the house

 

has been on the market

 

for going on three months.

 

One day, the blinds were

 

 

 

 

 

open all day and all

 

night, the empty house

 

emitting light, staged

 

by experts, soft

 

throws folded over

 

armchairs. Still,

 

no takers.

 

 

 

the parable of the gifts

 

My son can’t keep the story straight.

 

Is he going to come into my room?

 

he asks his sister warily of Santa Claus.

 

He is so young he routinely needs to be

 

reminded what to believe. Santa is real;

 

aliens are not real. Aliens could be real,

 

my daughter says. Yeah, I guess you’re

 

right, I say.And Jesus Christ is real,

 

she says.Zeus wasn’t real. Zeus was

 

a myth. But Jesus Christ was a real man

 

who walked upon this earth though

 

he was the Son of God. So I guess

 

she’smade it to the New Testament

 

in the 100 Bible Stories for Childrenshe bought

 

last week with her tooth fairy money.

 

Sure you want that one?her father asked

 

at the checkout, and as an answer

 

 

 

she held the book tightly to her chest.

 

God, sometimesI can see the privacy

 

forming around her, like faint light

 

or like the shimmer of oil as it heats

 

in the pan, and it is a great mystery

 

to me, and it is painful to me, because

 

it is lonely to be a person and what she is

 

telling us with her 100 Bible stories

 

is that she is a person. God, sometimes I step

 

into this life like stepping into a room

 

I can’t remember why I entered, and for

 

a moment I see nothing—I can see nothing,

 

I can seeit, a space in front of me that is not yet

 

filled, that could be filled, and will be filled.

 

It’s simple and elegant, without needs, just

 

large enough, and sometimes I understand

 

that’s the space my babies came from, were

 

pulled from wailing, and the space

 

 

 

my grandmother returned to, finally, after

 

her long and painful illness, but suddenly, too,

 

that morning, with the scent of orange

 

Jell-O still present in the room, she slipped

 

away, was pulled, perhaps, and I imagine

 

that’s the space I’ll enter, too, when I die,

 

and it’s not unpleasant to think of it,

 

an ultimate privacy, though thinking

 

of my children with spaces of their own

 

into which they will someday disappear

 

is unbearable. It is unbearable, and though

 

it is unbearable, I bear it. That is the agreement

 

into which I entered when they arrived.

 

I think maybe I should read ahead to see

 

how the book handles the Crucifixion.

 

Or maybe I should just hide the book

 

and pretend I didn’t. I don’t know. I haven’t

 

seen it. Maybe the tooth fairy will bring you

 

 

 

more money and you can buy something else.

 

Because, God, I am not prepared to let

 

my daughter know how the main character

 

of her story dies. Not yet. She, who answers

 

her brother so kindly, with such perfect

 

honesty, saying, No, the gifts just appear

 

under the tree; it’s magic, though surely

 

by now she only pretends to believe.

 

 

 

the student

 

I wish I were as talented

 

at anything as he is

 

at pulling Derrida into

 

a conversation, any

 

conversation, no matter

 

what we’re discussing:

 

Derrida. Even once

 

when he was telling me

 

why he didn’t have

 

the assignment, even then

 

after a long and aerobic

 

journey we arrived

 

at Derrida, his white

 

hair and elegant European

 

ideas, and it felt good—

 

I admit it felt good to finally

 

arrive there—ah, bonjour,

 

Monsieur Derrida!—

 

 

 

because at least I knew

 

then where I was, even

 

if it wasn’t where

 

I wanted to be. To pretend,

 

Derrida said, I actually

 

do the thing: I have therefore

 

only pretended to pretend.

 

I pretend sometimes. Other

 

times all I do is pretend.

 

I’ve created gods this way

 

and on occasion I’ve tied

 

those gods together

 

like they do bedsheets

 

in a movie, and I’ve escaped

 

the high tower of myself

 

this way. I’ve made it

 

to solid ground this way.

 

I’ve landed on the earth.

 

 

 

And each time I’ve been

 

sure I’ve actually done

 

the thing, but when I look up,

 

the gods are gone. 

