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Suzanne Cleary

suzanne-clearySuzanne teaches in the low-residency MFA in Creative Writing Program of Converse College, Spartanburg, SC. She also is Professor of English at the State University of New York at Rockland. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Washington University in St. Louis and a Ph.D. in Literature and Criticism from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Suzanne was born and raised in Binghamton, NY.

Suzanne Cleary’s book Beauty Mark (BkMk Press 2013) won the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry. It also received the Eugene Paul Nassar Poetry Prize and the Patterson Award for Literary Excellence. Her books Keeping Time (2002) and Trick Pear (2007) were published by Carnegie Mellon University Press. Her collection Blue Cloth was chosen by Marilyn Nelson and Robert Cording as winner of the 2004 Sunken Garden Poetry Festival chapbook competition.

Her awards include a Pushcart Prize, the Cecil Hemley Memorial Award of the Poetry Society of America, and the Julia Peterkin Award of Converse College. Her poems have appeared in anthologies including Poetry 180, Don’t Leave Hungry: Fifty Years of Southern Poetry Review, Best American Poetry, and From the Fishouse: An Anthology of Poems That Sing, Rhyme, Resound, Syncopate, Alliterate, and Just Plain Sound Great. Her poems have appeared in journals including Atlantic Monthly, Ploughshares, Georgia Review, and Poetry London. (http://www.suzanneclearypoet.com/)

Suzanne Cleary is new to me. This is the first poem I’ve read by her and I loved it because it reminded me of the movie/Broadway production “A Chorus Line.” The poem made me feel like I was sitting in the front row of the auditorium watching the acting class up on stage. How would it feel, I wonder, to get so caught up in the moment you actually experience the strong emotions you’re working on… Makes me wonder if I could.


I most remember the class where we lie
on our backs, on the cold floor, eyes closed, listening
to a story set in tall grass, a land of flash floods.
Ten babies slept in a wagon as a stream risen from nothing
trampled like white horses toward them.
We heard horses, pulling their terrible silence.
Then he asked us to open our eyes. Our teacher
took from his picket an orange square, dropped it:
this had wrapped one of the babies.
This was found after the water receded.

I remember the woman with red hair
Kneeling before the scarf, afraid to touch it,
our teacher telling her she could stop
by saying, OK, Good.
I remember the boy named Michael, who
once told me he loved me. Michael
approached with tiny steps, heel to toe,
as if he were measuring land,
and, all at once, he fell
on the scarf. It could have been funny,
loud, clumsy. Another context, another moment,
it would have been ridiculous.

Head down, he held the scarf to his eyes.
My turn, I didn’t move. I stared
at the orange scarf, but not as long
as I’d have liked to, for this was a class
and there were others in line for their grief.
I touched it, lightly, with one hand,
folded it into a square, a smaller square, smaller.

What is lived in a life?
Our teacher making up that story
as he watched us lie on the dusty floor,
our rising, one by one,
to play with loss, to practice,
what is lived, to live? What was that desire
to move through ourselves to the orange
cotton, agreed upon, passed
from one to another?


Picture Credit: rockcru.wordpress.com