Jan Beatty has shaped me as a poet in ways that are hard to articulate fully. I know many other poets and writers feel the same way, especially those who have gotten to know her through the Madwomen in the Attic and in her teaching at Carlow. On some other day, I’ll tell you more about her work to champion women writers, many writers whose voices and stories would otherwise never be heard.
But before I knew her in her roles in the writing community, I knew her poems. And her poems have sustained and inspired me as a writer and human for more than half my life. Lately I’ve been thinking about this love poem, “Dreaming Door,” from her book Red Sugar.
I don’t tend to write love poems or odes — my poems tend toward other more melancholy, dark places. But this poem goes to the tender place without sentimentality. It inspires me to try again. To try something new. As you’ll see in this poem, Jan’s gifts include an uncanny knack for dialogue, real language from the mouths of real people, that lingers and holds layers of emotion. Also, she can blend the tactile, real world with dreamy, wild images and move back and forth seamlessly. In her poems and in her teaching, I’ve also seen that she has this way of knowing what a poem needs — when it’s done, when it’s stopped too short, when it’s hitting false notes. This poem and so many more have become part of my world, in the way that only the best poems do. More on Jan and her work later, but for now, I hope you enjoy this one.
You brought donuts in the morning of our first days and
we watched the great rivers through my South Side windows/everything
swelling, we ate in the turquoise kitchen and opened the dreaming door:
our Pittsburgh rolling by on the coal barges, the P&LE carting steel
to the still-rising cities of the West, a couple speedboats
running the dirty summer Monongahela,
you on your way to work. I said no one’s ever
been this nice to me as I walked you the 52 steps down
from my third-floor apartment, you tilted your head,
looking at me in a way I’d never seen:
like I was the most sublime person,
your blue eyes seeming truly puzzled:
I haven’t even started to love you yet,
and at the door the world barreling through –
this time with gifts, fierce fires,
and planets of luck.
from Red Sugar, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008.