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Tess Gallagher

1943–

Poet, essayist, novelist, and playwright, Tess Gallagher was born on July 21, 1943 in Port Angeles, Washington. She received a BA and MA from the University of Washington, where she studied creative writing with Theodore Roethke, and a MFA from the University of Iowa.

Her first collection of poems, Instructions to the Double, won the 1976 Elliston Book Award for "best book of poetry published by a small press". In 1984, she published the collection Willingly, which consists of poems written to and about her third husband, author Raymond Carver, who died in 1988. Other collections include Dear Ghosts (Graywolf Press, 2006); My Black Horse: New and Selected Poems (1995); Owl-Spirit Dwelling (1994) and Moon Crossing Bridge (1992).

About Gallagher's work, the poet Hayden Carruth wrote, "Gallagher's poems, beyond their delicacy of language, have a delicacy of perception, and the capacity to see oneself objectively as another person doing the things one really does, with clear affection and natural concern."

Her honors include a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation, two National Endowment of the Arts Awards, and the Maxine Cushing Gray Foundation Award.

She has taught at St. Lawrence University, Kirkland College, the University of Montana in Missoula, the University of Arizona in Tucson, Syracuse University, and Willamette University, Bucknell University, and Whitman College.

Tess Gallagher

By This Poet

2

During the Montenegrin Poetry Reading

Mira, like a white goddess, is translating
so my left ear is a cave near Kotor
where the sea lashes and rakes
the iron darkness inside
the black mountains. Young and old, the poets
are letting us know this sweltering night,
under a bridge near a river outside
Karver Bookstore at the beginning of July,
belongs to them. They clear away debris

about politicians and personal suffering,
these gladiators of desire
and doubt, whose candor has roiled
me like a child shaking stolen beer to foam
the genie of the moment out of
its bottle. The poets’ truth-wrought poems dragging it
out of me, that confession—that I didn’t have children
probably because in some clear corner I knew I would have left
        them
to join these poets half a world away who, in their language
that is able to break stones, have broken me open
like a melon. Instead of children, I leave my small dog,
        quivering
as I touched her on the nose, to let her know it’s
me, the one who is always leaving her, yes
I’m going
, and for her I have no language with
which to reassure her I’m coming

back, no—what’s the use to pretend I’m
a good mistress to her, she who would never
leave me, she who looks for me everywhere
I am not, until I return. I should feel guilty
but the Montenegrin poets have taken false guilt off
the table. I’ve been swallowed by a cosmic
sneer, with an entire country behind it where
each day it occurs to them how many are still missing
in that recent past of war and havoc. Nothing to do
but shut the gate behind me
and not look back where my scent
even now is fading from the grass. Nostalgia
for myself won’t be tolerated here. I’m just a beast
who, if my dog were a person, would give me a pat
on the head and say something stupid like: Good dog.

Red Poppy

That linkage of warnings sent a tremor through June 
as if to prepare October in the hardest apples. 
One week in late July we held hands 
through the bars of his hospital bed. Our sleep 
made a canopy over us and it seemed I heard 
its durable roaring in the companion sleep 
of what must have been our Bedouin god, and now 
when the poppy lets go I know it is to lay bare 
his thickly seeded black coach
at the pinnacle of dying.

My shaggy ponies heard the shallow snapping of silk 
but grazed on down the hillside, their prayer flags 
tearing at the void-what we
stared into, its cool flux
of blue and white. How just shaking at flies 
they sprinkled the air with the soft unconscious praise 
of bells braided into their manes. My life

simplified to "for him" and his thinned like an injection 
wearing off so the real gave way to
the more-than-real, each moment's carmine 
abundance, furl of reddest petals
lifted from the stalk and no hint of the black 
hussar's hat at the center. By then his breathing stopped 
so gradually I had to brush lips to know
an ending. Tasting then that plush of scarlet 
which is the last of warmth, kissless kiss
he would have given. Mine to extend a lover's right past its radius, 
to give and also most needfully, my gallant hussar, 
to bend and take.

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