 

Praise for The Life:

“Fountain’s poems are [...] beloved for their warmth and intimacy . . . Her work is lyrical and relevant.” The Washington Post

“Fleeting, wondrous, clear.” Ms. Magazine

“I write to you about The Life with tear tracks on my cheeks. Not even old ones, because every time I look back at one of the pieces that make up Carrie Fountain's third collection of poetry, the whole process starts anew . . . Fountain is skillfully tying minute, personal experiences to our biggest quandaries about human nature to devastating effect . . . I'm very grateful to Fountain for finally bursting the stormcloud hovering above me. It's a long-awaited rain.” —Rosalind Faires, Austin Chronicle

“Spectacular . . . reveals a young mother’s cluttered life and a glimmering world of faith shaken, stirred, and movingly reaffirmed . . . Every poem is a marvel of craft; Fountain displays exquisite judgment, with each image, figure, question, paradox, snippet of overheard conversation, and philosophical meditation finding its perfect place. The effect is quietly exhilarating. Humor and heartbreak intertwine . . . Through the alchemy of honest inquiry and clever wordplay [...] Fountain makes good on the transformative promise of poetry, ‘making one/ thing become another’ in this remarkable work.” Publishers Weekly, STARRED review

“With its wonder at daily living, The Life lures you into its quiet world only to ignite in abundance, ferocity, and the aching truth of survival. Fountain's stunning poems illuminate the complexities of motherhood and marriage with a clear, lyrical voice that speaks to us all.” —Ada Limón, author of The Carrying

“Life here has been caught, still squirming, on poet Fountain’s lines. She lets her haul go, releases and casts another line, one after another, big and little fish, small or wild or turning lines. Each catch released as if the fisher forgot her hunger for a split second and it came back, ravenous for her. This poet’s voice works the way any great art works: so beautiful it hurts maybe too much that it seems dangerous. But it’s not like 'any great art'— it’s this one book, this voice, this life, the only one we have. And this book changed it.” —Brenda Shaughnessy, author of The Octopus Museum

“As the poet herself (mother, teacher, partner, citizen) must, these poems begin in chaotic dailiness, then swerve into sudden clarity of attention. They stun with pleasurable, often funny, at times devastating recognition. A single life, of one struggling, searching being, becomes ‘the’ life: what is despite our differences common. We can all recognize each other and ourselves in these marvelous poems.” —Matthew Zapruder, author of Father’s Day

“Carrie Fountain has done it again—and again, I’m in awe, like a kid watching a magician and hoping to understand the tricks. How, reading this book, can I be so grounded in the life—its paper valentines, its grocery runs, its dead pet fish that ‘flash like money one last time / before vanishing down the drain”—but also be taken elsewhere, beyond? In poems that explore motherhood, selfhood, marriage, faith and belief, and the deep loneliness of being human, Fountain celebrates love and family while also acknowledging that we are traveling alone toward wherever it is we are going: ‘It is unbearable, and though / it is unbearable, I bear it.’ Perhaps, as she writes, there is no such thing as perfect, only ‘good enough,’ but The Life seems evidence to the contrary. To me this book is perfect.” —Maggie Smith, author of Good Bones and Keep Moving

About

An exquisite book of poetry with a lens on motherhood that’s existential, funny and tender.” —Elle

Acclaimed poet Carrie Fountain deepens her exploration of the domestic in a new collection of playful and wise poems


The poems in Carrie Fountain's third collection, The Life, exist somewhere, as Rilke says, between “our daily life” and “the great work”—an interstitial space where sidelong glances live alongside shouts to heaven. In elegant, colloquial language, Fountain observes her children dressing themselves in fledgling layers of personhood, creating their own private worlds and personalities, and makes room for genuine marvels in the midst of routine. Attuned to the delicate, fleeting moments that together comprise a life, these poems offer a guide by which to navigate the signs and symbols, and to pilot if not the perfect life, the only life, the life we are given.

Author

Carrie Fountain was born and raised in Mesilla, New Mexico. Fountain’s books include the National Poetry Series award winner Burn Lake and Instant Winner. Her poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Poetry, and Tin House, among others. She received her MFA at the James A. Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin where she was a fellow. She lives with her husband, playwright and novelist Kirk Lynn, in Austin, Texas. View titles by Carrie Fountain

Excerpt

I

 

the end

 

Hanging the miniature ornaments

 

on the miniature tree with the girl

 

while the baby sleeps behind a sheet

 

of white noise and uncorrupted

 

darkness. Ow, she says each time

 

the needles prick her fingers. Ow.

