poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

About this poet

Mary Hickman was born in Nampa, Idaho, in 1979, and grew up in China and Taiwan. She holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was an Iowa Arts Fellow.

Hickman is the author of Rayfish, forthcoming from Omnidawn in 2017 and winner of the 2016 James Laughlin Award, and This Is the Homeland (Ahsahta Press, 2015). About her winning book, Laughlin Award judge Carmen Giménez Smith writes: “Each poem in Mary Hickman's Rayfish is a scrupulous consideration of how art disturbs, distorts, informs, and shapes our history of engagement with the artificial world. Personal, ekphrastic, and essayistic, these poems are also an incisive contemplation on memory-making and that mechanism’s effect on aesthetics.”

A visiting professor at Nebraska Wesleyan University, Hickman also teaches in the University of Iowa International Writing Program’s Between the Lines exchange program. She lives in Lincoln, Nebraska.


Bibliography

Rayfish (Omnidawn, 2017)
This Is the Homeland (Ahsahta Press, 2015)
 

Helen

Helen is of course that Helen of Sparta. Helen of Troy. Helena hated of Greece. In a dream or trance she left Troy. She finds herself in Egypt. You must be patient, remembering. You can choose where. We are going to see whatever we haven’t seen and maybe that means traveling down instead of across. Some say Taiwan gets better surf than China’s southern beaches because it is out in the Pacific Ocean and exposed to larger swells. We camped at Bai Xia Wan. Soon Helen’s skin peeled off in one snaking tube, leaving behind pink stinging surface. I lived in the south and there were always rich oil kids around. One of the great things about Taiwan, something not really true of China, is that there are a lot of small beaches where you can surf on your own. You have to watch the weather. Once, at Bai Xia, I tried to save a surfer who was drowning. I tried desperately to save him for almost twenty minutes but he didn't make it. Paradise, that idea of being together, of fusion or whatever it might look like. Here there is peace. For Helena. Helena hated of all Greeks. For Helen, the ocean is a way to talk about raw force. Of course, the deep sea is unknown. “More people have traveled into space than have gone down to those abyssal depths,” she says. This work is work I made as we tread. While out on the coast, I kept cutting into the work, drawing over it. After living overseas for more than a decade, I had been altered in the way I had to be altered in order to enter a new lexicon, to become at once a “one” and “not one” of local culture. Whatever happened to me, I never felt out of place, like I shouldn’t be here, in this vertigo of inducing. A female traveler is a jewel-encrusted fan: Helen. She’s standing on the beach but the beach has turned to scrub brush or the tide is just out and silver is beneath the water. She sheds a silver snakeskin, broken speech. We see life and call it beauty. It is magnificent, wonderful. And remembering this scene, I see fever in her face. The sheen is so plasticine it recalls salt-eaters, salmon en croute, inky saturation, smudges, staining. It retells our whole history, a record of perforations, la parlourde, la morue, coquille St. Jacque, le filet de plié, and each notation we put in place so that we remember. Who are we? Who directs us? And after traveling so long together? Yes, it’s this voluminous nothing that at the time is very real but later, trying to hold it still for a moment, it’s then that we have reached for, or that we are straining toward, some first sight of home.

From Rayfish, published by Omnidawn. Copyright © 2017 by Mary Hickman. Used with permission of the author.

From Rayfish, published by Omnidawn. Copyright © 2017 by Mary Hickman. Used with permission of the author.

Mary Hickman

Mary Hickman

Mary Hickman is the author of Rayfish, winner of the 2016 James Laughlin Award, and This Is the Homeland (Ahsahta Press, 2015).

by this poet

poem

Your body in motion calls me to look. You know just how to move. You are determined to move just so. If I could make my image of you do anything, what could I imagine myself becoming? Rather than painting on canvas or sculpting in clay, I am driven to put all these ideas on myself. The artist’s obsession

poem

I have to be strict with myself. I want to say “fluency” or “ecstatic grammars” but I try not to be swayed by fiberglass, cylindric columns inflating and deflating, iron mesh that trails cords and petals across the floor. Resin, vellum, wax—they are translucent, skin-like. In sunlight, the sculptures warm and glow

poem

Soutine attempts to keep the color of his first carcasses fresh with buckets of blood. The neighbors hate the stench and the flies but he continues to pour blood over the bodies until he is ordered by the police to stop. Only then does he use formaldehyde. He isn’t preserving the flesh, just refreshing it,