Black Lawrence Press
November 19, 2019

Welcome, Ösel Jessica Plante!

This month we are celebrating the titles that we’ve acquired in the past six months. These manuscripts came to us through our open reading periods. Today we bring you Ösel Jessica Plante, author of the poetry collection Waveland, which will be published in 2021.

Have a manuscript you think we’d like? During our November Open Reading Period we are looking for poetry (chapbooks and full-length collections), short fiction (again, both chapbooks and full-length collections), novels, novellas, nonfiction (CNF, biography, cultural studies) and translations from German. Also, our Big Moose Prize for the novel is currently open to early bird submissions.

The Author

Ösel Jessica Plante’s fiction and poetry have appeared in Best New Poets 2017Best Small Fictions 2016Narrative Magazine, and Passages North, among others. She is winner of the 2018 Meridian Editors Prize in poetry, Honorable Mention in the 2018 Gulf Coast Prize, and Finalist in the 2019 Nimrod International Literary Awards. She is a former fellow of the Vermont Studio Center. She holds an MA in English from the University of North Texas, an MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and a PhD in poetry from Florida State University. She teaches and writes in Tallahassee, Florida.

On Writing Waveland

The book-jackety way of talking about Waveland, is that it’s a sequence of lyric and narrative poems that form a loosely-structured tale about the life of a character called the Navy Wife. But Waveland is also about how, during my doctoral studies in Florida, I suddenly began a messy reconciliation with my past. The poems that came to me during this time were written on the precipice of that familiar adage that we either grow “bitter or better.” Life hadn’t turned out the way I’d expected. I was divorced and single again in my forties. It seemed like everything I touched broke. A marriage, two pregnancies, a relationship, then another—not a man so much as Mercury dragging me into my own underworld. I started therapy while taking theory and literature classes, teaching college comp, living in student-level poverty. Feelings of grief, depression, and rage threatened to submerge me. “I imagined hanging myself from the oak tree behind my house,” I told my therapist. The waves gathered. My heart was just so tired of disappointment. I was angry at God, at happy couples, and mostly myself, but I knew I had to grow. Maybe I didn’t choose to be single and childless, but I could refuse to give up on joy, hope, and love. Over those four years I changed so much that I changed my name, a name given to me by a female Lama at a temple in Colorado. Ösel Dawa means Moon of Luminosity. The poems in the collection explore my trauma and healing, a journey to becoming luminous. It was a messy process and Waveland’s narrative structure mirrors the healing cycle. It is circular as our spirits are circular. Between her own creation myth in “Eleven,” to her rebirth in “When I come Back from the Dead,” the Navy Wife ends where she began, but she is now reconciled, she is “better.”

Excerpts

Eleven

I ride my bicycle through a country of black crows;
they cover the earth with their lurching hops and lazy
takeoffs. My childhood is closing like a fist around my hair,
brown vine rooted in my skull, the womb of my brain,
womb that will birth the real me. First time I was born
I was pulled back to the world by a goddess of rain
who tacked the thirst of a field of high grass in September
to my back. I rubbed my back on the black walnut tree
in the center of creation until my mind flickered
like a lamp. Because this was my first life
it was there to be wasted. Years of washing my hair
thinking it was someone else’s, that I needed a man,
that my days were stopped like crows along the highway
waiting to shop the carcass at their leisure after the engine
of travel had ceased, to be alone with that picture
of death and to eat it in peace, an entire battalion
of mouths that stoops to pick what’s theirs out
from loosening gravel. When I was a child I knew
none of this. I thwarted. I hid. I disguised myself from
grief. One day I began to fill with rain. To my ankles,
to my knees, when my heart was drenched a shudder
bloomed towards my brain. I grew dark feathers
and wings, found the highest point within myself
and jumped. A thousand birds, a murmuration makes
its own music. It sounds like humming. I am
humming. I am plummeting. I am sails of rain.

***

Assembling the Navy Wife

Fragile, hollow—I make a new woman
from these animal bones, a ghost that will 

disregard roof and walls. Cardinals come 
to collect her marginalia, drift in and out

of her ribs. If these birds had names, she 
would call them Daughter I Do Not Have

Mother of Pearl, Herring Bone. They button 
their past tense into her body as they swoop 

in cursive. She’s not held together by muscle
or tendon, but brittle memory; the sinew & gut 

used to sew flesh to animal hide. My fingers 
grow stiff around my needle. This is not 

a contract, these stitches, yet here I am 
trapping myself inside her. She’ll never 

know that I talk to a piece of red linen 
as if it were her soul. Leave your dead 

by the roadside, leave your wells covered,
there are so many ways to die yet every day 

she’ll live as if by habit. Breathe in, breathe 
out. But, it’s I who might blow out the lights, 

release her hands, extinguish an entire town
with the waves gathering beneath of her gown. 

***

The Navy Wife Talks in Her Sleep

You are a deer, my Dear, and not quite
here, so I am alone and braid this green season
into our empty house which, in me is like a singed
piece of silver thread being stitched through my center
as all new homes are, and unfamiliar. Marriage is
not salvation; it is waking with horses in a field,
an apple resting in the dirt, a deer with its belly
slashed open, iron leaves of blood. My husband does not
draw the knots out of my tongue. Somewhere the redbud
trees are blooming the way bodies bloom beneath the earth, 
full of what they’ve left undone. Oh, tell me I’m 
not the only one who fears having her center plundered
and known. I set out a bowl of red plums and study 
their skins from the other side of the room until my skin too 
is drenched. I am red as a bowl full of cardinals clustered 
together before they break away. I’ve watched a female 
flit in and out of the chain link fence and how the male 
follows her to gulp down her dusk. Isn’t he bright, the way 
he takes her everything? These are the mornings of black 
snakes looking for warmth on rocks, and the blood smell 
thick and heady drawing mosquitoes, the moan of the trees 
protesting the wind, and the harmless distance of the stars’ light 
we cannot see by day. This is not to say one of us is the deer 
and the other is the night or earth or the green of a summer 
evening, but that we are the dark with antlers by the roadside 
and spring grass grown high, the cricket chirp and gravel 
dirt crunch-scuffed beneath boots, the headlight beams 
into a slice of country and a fence, yes, the way fences
pretend to hold back fields which can never be held.

***

Disassembling the Navy Wife

After he was not there it seemed terrible
to have ever loved him. It was June,

the dead pine needles still on the ground. Piece by piece
I left myself. In this room my hair and my right

eye, in this a femur bone. In his old office
I kept my father’s hands. In the attic, the daughter

we’d never had. One day I forgot the difference
between my memory and what was

missing. I started thinking about myself all the time,
found a man who lived inside my skull,

found him and decided to bury him outside the empty house
where the trees don’t move. After twenty years

I cut the trees down and built a boat, slipped out
beyond the oars to whisper to the water the story where God 

has a son but no daughter. He cannot speak.
Some men don’t know they’re unhappy.

I take a folding chair and sit outside, measure
the length of the day against what I need—sky 

like a blue shirt waving in the branches, cardinal 

like a red scar veining through the leaves, my body 
which pulls the blade from everything.

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