Featured Poet: Julia Kasdorf
Interview with Julia Kasdorf
Bio

Double the Digits

We called the game Jenny made up driving
back roads through West Virginia

at twice the speed on signs. Foot on
the gas, foot on the brake, she'd take

a 25 mile-an-hour curve at 50, triumphant
until something thudded under the hood,

then hissed as we drifted to the berm;
engine block cracked, her dad's Peugeot

left for the wrecker, sold for scrap.
She never could tell him how girls,

16 and 18, could get so bent on speed
they'd ignore an oil light's warning.

When my dad's Plymouth Fury hit 78,
weightless, on a crested curve of Route 136

and nearly flew into the grill
of a soda delivery truck, we swerved

toward a pole on Donna's side then
were gone before the guy hit his horn.

We never said it, but close calls
like that made us see state troopers

on front porches, hats in hand, moments
before our mothers open the door. Yet

we played that game every chance
we got until college separated us

from our fathers' cars. Jenny divorced,
then married a canoe guide up north.

Because Donna's husband is black,
she can't set foot on her home farm.

And at 35, I can barely stay in the lines
so I keep going back, as if those times,

half a life ago, could explain why some women
get driven by a dumb desire for flight.

(Previously appeared in Paris Review)

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Bat Boy, Break a Leg

The student with two studs in his nose
and a dragon tattoo crawling from his collar,
..............................................who seems always ready to swoon
..............................................from bliss or despair, now flits
At my office door. I will look at his poem
drawn onto a music score and find nothing
..............................................to say about chance or HIV.
..............................................Only later I'll think to tell him
the night before I left home, I slept
sadly in our old house until a wing
..............................................touched my cheek, tenderly as a breeze.
..............................................I woke to black fluttering at my feet,
and a mind fresh from the other side
said Don't turn on the light, don't
..............................................wake the man, don't scream or speak.
..............................................Go back to sleep.
The next morning
I remembered that people upstate
whack them with tennis rackets, that
..............................................the Chinese character for good luck
..............................................resembles the character for bat-
both so unsettling and erratic-
but it's bad luck to say good luck
..............................................in China, as on stage where they say
..............................................Break a leg, so delicate bats
must be woven into silk brocade
and glazed onto porcelain plates.
..............................................Next morning, I found a big-eared mouse
..............................................with leather folded over his shoulders
hanging from claws stuck in a screen.
All day, my work made me forget, but
..............................................then I'd remember, passing the window
..............................................where he slept, shaded under the eves.
He was fine. I was fine. Then at dusk,
he was gone, suddenly. Pale boy dressed in black,
..............................................Maybe the best that can be said for any of us is that
..............................................once we were angelic enough to sleep with strangers.
He touched my cheek. I opened the screen.
He flew in his time. We did no harm.

(Previously appeared in Shenandoah)

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Gravity Hill

On a narrow road in the map's blank spot
between Shellsburg and New Paris, PA,
someone spray-painted START at the foot of a hill,
and END half way up. Mom drove to START,
threw it into neutral, and we drifted up, slowly
gaining momentum. Let's try it the other way,
she said, turning around by an unpainted barn;
a chained black dog stared at us but didn't bark.

The antiques dealer in town couldn't explain it,
said, Just try for yourself. A lady who'd seen
something like it in New Brunswick—
her whole tour bus rolling up a hill—
guessed a huge natural magnet underground.
I thought we'd all been fooled by an illusion,
but Mom just laughed and said she prefers
going up backward, the way women used to foxtrot
across dance floors, propelled by handsome men
in uniforms:
                                                            Somewhere beyond the sea
                                                            my love is waiting for me,

their blind, graceful gliding, a delight
as quaint as six pressed glass sandwich plates
or the saucers with hand-painted grapes
she bought for herself, saying, These will be yours
some day
. At sixty-two, my mother seems
younger than I, who find old plates pretty
but useless. So by the end of the day I had nothing
to show for myself except this image
of how she will die: going backward, happy
with wide-open eyes.

(Previously appeared in Alaska Review)

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Letter to Dad from New Danville, PA

When I can no longer stand
to read or write in any chair
or couch in the house,
I bank the fire and head out
into the night, slither
between electric fence lines
and climb a ridge where you can see lights
from Lancaster city all the way
to the black Susquehanna.
I lie down there under Orion's belt
until snow melts through my hair
to the back of my neck. This is the best
thing you ever taught me: to stop
and stretch out under tree limbs or clouds.
I almost forgot how good a pasture feels
beneath a sore back. And these evil days
when you can't say who will sign your check
or for how long, as friends of thirty years
get canned or quit or just turn silent,
you must walk out onto that smooth swath
of Westinghouse lawn and lie down. Think

how the sky will open above you. Think
how the ground will hold you
as it always has, as it certainly will
until it takes you once and for all.

(Previously appeared in Witness)

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Oral Tradition

Before I leave, Percy Yoder means
to give me something I can use:

Your grandpa was a worker, a driver
We only saw him at market when

he had a cow to sell. But his dad-
I worked for him when I was young-

stopped plowing well before suppertime
so the horses cooled down and wouldn't over-drink

back at the barn.
Among these fields
our ancestors cleared long before tractors,

some lie bare to the sun. In others,
great oaks rain shade for horses and men.

Percy means to show me both fields
so that I may choose one.

(Previously appeared in Alaska Review)

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