Lucy loves her rust-
fucked doll. Pawn shop musk, dust fuzzing its one finger. If Lucy throws her in the dried-out river, no water-plop no sun-blue sheen. Dirt doll in a dirt scar. Lucy can’t braid hair with one hand. Does that make her less girl. She smashes the rust face in the grass, says, Don't you love that minty smell. Then tells the doll a story: The world was created by seven robots who wired it to end by fire. The button that ignites the blaze is hidden deep in a mountain and one man knows how to find it. If he gets really really mad he will press it. The world will end in one fiery ball big as Mars’ big toe, if Mars were a foot with a really big toe.
second draft // Lucy loves her rust-
fucked doll. You know the type. Pawn shop musk, dust fining its one finger. If Lucy throws her in the dried-out river no water-plop no sun-blue sheen.Dirt doll in a dirt scar.Lucy can’t braid hair with one hand, she needs both. Does that make her less girl, more monster. Of course it does. Lucy smashes the rusty face in the grass, says, Don't you love that minty smell, and tells the doll a story: The world was created by seven robots who wired it to end by fire. The button is hidden deep in a mountain and one man knows how to find it. If he gets really really mad he will press the button. The world will end in one fiery ball big as Mars’ big toe, if Mars were a foot with a really big toe.
first draft // Household items come in handy when constructing a robot girl
I crochet a sweater with the finest wool
to hide her wires, I won’t let anyone
laugh or gawk—she’s the prettiest strange,
and she’ll know it. A brass key tape
where a nose should be, her hair—
strings of turquoise beads, she’ll love me
forever, and I her. We’ll sleep together
beneath stars, I’ll laugh while smashing her face
in the grass, she won’t mind
the lawn’s minty scent—she’ll laugh, too,
and I’ll tell her the world was created by seven robots
who wired it to end by fire or water
depending on which button we push,
though the button is hidden deep
inside a mountain and someone would have to be
reallyreally sick or really really mad
to decide to trek up and in the mountain,
find the button, so don’t worry, we’ll be fine,
I’ll say, because I want her to believe
she’ll get the most bang for her buck—
the world will end in one fiery ball or a wave as big
as Mars’ big toe, if Mars were a foot with a really big toe,
and we’ll die together, hands forming
a great chain around the earth. I won’t say
it could end like snow on a flaxen strand, bootprints
filling with white on a soundless night, that maybe
we’ll fall asleep and not rise.
Revising for me often involves finding the heart of the poem and cutting the rest. The heart here is a lonely girl who tells a doll a story. How she built the doll is unnecessary. Also, after writing the first draft, I realized that the speaker is, of course, Lucy—who else would tell such a strange tale—and I realized that the doll is not robot but relic. Lucy embodies my warped nostalgia for girlhood, so her doll must be pawn-shop found, not machine-new.
Girlhood's Dark Energy
I had imagined Lucy as an amalgamation of me and my girlhood friends, though I don’t know anyone who tore her dog’s fur with her teeth as his yelps sequined the room, and I never met a girl who built a terry-cloth house and named it tumor, and I didn’t feed worms to my sister or tell her that six-pack rings murder sea turtles. After reading a handful of my Lucy poems, my friend Mike said that she “embodies the dark energy of girlhood.” Though many of Lucy’s thoughts and actions are based on what happened to us, just as much about her is invented. In other words, Mike’s comment was an “aha” moment.
We held a few drops of hope in our bodies but mostly we were made of hurt and rage: the usual culprits of white suburban girlhood—date rape, absent fathers, mothers who pause while chopping vegetables, stare with blank eyes out the window. We smoked cigs behind the tracks; hickeyed each other’s arms to “practice”; spray painted “fuck Jesus” on the front wall of St. Michael’s church in all our originality; drove past the strip mall’s neon glow and danced to strobe lights and techno.
Sometimes, Lucy seems 8 or 10; other times, as old as 16. Once, she grew horns from her forehead; another time, she became “the beloved blonde, a party’s favorite streamer,” which is to say I don’t know Lucy’s age or appearance, don’t know where her shame began or why she hates her mother. Her story doesn’t matter to me: it’s her voice, her energy that I am mining.
Like so many young poets in their twenties, I had been writing biographical, coming-of-age poems and they’d been mostly good, with some decent images and original turns of phrase, but the poems were nothing special. Then, while visiting my folks in Ohio, I sat in their parlor to write and a girl named Lucy started praying her mother would die in a car crash, and she pressed a Reddi-wip nozzle till her mouth filled with sugary relief, then went to bed where vampires raped her in her sleep. I had discovered a body into which I could pour the dark energy of my girlhood: I had found the voice. After that, the poems came quickly and easily, some only needing one or two drafts. Though my earlier, more strictly biographical poems, had needed 10, 15, even 20 drafts, Lucy often arrived nearly complete.
What no one ever said in the many workshops I have taken is this: the point of revision is not always to perfect that particular poem—it’s to develop a closer relationship with one’s aesthetics, which is a fancy way to say what you like and don’t like, which simply means what you keep and what you cut. Once I had developed that intimacy with my aesthetics, Lucy was able to arrive and stay largely unrevised and largely spontaneous. Yes, I make cuts and additions; I tweak or re-order the phrases, but the core of each poem mostly stays intact. She’s a whole voice, a finished girl—
Claudia Cortese’s chapbook of Lucy poems, Blood Medals, is forthcoming from Thrush Poetry Press. Her poems have appeared in Best New Poets 2011, Blackbird, Crazyhorse, and Sixth Finch, and her lyric essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Black Warrior Review and Mid-American Review, among others. Cortese lives in New Jersey and is the poetry editor for Swarm (swarmlit.com).
Other poems by Claudia: