Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Sunday Poet: Susan Eisenberg

Susan  Eisenberg

Susan Eisenberg is a poet, visual artist, and oral historian who works within and across genres. Her work re-imagines the everyday, playing with scale and juxtaposition to investigate issues of power and social policy. Stanley’s Girl (Cornell, 2018) is her fifth poetry collection. She entered the construction industry in 1978 at the start of affirmative action—among the first women in the country to become a licensed, journey-level electrician in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW); and worked fifteen years on Boston-area construction sites. In 1991, she began interviewing other tradeswomen pioneers from across the U.S., which became the basis for We’ll Call You If We Need You (Cornell, 1998), a New York Times Notable Book, being re-issued in 2018 with a New Preface. She was introduced to the craft of poetry by Denise Levertov and is a graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. She was 2016-2017 Twink Frey Visiting Social Activist at the University of Michigan’s Center for the Education of Women and is a Resident Artist/Scholar at Brandeis Women’s Studies Research Center where she directs the On Equal Terms Project. Her work has been awarded “Engaging New Audiences” and “Freedom and Justice for All” special project grants from Mass Humanities, New England Poetry Club’s Daniel Varoujan Award, and three writing fellowships at Hedgebrook.

In Flight

Daybreak. I’m weeping as the airplane speeds
along the runway toward take-off.
One question I’d asked
in the just-recorded interview throbs
through my brain: Were you ever physically threatened
by co-workers or a supervisor?

On the tape, one hears early morning birdsong
and––from an upstairs window––her young son,
just awake, calling for his mom’s attention
as she answers, matter-of-factly, Three times
someone tried to kill me. Gives detail. We hug.
I’m rushed to the airport for this flight. Her eyes,
her son’s tender face, her jawline, follow.

My seatmate may have asked what was wrong.
It would not have taken much to start me babbling.
A long flight, west coast to east, for those hours
we become confidantes. A black gay man
working his way up the ranks in banking (I learn,
somewhere over the Rockies) with his own
open wounds. We exhume stories, hoping the other
will catch what we’d missed,
and together, floating over earth, we might
explain our species. We’re on deadline.

Across Montana, North Dakota, Wisconsin,
Michigan, Ontario, New York, we weave
disparate threads into one loom
of history and geography. Ask out loud,
What propels a person to maim or kill
over a job. A vote. A kiss. A place in line.
I swear we try to solve all that. And fail.
Landing in Boston we become again strangers,
rushing off with suitcases of shared sorrows.

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