Contributor Spotlight: Grace Bauer
PHRASES STIRRED (NOT SHAKEN)
It may be that in all her phrases stirred
The grinding water and the gasping wind:
But it was she and not the sea we heard.
“Mellow Drama” began with the epigraph – a pronouncement I overheard a woman gleefully declare one late afternoon as I was walking along the Jersey Shore. The beach was already clearing out for the day, only a few people around. The sun was slowly sliding toward the horizon – that seam between sky and sea I’d had my eye on, hoping to spot some dolphins in the distance, as one occasionally does that time of day. I was reveling in the play of light on the water, the incessant serenade of the crashing waves, thinking the kind of ah, the beauty of nature; the majesty of the ocean kind of thoughts that anyone with a soul might be thinking at such a moment, when – out of the blue, so to speak – came this woman’s voice, my South Jersey version of Steven’s solitary singer who (dis) ordered his ideas in Key West.
The setting, of course, provided necessary context. In that split second before I turned to see the woman who had made the declaration happily lounging in the sand with the “all” that she needed, and the friend she had hollered to a few yards off, heading back toward the dunes, flip flops in one hand, the arm she had waved in response not quite lowered yet to her side, I could already picture some version of the scene behind me.
The woman lingering on the beach was living la vida leisure, commenting on how little it takes sometimes, to make everything in life seem perfect – at least for the moment. She did, indeed, have a towel – brightly colored. She did, indeed, have a sizable cup of something in hand. I took her word on the martini part, and admit I may have made up the little umbrella on the rim, though the cup was, like the towel, brightly colored – of that part, I am certain – as was the bathing suit the woman so generously filled.
Back in Nebraska, the state I’ve lived in now for many years (its state motto is: the good life), someone overhearing that phrase might struggle to conjure a meaning for it. What the hell could you possible do with just those two things in hand? (Magic tricks, possibly. Now you see it; now you don’t!). But on that beach, at that moment, the words made perfect sense – to the woman and to me, even though I don’t really drink martinis. Nor would I take valium unless I absolutely had to, though I’m sure I would prefer it to bad art – the kind one sometimes sees in dentists’ offices (occasionally even an ocean view); the kind that hurts almost as much as the drill because it does so little justice to the real, renders the scene as so much less than one might imagine.
One thought leads to another; one word to the next. Wave-like and wandering. Wondering. Sometimes sound for the sheer pleasure of it. And so, sometimes, poems are made. “Mellow Drama” will appear in my forthcoming book, Nowhere All At Once, which includes other poems that explore the delightful possibilities of chance encounters, snippets of ordinary speech, or common turns of phrase I attempt to turn over again in unexpected ways, explorations of place and displacement, “praise and agitation”—as Daisy Fried says in the blurb she generously supplied for the book. “Mellow Drama” begins in pun and ends in a moment of pondering I hope a reader might feel inclined to share with me.
Grace Bauer is the author of three full-length collections of poems: Retreats & Recognitions, Beholding Eye, and The Woman At The Well, as well as three previous chapbooks (Field Guide to the Ineffable: Poems on Marcel Duchamp, Where You've Seen Her, and The House Where I've Never Lived). She is also co-editor, with Julie Kane, of the anthology Umpteen Ways of Looking at a Possum: Critical and Creative Responses to Everette Maddox. A new full-length collection, Nowhere All At Once, is forthcoming from Stephen F. Austin University Press, and a new chapbook, Café Culture, was just released by Imaginary Friend Press. Bauer teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and could not survive without coffee and the occasional glass of wine. Her poem "Mellow Drama" can be found in HFR53.