 

There is no way the little tree can

 

wear it all, can bear it all; its branches

 

begin to droop under the cheer, angels

 

mostly. Now the girl goes to bed

 

reluctantly, falls asleep instantly.

 

Now the night comes full on. And so,

 

in this way, the Christ child will be

 

born again, his animal life will begin

 

again, the story will begin again, his

 

tiny mouth will curl toward his mother’s

 

breast, strong mouth of the newborn,

 

the part that comes knowing what

 

 

 

to do. They will meet for the first time.

 

She’ll have those breasts until the end

 

of her life. He’ll have that mouth until

 

the end of his.

 

 

 

the life

 

The toilet flows and flows

 

and nothing stops it

 

so I call a plumber but then

 

it stops on its own

 

so I call back and say it stopped

 

and cancel. I have these

 

little ideas for making my life

 

a marginally better life.

 

I can’t think of one

 

right now. Otherwise, I find

 

as soon as I come within range

 

the spirit retreats. Before

 

long, it never existed. As with

 

a celebrity, I will always

 

have to remember meeting

 

the spirit, though the spirit will

 

never have to remember meeting

 

me. Based on conversations

 

 

 

I’ve overheard, I think

 

my children believe the soul

 

is an organ of the body.

 

I know they believe in heaven.

 

I hear them talk about it.

 

But theirs is a heaven of their own

 

making, a place where you can

 

do whatever you want, eat

 

ice cream for dinner, play

 

video games with a God who will

 

drive you to CVS—yes, right now,

 

put on your shoes—for a new box

 

of Lucky Charms, a God

 

who will give you full possession

 

of his Apple ID. Theirs

 

is a heaven with no elsewhere,

 

a heaven with no hell.

 

For them there are three times:

 

 

 

the beforelife, which is nothing,

 

the life, and the afterlife, which is

 

everything. Who knows? Maybe

 

they’re right. If I washed

 

my face and brushed my teeth

 

and took out my contacts

 

right after putting my kids to sleep

 

rather than waiting until

 

before bed, my evenings would be

 

better and I’d go to sleep earlier.

 

There. You see, I can’t stop having

 

the smallest possible ideas. This

 

is the life. After a day of devout

 

silence, the toilet starts up again.

 

This time I’m waiting to see

 

if it’s serious.

 

 

 

poem on the inside

 

Writing in the silent

 

part of the morning, before

 

the baby and his toys

 

wake up and begin

 

their strange chatter,

 

the lawn mower’s insipid

 

giggle, the cell phone’s

 

hello and goodbye.

 

The only sound now is that

 

of the cat licking his fur

 

behind me on the bed.

 

In the short time after

 

we bought this house

 

but before we moved into it,

 

I’d sometimes drive by.

 

I’d stop. I’d park in the carport

 

and sneak around back

 

and I’d squint into the windows,

 

 

 

almost certain I knew what

 

our lives would be like

 

once we lived inside.

 

 

 

cold

 

Wind through the night, cold

 

wind to blow the dried skins

 

away, maybe. We woke to find

 

the thousand yellow leaves

 

of the pecan tree covering

 

the backyard. What is

 

the meaning of this? the villain

 

in the show my children

 

are watching asks, his face to

 

the heavens. I think he’s going to

 

turn good, my son says.

 

And I say, Hope so, because

 

I know how much he loves a bad guy

 

who just needs one experience

 

of goodness to turn good

 

himself—good again, finally

 

good, his evil so simple, just pain

 

and fear and shame, evil that begs

 

 

 

to be thwarted, to be finished,

 

solved, dissolved, like sugar

 

in water, no more next time, there

 

won’t be a next time, because

 

the curse is lifted, the lesion healed,

 

the disease cured. We thought

 

he was dead in the end, but then

 

no—look, he’s breathing, he’s

 

alive, he lived. Any of us

 

could be turned inside out

 

like that, then right side in—any

 

one of us could suddenly run

 

a finger over the tender spot,

 

the crack that could widen then

 

break apart cleanly, moved by

 

love, destroyed by love, and replaced

 

by love, a force so strong, a wind

 

that blows cleanly through

 

 

 

the darkest night, a wind that blows

 

the dried skins away, until we rise

 

again, ready to account

 

for the damage we’ve done.

