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Susan Wheeler

1955–

Born on July 16, 1955, Susan Wheeler grew up in Minnesota and New England. She is the author of several books of poetry and the novel Record Palace (Graywolf, 2005).

Her first collection, Bag 'o' Diamonds (University of Georgia Press, 1993), was chosen by James Tate to receive the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America.

Her other collections are Smokes (Four Way Books, 1998), Source Codes (Salt, 2001), Ledger (Iowa, 2005), and Assorted Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009), which includes poems from her first four books, and Meme (University of Iowa Press, 2012),

Her poems have appeared in eight editions of the The Best American Poetry series, as well as The Paris Review, New American Writing, Talisman, The New Yorker and many other journals.

About her work, John Ashbery writes: "Susan Wheeler's narrative glamour finds occasions in unlikely places: hardware stores, Herodotus, Hollywood Squares, Flemish paintings, green stamps, and echoes of archaic and cyber speech. What at first seems cacophonous comes in the end to seem invested with a mournful dignity."

Wheeler's awards include the Witter Bynner Prize for Poetry from the American Academy of Arts & Letters, and fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation and the New York Foundation for the Arts.

Wheeler has taught at the University of Iowa, NYU, Rutgers, and Columbia University, and is currently on the creative writing faculty at Princeton University. She has lived in the New York area for twenty years.


A Selected Bibliography

Poetry


Bag 'o' Diamonds (University of Georgia Press, 1993)
Smokes (Four Way Books, 1998)
Source Codes (Salt, 2001)
Ledger (Iowa, 2005)
Assorted Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009)
Meme (University of Iowa Press, 2012)

Prose

Record Palace (Graywolf, 2005)

Susan Wheeler
Photo credit: Frank Wojciechowski

By This Poet

9

That Been to Me My Lives Light and Saviour

Purse be full again, or else must I die. This is the wish 
the trees in hell’s seventh circle lacked, bark ripped by monstrous dogs,
bleeding from each wound. We see them languid there,
the lightened purse a demon drug. Less, less.

At the canal, the dog loops trees in a figure eight — 
a cacophony of insects under sun. A man against a tree nods off.

Let there be no sandwich for the empty purse.
Let there be no raiment for someone skint.
Let blood run out, let the currency remove.
Let that which troubles trouble not.

My father in the driveway. Legs splayed behind him. Pail beside him.
Sorting handfuls of gravel by shade and size. One way to calm
a pecker, compensate for stash. Dad! I lied.

The man shifts by the tree and now grace is upon him.
The slant of sun picks up the coins dropped by travelers and — lo! — 
grace enables him to see. The demon dog fresh off an eight barks, too,
standing, struck by the man, by the coins, barks at their glare;
the man reaches in scrim at the glint in the light and thinks Another
malt. The flesh is willing, the spirit spent,
                                                   the cloud passes over — 
relief is not what you think, not the light. Regard the barking
dog now tugging at the dead man’s leg becoming bark.

You be my life, you be my heart’s guide,
you be the provision providing more,
you be the blood — stanch the sore! — 
you be failing 
                          proportion (mete) . . .  

Steward of gravel squints up at the girl who is me.
What? defensively. Out of the east woods, a foaming raccoon spills.
Palmolive executive? Palmolive customer? Palm’s stony olives
                              on the embankment of limestone or soapstone or
shale. Leg of the man clamped in the dog’s mouth. Mouth
of the man open and unmoved. Voice of the man:

Three dolls sat within a wood, and stared, and wet when it rained
into their kewpie mouths. They were mine to remonstrate to the
trees at large, the catalpas and the fir, the sugar maples in the
glade turning gold. To each is given, one doll began, so I had
to turn her off. Consider how it was for me — 

Flash of the arrow and the foam falls down. Three balletists 
ignoring pliés bound onto the long lawn and its canalward
slope. I am underwater and they haze in the light, 
                                                                      mouth
but do not sound. In the arrow’s blink they start.

Decimal as piercing of the line — 
Table as imposition of the grid — 
Sum as heuristic apoplex — 
Columns in honeysuckle cents — or not.

Just this transpired. Against a tree I swooned and fell, and
water seeped into my shoe, and a dream began to grow in me.
Or despair, and so I chose the dream. And while I slept,
I was being fed, and clothed, addressed — as though awake
with every faculty, and so it went. Then: blaze, blare of sun
after years uncounted, and synesthesia of it and sound,
the junco’s chirp and then the jay’s torn caw, arc
of trucks on the distant interstate, your what the fuck
and then her call. Beside me, pinned to a green leaf,
in plastic and neat hand, a full account. I had indeed still
lived, and been woke for more. So, weeping then, I rose.

Song For the Spirit of Natalie Going

qui s'est refugie
ton futur en moi
—Stéphane Mallarme, "A Tomb for Anatole"

Small bundle of bones, small bundle of fingers, of plumpness, of heart,
predicate, prescient, standing and wobblings, lit up in the joy,
lachrymose GA, your bundle oh KA, the unfolding begun of the start,
of the toys, of witnessing, silly, the eyes startled and up, re-
enveloped now and fresh with the art, chordate, devoted, 
sunk in dreaming of wisps and startled awake — This is morning.
This is daddy. This is the number eight — spacey, resplendent,
in seersucker bib, overalled, astonished, in dazzling fix
on the small crawling lights in their spaceship of night and the
plug and the cord and the big one's delight, pausing,
mezzed by mobile HEH HEH and again, stinging the shopkeepers,
the monkeyish mouth, knees, child knees — need to have the child
here—absence—knees fall—and falling, a dream, a final
singsong UH HAH in the starkest of suns, the heat now a blanket
now a song of your soul—Such a sharp love there is! Such a loud
love there beats! Such a filled hole you leave, in the dusk in the room,
in the wobbling hours of what has refuged, your future in me.

Natalie Joy Hertel-Voisine, 1994-1995

Meeting Again, After Heine

The moon rose like a blooming flower. 
The tin in the hand clattered its charge. 
We walked by in the wavering hour, 
I looking away, you chattering hard. 

Met by luck, with like destinations, 
We startled again at what ended in pique. 
Strollers out, seeing us, had no notion; 
A car alarm cycled its querulous shriek; 

Eighth Street sank in the crack of its nightfall; 
You pressed your satisfactions on me. 
You in your urgency remarked after all
Kindling your passion was enmity; 

Passion had finally erased your calm, 
Made composure a prop of the past. 
I mugged that street noise, din, bedlam, 
Prevented my hearing your story at last. 

As I walked home the strollers were thinning, 
The moon bobbed above roofs like a ball, 
The shade at the bus stop waved to me, beckoning, 
And I nodded fast in the fast nightfall. 

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