Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Time from Acceptance to Publication

This week, I received my contributor's copy of an anthology. You ask, why is this noteworthy? This one sets the record for the longest time between acceptance and actual publication.

I wrote the poem sometime in 2000, after hearing Martin Goldsmith talk about his book The Inextinguishable Symphony: A True Story of Love and Music in Nazi Germany. He told a story about his parents, one of whom played flute and one of whom played violin, and their experiences both in Nazi Germany and afterward. The fictional speaker I created has a different narrative trajectory than Goldsmith's parents.

I've always been fascinated by those apocalyptic moments in history, and how people decide whether to stay or go. I've also been intrigued by what people decide to take with them.

Soon after I wrote the poem, I saw a call for submissions for an anthology about reeds and rushes. I thought about musical instruments, but as I read through the anthology, I'm amazed by how many ways one can translate that unifying image.

The poem was accepted some time in 2001. Think about how much has changed since then. I typed that poem on a small Mac desktop with a 9 inch screen, which I had owned since 1993, and I bought it from my mom's church's youth group director, who had owned it several years before that. Back in those days, a computer was significantly more expensive, so I didn't upgrade frequently.

I sent that poem off as I was driving from adjunct job to adjunct job. I sent that poem off before the events of September 11.

That poem was accepted, and I waited and waited and waited for the anthology. As I waited, I got a full-time faculty position. As I waited, I was promoted to Assistant Chair of my department. As I waited, I was promoted to Chair.

To be honest, I had just about given up ever seeing the anthology. It's always interesting to send a poem out into the world and to meet it again after it's been published. But so far, I've never had as long a wait as I've had with this poem.

I still like it, although it's a bleak poem. Here it is:

Damnable Instruments

I have piped miracles
with this flute. Even when the Nazis
shut us out of their culture, we created
our own operas and orchestras.
They took away our instruments, but I could hide
my flute. And we could always sing.

My flute bought my passage out. I hated to sell
it, but a trade for a ticket to freedom
seemed fair. And I got a job teaching tiny
fingers to work magic on shrunken pipes.

Then the letters streamed in. Every family
member left behind implored me to find
a way to rescue them. I did my best,
but I was no Pied Piper. Besides, Hitler’s
ears, deaf to the magic of music, certainly would pay
no attention to my desperate notes.
And music teachers made such little bits of money.

My mother’s correspondence grew increasingly desperate.
She accused me of hardening my heart,
of only being interested in my music,
the way I’d always been. Did she not know
of my frantic attempts which consumed
all my free time while my flute pouted
in its case? Did she not meet me
in my nightmares, not see me watching
in the shadows, unable to stop her tortures?

Damnable instrument. Every time I touch
it, I think of my mother’s hysterical accusations
that I love my flute more than her. I cease
all playing, cut my teaching ties.
I get a job selling shoes and sturdy
boots, so much more practical than
ethereal music.

This poem appears in Reeds and Rushes: Pitch, Buzz, and Hum, edited by Kathleen Burgess, published by Pudding House Publications, which also publishes my chapbook. Go here to buy either or both.

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