 

 

 

the beast is coming

 

is what my daughter

 

said all through the first

 

part of the song, where

 

Belle is singing about how

 

surprised she is to be falling

 

in love with a beast: The beast

 

is coming, right, Mommy?

 

What a story. He is a beast,

 

a true beast, with fur and

 

haunches and claws that slash,

 

no metaphor, yellow teeth, very

 

bad attitude, yet a woman

 

still finds a way to love him.

 

It was alarming how easily

 

my girl gave over. He’s not so

 

grumpy anymore, she said,

 

and look, he took a bath.

 

 

 

after the ascension

 

No one wanted to look at each other.

 

No one wanted to speak, to be

 

the first to speak. But we had to.

 

Walking back to Jerusalem, for instance,

 

we had to decide where we were going.

 

There was no one to follow home

 

anymore. That day and the day after.

 

Waking, it was the first thought. This

 

is the feeling of rising with faith alone.

 

We had to learn it like a skill. We had

 

to come to understand this would always

 

be the first thought. Things hadn’t

 

worked out the way we’d thought

 

they would. Eventually, we began dying.

 

Funny to say it now, but some of us

 

wondered, would it happen to us, too?

 

But of course it would happen. This was

 

the very promise we’d lived by.

 

 

 

one way

 

When I quit smoking it was only because

 

I’d come to understand without a doubt that

 

I was unable to quit smoking. I knew I could

 

not do it. I knew that if I wanted to not smoke

 

I’d have to maintain the specific circumstances

 

that would keep me from failing to quit

 

smoking, those specific circumstances being

 

that I not smoke. And it worked, which still

 

amazes me. When our daughter was a baby

 

and was learning to put herself to sleep

 

and was crying and crying—well, after a while

 

I would need to go into her room and make it

 

stop—I just need to make it stop—and the longer

 

it went on, the stronger was my need to make it

 

stop. No, my husband said. She’s wrestling

 

with the devil, my husband said. And we must

 

let her win. Now I pray, when I pray, understanding

 

I cannot pray—okay, fine—and also understanding

 

the only way to quit not praying is to enter the arena

 

of prayer, lay hands upon the devil—my devil—and

 

pin it down as long as I can, then a while after that.

 

first

 

There is a holiness in exhaustion,

 

is what I keep telling myself,

 

filling out the form so my TA gets paid,

 

then making copies of it on the hot

 

and heaving machine, writing

 

Strong start! on a pretty bad poem.

 

And then the children: the baby’s

 

mouth opening, going for the breast,

 

the girl’s hair to wash tonight

 

and then comb so painstakingly

 

in the tub while conditioner drips

 

in slick globs onto her shoulders

 

and her discipline chart flaps in the air

 

conditioner at school, taped

 

to a filing cabinet, longing for

 

stickers. My heart is so giant

 

this evening, like one of those moons

 

so full it’s disturbing, so full that

 

if you see it when you’re getting out

 

of the car you have to go inside the house

 

and make someone else come out

 

and see it for themselves. I want

 

everything, I admit. I want

 

a clean heart. I want the children

 

to sleep and the drought to end.

 

I want the rain to come down hard—

 

It’s supposed to monsoon,is what

 

 

 

Naomi said, driving away this morning,

 

and she was right. It’s monsooning.

 

Still I want more. Even as the streets

 

are washed clean and then begin

 

to flood. Even though the man came

 

again today to check the rat traps

 

and said he bet we’d catch the rat

 

within twenty-four hours. We still haven’t

 

caught the rat, so I’m working

 

at the table with my legs folded up

 

beneath me. I want to know

 

what is holy—I do. But first I want

 

the rat to die. I am thirsty for that

 

death and will drink deeply of that

 

victory, the thwack of the trap’s

 

hard plastic jaw, and I will rush

 

to see the evidence no matter how

 

gruesome, folding my body over

 

the washing machine to see the thing

 

crushed there, much smaller than

 

I imagined it’d be, the strawberry

 

large in its mouth.

 

 

 

how has motherhood changed the way you write?

