I was so lonely
I made me a man.
Grabbing the sewing box from the utility porch, I stitched dungaree to old work-shirt. Exceedingly careful about the seams I created, fastened wool sock to pant leg, garden glove to cuff. I had to stem bean flow. I made a head from a gunny sack to suit my new companion. Hair, an unused mop.
I filled my man
full of beans,
and it took on girth,
I dragged it from the house,
slumped it against the clothesline pole
with a huff of dried August.
Its head tilt conveyed emotion,
woven jute ennui seemed a crooked grin.
Faceless, I thought it resembled my dad,
so I named it Bean-Gene.
I went to the porch swing
for tea and cake.
What are you thinking over there?
Silence and willow sway.
Bean-Gene leaned heavy on the pole, puppet so forlorn. I downed my tea and a few leaves, and went to the shed for rope. I looped an end where jute met shirt, knotted tight, and heaved rope over clothesline arm. I took of the slack and pullied. Bean-Gene stirred, cocked his head to one side. Slowly he rose.
His feet barely touching the ground, I tethered.
Willows draped and late-day sun
warmed shed, house and barn.
We danced hand in glove.
Father, your hair is candied yarn.
* * * *
I wrote "Effigy Waltz" sometime after my father passed away. His name was indeed Gene, though he didn't have a look of woven jute ennui. My father grew up on a farm in northern Wisconsin, and even though I never lived on a farm myself, the imagery seems to exist for me as part of a collective history that I share with him. My relationship with Gene was not always a positive one, probably where the image of hanging an effigy comes from, but yet the speaker in the poem is embracing the man's memory, building and giving life to an effigy to have him around again, and dancing with the "death puppet," an image that could make Ingmar Bergman rise up from his nest.
An interesting note: As I wrote the poem, the speaker was male and more or less a stand-in for the writer, James. Early readers of the poem observed that the speaker seems to be a woman, possibly due to the sewing, the tea, the waltz with her(?) father. Now when I read it, being much more removed from the time and emotions, it does sound like a female voice to me, though I must point out that in my house I do most of the sewing. The pink sewing box full of notions and such belongs to me, though the box itself comes from the long-lost Jody. (More on that later.) I'd be happy to waltz with Gene if I could see him again.
First published in:
THE FULCRUM: LITERATURE AND ARTS JOURNAL, Volume 8 Spring 2005