Earlier this spring, Jennifer Luebbers ’09 was awarded the Diane Middlebrook Poetry Fellowship at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a fellowship created by Middlebrook’s husband, Carl Djerassi, to honor the memory of his wife, who died of cancer in 2007.
The prestigious fellowship comes with a $27,000 stipend, health benefits, and a teaching assignment at UW-Madison. (Luebbers currently is wrapping up her M.F.A. in creative writing at Indiana University Bloomington.)
We asked Luebbers to share a poem with TheDEN, so we could see that creative mind at work.
[When I speak you back to this silver world]
with its ragged frost, winter’s icy injunctions,
the old nightgown stiffened with frost will thaw
and we’ll be dancing again, we’ll be dazzling
to behold. Mother, I’ve done just as you said:
kept iron under the bed to ward off nightmares,
stirred wine into my milk to help me sleep,
but your music box is locked and I cannot
find the key and I cannot quit dreaming
of the woman I’ve shut inside, who shivers
with only a scrap of silk for a skirt
and her face always pressed to the mirror.
Somewhere, beneath ice, the river is roaring.
Somewhere, beyond fable, is the truth. Truth is the field
where your mother bent to labor, where she laid down
to birth you into this world, and again to stop
breathing. The women in this family buried
themselves, you said, then wouldn’t say more.
Nights, now, I dream the trapped dancer has pried
the lid open, and when she leaps from her spring,
her skirt sparks and combusts to flame. More and more,
I understand that when I speak to the dead,
really I am speaking to the living.
(This poem was originally published under the title, “Family History (I),” in Mid-American Review.)