 

The baby sleeps

 

and cries and sleeps

 

and cries in fifteen-

 

minute increments

 

for three hours

 

and wakes, unrested,

 

wanting something,

 

something I cannot

 

give him. Meanwhile

 

the sheets hold their

 

famous crumple,

 

their human scent.

 

Meanwhile, in the kitchen

 

the enchilada casseroles

 

wait in the freezer

 

for their big moment,

 

though casseroles

 

cannot wait

 

 

 

because casseroles

 

have no desires.

 

Look at the oranges

 

in the white bowl

 

on the table. Suddenly

 

they’ve been there

 

for weeks and have

 

hardened, been

 

rendered inedible,

 

despite appearances.

 

Suddenly a smell

 

comes strongly

 

from a hidden place

 

in the backyard

 

and we cannot

 

discover it and will

 

never discover it.

 

All we can do is say

 

 

 

Something died

 

out thereevery time

 

we go in or out the back

 

door.Suddenly it’s deep

 

winter and the baby

 

has produced one crude

 

tooth and the trees

 

in front of the house

 

across the street

 

are bare of leaves

 

and the people we knew

 

have moved back

 

to Houston and the house

 

has been on the market

 

for going on three months.

 

One day, the blinds were

 

 

 

 

 

open all day and all

 

night, the empty house

 

emitting light, staged

 

by experts, soft

 

throws folded over

 

armchairs. Still,

 

no takers.

 

 

 

the parable of the gifts

 

My son can’t keep the story straight.

 

Is he going to come into my room?

 

he asks his sister warily of Santa Claus.

 

He is so young he routinely needs to be

 

reminded what to believe. Santa is real;

 

aliens are not real. Aliens could be real,

 

my daughter says. Yeah, I guess you’re

 

right, I say.And Jesus Christ is real,

 

she says.Zeus wasn’t real. Zeus was

 

a myth. But Jesus Christ was a real man

 

who walked upon this earth though

 

he was the Son of God. So I guess

 

she’smade it to the New Testament

 

in the 100 Bible Stories for Childrenshe bought

 

last week with her tooth fairy money.

 

Sure you want that one?her father asked

 

at the checkout, and as an answer

 

 

 

she held the book tightly to her chest.

 

God, sometimesI can see the privacy

 

forming around her, like faint light

 

or like the shimmer of oil as it heats

 

in the pan, and it is a great mystery

 

to me, and it is painful to me, because

 

it is lonely to be a person and what she is

 

telling us with her 100 Bible stories

 

is that she is a person. God, sometimes I step

 

into this life like stepping into a room

 

I can’t remember why I entered, and for

 

a moment I see nothing—I can see nothing,

 

I can seeit, a space in front of me that is not yet

 

filled, that could be filled, and will be filled.

 

It’s simple and elegant, without needs, just

 

large enough, and sometimes I understand

 

that’s the space my babies came from, were

 

pulled from wailing, and the space

 

 

 

my grandmother returned to, finally, after

 

her long and painful illness, but suddenly, too,

 

that morning, with the scent of orange

 

Jell-O still present in the room, she slipped

 

away, was pulled, perhaps, and I imagine

 

that’s the space I’ll enter, too, when I die,

 

and it’s not unpleasant to think of it,

 

an ultimate privacy, though thinking

 

of my children with spaces of their own

 

into which they will someday disappear

 

is unbearable. It is unbearable, and though

 

it is unbearable, I bear it. That is the agreement

 

into which I entered when they arrived.

 

I think maybe I should read ahead to see

 

how the book handles the Crucifixion.

 

Or maybe I should just hide the book

 

and pretend I didn’t. I don’t know. I haven’t

 

seen it. Maybe the tooth fairy will bring you

 

 

 

more money and you can buy something else.

 

Because, God, I am not prepared to let

 

my daughter know how the main character

 

of her story dies. Not yet. She, who answers

 

her brother so kindly, with such perfect

 

honesty, saying, No, the gifts just appear

 

under the tree; it’s magic, though surely

 

by now she only pretends to believe.

