Today's poetry for today's world

  Alexandra Teague


Alexandra Teague was born in Fort Worth, Texas, and has since lived in Arkansas, Missouri, Montana, Florida, Hawaii, California, and Idaho.  Her first book of poetry, Mortal Geography (Persea 2010), won the 2009 Lexi Rudnitsky Prize and the 2010 California Book Award.  Her poetry has appeared in Best New Poets 2008 and Best American Poetry 2009, as well as journals including The Missouri Review, The Iowa Review, and New England Review. She earned an MFA from the University of Florida in 1998 and was a 2006-2008 Stegner Fellow at Stanford.  A recent visiting professor at the University of Arkansas, and National Endowment for the Arts fellow, she is an Assistant Professor of Poetry at the University of Idaho.










Click on the cover to buy Mortal Geography.








That summer, she had a student who was obsessed

with the order of adjectives.  A soldier in the South

Vietnamese army, he had been taken prisoner when


Saigon fell.  He wanted to know why the order

could not be altered.  The sweltering city streets shook

with rockets and helicopters.  The city sweltering


streets.  On the dusty brown field of the chalkboard,

she wrote: The mother took warm homemade bread

from the ovenCity is essential to streets as homemade


is essential to bread. He copied this down, but

he wanted to know if his brothers were lost before

older, if he worked security at a twenty-story modern


downtown bank or downtown twenty-story modern.

When he first arrived, he did not know enough English

to order a sandwich.  He asked her to explain each part


of Lovely big rectangular old red English Catholic

leather Bible.  Evaluation before size. Age before color.

Nationality before religion.  Time before length. Adding


and, one could determine if two adjectives were equal.

After Saigon fell, he had survived nine long years

of torture.  Nine and long.  He knew no other way to say this.




--Mortal Geography, Persea Books, 2010









When Wym Van Wyk mixed up his Mondays

and walked into kindergarten a whole week early

in lace-up moccasins and fringe—two feathers

sprouting from his short blonde hair—we twisted

in our seats to point and stare.  And a twittering arose,

confused, then joyous, body by body, that it was

not us, there in the one-ring circus of our fears.

We had been spared by oxford cloth and pleated plaid,

by parents who re-read permission slips.  Our futures

destined to occur as planned: the firefighter-presidents

chasing the ballerinas up the jungle gym, the teachers

eating candy chalk.  But today we were children, and when

he began to cry we didn’t turn away.  We watched

his war paint smear; we watched his small canoe

of hope get swept over the falls.  We saw how

it happened: the green-glass moment when the river

lied, and he poised on the brink—the first and last

Dutch Texas Indian—uncomprehending the eyes

of his tribe on the shore, merciless, the inevitable plunge.




--The Missouri Review online, June 2011









When my mother hated me, she left and drove.

Once, with a blizzard blowing in, she won

two tickets to the symphony; she’d stopped

a mile away and called the radio to name

a piece by Liszt.  She recognized returning

as an art, practiced by leaving.  She played


the piano rarely, said she’d never played

with grace, so taught instead.  Her students drove

for miles, carrying folded music, returning

years later with stories of scholarships they’d won.

And those who can’t do, teach.  I learned the name

of every note, the sharps and flats; but stopped


just short of music, started over, stopped

again at thirteen, claiming Bon Jovi played

better than Van Cliburn.  I’d learned to name

distance with music, although I only drove

my mother to smile, the fight already won

by age.  I would grow up, she’d keep returning


from leaving, like a fugue’s anger returning

to conscious quiet.  One summer night she stopped

and bought two pints of ice cream; vanilla won

against staying gone, she said, as if she’d played

both hands.  She never did say where she drove.

We knew the world inside was too vast to name,


so fled it.  Before I could tell time, she’d name

an hour two piano lessons, turning

all distance into sound.  My mother drove

a lesson more before we stopped;

my role was waiting while the time was played

in treble fields and roads until sleep won.


Stretched out across the backseat that I’d won

by default as the only child, I’d name

the constellations silently re-played

outside the glass each night, as if returning

were recital for a better leaving.

I learned its movements while my mother drove.


She and I never won the game that drove

us; never dared to name the song that really stopped

us; how our hearts played allegro con spiritu returning.




--Mortal Geography, Persea Books, 2010




Writer’s Tip: Try to start writing without too much judgment or too many

set expectations, recognizing that meaningful work often begins in seemingly

irrelevant, or silly, or strange places.  As M.C. Richards said, “Poetry often

enters through the window of irrelevance.”  Keep all your windows open.




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