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About this poet

Born on August 5, 1950, Linda Gregerson grew up in Illinois and received a BA from Oberlin College in 1971, an MA from Northwestern University, an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers Workshop, and her PhD from Stanford University.

Her books of poetry include The Selvage (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012); Magnetic North (Houghton Mifflin, 2007); Waterborne (Houghton Mifflin, 2002), winner of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award; The Woman Who Died in Her Sleep (1996), a finalist for both The Poet's Prize and the Lenore Marshall Award; and Fire in the Conservatory (1982).

She is also the author of literary criticism, including Negative Capability: Contemporary American Poetry (2001) and The Reformation of the Subject: Spenser, Milton, and the English Protestant Epic (1995).

About her work, the poet Rosanna Warren wrote, "Tender and harrowing, jagged, severely precise and floodlit with compassion, Linda Gregerson's poems break and mend poetic language as they break and mend the heart."

Her awards and honors include the Levinson Prize from Poetry magazine, the Consuelo Ford Award from the Poetry Society of America, the Isabel MacCaffrey Award from the Spenser Society of America, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Pushcart Prize.

Gregerson teaches American poetry and Renaissance literature at the University of Michigan, where she also directs the MFA program in creative writing. She lives with her husband and two daughters.

An Arbor

Linda Gregerson, 1950
          1

The world's a world of trouble, your mother must
                    have told you
          that. Poison leaks into the basements

and tedium into the schools. The oak
                    is going the way
          of the elm in the upper Midwest—my cousin

earns a living by taking the dead ones
                    down.
          And Jason's alive yet, the fair-

haired child, his metal crib next
                     to my daughter's.
          Jason is nearly one year old but last

saw light five months ago and won't
                    see light again.

          2

Leaf against leaf without malice
                    or forethought,
          the manifold species of murmuring

harm. No harm intended, there never is.
                    The new
          inadequate software gets the reference librarian

fired. The maintenance crew turns off power one
                    weekend
          and Monday the lab is a morgue: fifty-four

rabbits and seventeen months of research.
                    Ignorance loves
          as ignorance does and always

holds high office.

          3

Jason had the misfortune to suffer misfortune
                    the third
          of July. July's the month of hospital ro-

tations; on holiday weekends the venerable
                    stay home.
          So when Jason lay blue and inert on the table

and couldn't be made to breathe for three-and-a-
                    quarter hours, 
          the staff were too green to let him go.

The household gods have abandoned us to the gods
                    of juris-
          prudence and suburban sprawl. The curve

of new tarmac, the municipal pool, 
                    the sky at work
          on the pock-marked river, fatuous sky,

the park where idling cars, mere yards
                    from the slide
          and the swingset, deal beautiful oblivion in nickel

bags: the admitting room and its stately drive,
                    possessed
          of the town's best view.

          4

And what's to become of the three-year-old brother?
                    When Jason was found
          face down near the dogdish—it takes

just a cupful of water to drown—
                    his brother stood still
          in the corner and said he was hungry

and said that it wasn't his fault.
                    No fault.
          The fault's in nature, who will

without system or explanation
                    make permanent
          havoc of little mistakes. A natural

mistake, the transient ill will we define
                    as the normal
          and trust to be inconsequent,

by nature's own abundance soon absorbed. 

          5

Oak wilt, it's called, the new disease.
                    Like any such
          contagion—hypocrisy in the conference room,

flattery in the hall—it works its mischief mostly
                    unremarked.
          The men on the links haven't noticed

yet. Their form is good. They're par.
                    The woman who's
          prospered from hating ideas loves causes

instead. A little shade, a little firewood.
                    I know
          a stand of oak on which my father's

earthly joy depends. We're slow
                    to cut our losses.

From The Woman Who Died in Her Sleep. Copyright © 1996 by Linda Gregerson. Reprinted with permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

From The Woman Who Died in Her Sleep. Copyright © 1996 by Linda Gregerson. Reprinted with permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

Linda Gregerson

Linda Gregerson

Poet Linda Gregerson's book Waterborne won the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Prize and her book The Woman Who Died in Her Sleep was a finalist for the Lenore Marshall Award

by this poet

poem
1

Choose any angle you like, she said,
the world is split in two. On one side, health

and dumb good luck (or money, which can pass
for both), and elsewhere . . . well,

they're eight days from the nearest town,
the parents are frightened, they think it's their fault,

the child isn't able to suck. A thing
so
poem
Dark still. Twelve degrees below freezing. 
            Tremor along
      the elegant, injured right front

leg of the gelding on the cross-ties. Kneeling 
            girl.
      The undersong of waters as she bathes

the leg in yet more cold. [tongue is broken] 
            [god to me]
      Her hair the
poem
The fine fourth finger
of his fine right hand,

just slightly, when
he's tracking our path

on his iPhone or
repairing the clasp

on my watch I
will not think about

the myelin sheath.
Slight tremor only,

transient, so
the flaw in the

pavement must
have been my

mother's back.