 

 

 

the student

 

I wish I were as talented

 

at anything as he is

 

at pulling Derrida into

 

a conversation, any

 

conversation, no matter

 

what we’re discussing:

 

Derrida. Even once

 

when he was telling me

 

why he didn’t have

 

the assignment, even then

 

after a long and aerobic

 

journey we arrived

 

at Derrida, his white

 

hair and elegant European

 

ideas, and it felt good—

 

I admit it felt good to finally

 

arrive there—ah, bonjour,

 

Monsieur Derrida!—

 

 

 

because at least I knew

 

then where I was, even

 

if it wasn’t where

 

I wanted to be. To pretend,

 

Derrida said, I actually

 

do the thing: I have therefore

 

only pretended to pretend.

 

I pretend sometimes. Other

 

times all I do is pretend.

 

I’ve created gods this way

 

and on occasion I’ve tied

 

those gods together

 

like they do bedsheets

 

in a movie, and I’ve escaped

 

the high tower of myself

 

this way. I’ve made it

 

to solid ground this way.

 

I’ve landed on the earth.

 

 

 

And each time I’ve been

 

sure I’ve actually done

 

the thing, but when I look up,

 

the gods are gone. 

 

Praise

Praise for The Life:

“Fountain’s poems are [...] beloved for their warmth and intimacy . . . Her work is lyrical and relevant.” The Washington Post

“Fleeting, wondrous, clear.” Ms. Magazine

“I write to you about The Life with tear tracks on my cheeks. Not even old ones, because every time I look back at one of the pieces that make up Carrie Fountain's third collection of poetry, the whole process starts anew . . . Fountain is skillfully tying minute, personal experiences to our biggest quandaries about human nature to devastating effect . . . I'm very grateful to Fountain for finally bursting the stormcloud hovering above me. It's a long-awaited rain.” —Rosalind Faires, Austin Chronicle

“Spectacular . . . reveals a young mother’s cluttered life and a glimmering world of faith shaken, stirred, and movingly reaffirmed . . . Every poem is a marvel of craft; Fountain displays exquisite judgment, with each image, figure, question, paradox, snippet of overheard conversation, and philosophical meditation finding its perfect place. The effect is quietly exhilarating. Humor and heartbreak intertwine . . . Through the alchemy of honest inquiry and clever wordplay [...] Fountain makes good on the transformative promise of poetry, ‘making one/ thing become another’ in this remarkable work.” Publishers Weekly, STARRED review

“With its wonder at daily living, The Life lures you into its quiet world only to ignite in abundance, ferocity, and the aching truth of survival. Fountain's stunning poems illuminate the complexities of motherhood and marriage with a clear, lyrical voice that speaks to us all.” —Ada Limón, author of The Carrying

“Life here has been caught, still squirming, on poet Fountain’s lines. She lets her haul go, releases and casts another line, one after another, big and little fish, small or wild or turning lines. Each catch released as if the fisher forgot her hunger for a split second and it came back, ravenous for her. This poet’s voice works the way any great art works: so beautiful it hurts maybe too much that it seems dangerous. But it’s not like 'any great art'— it’s this one book, this voice, this life, the only one we have. And this book changed it.” —Brenda Shaughnessy, author of The Octopus Museum

“As the poet herself (mother, teacher, partner, citizen) must, these poems begin in chaotic dailiness, then swerve into sudden clarity of attention. They stun with pleasurable, often funny, at times devastating recognition. A single life, of one struggling, searching being, becomes ‘the’ life: what is despite our differences common. We can all recognize each other and ourselves in these marvelous poems.” —Matthew Zapruder, author of Father’s Day

“Carrie Fountain has done it again—and again, I’m in awe, like a kid watching a magician and hoping to understand the tricks. How, reading this book, can I be so grounded in the life—its paper valentines, its grocery runs, its dead pet fish that ‘flash like money one last time / before vanishing down the drain”—but also be taken elsewhere, beyond? In poems that explore motherhood, selfhood, marriage, faith and belief, and the deep loneliness of being human, Fountain celebrates love and family while also acknowledging that we are traveling alone toward wherever it is we are going: ‘It is unbearable, and though / it is unbearable, I bear it.’ Perhaps, as she writes, there is no such thing as perfect, only ‘good enough,’ but The Life seems evidence to the contrary. To me this book is perfect.” —Maggie Smith, author of Good Bones and Keep Moving

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