The Cider Press Review has recently announced the winner of its 2015 Book Award. More than ten years ago, my book, One of the Cimalores, won their inaugural prize. I wish Julia Bouwsma success with her award winning manuscript and the kind of dream-come-true stuff that happened to me all those years ago.
PART III: Calling All Clavicles
Caron, Cider Press’s editor, needs a picture. A JPEG which I have to ask for clarification on: Does this mean a digital camera? She writes back: Yes. Do you have one?
Well, Caron is recently acquainted with my poetry, but otherwise knows little about me. I consider all the people I know who own these cameras — everyone — then I consider who I would trust with the assignment and I am left with: Miriam.
Miriam, my fiction-writer friend, and I examine the publicity shots on book jackets. We say: She’s very full of herself, isn’t she? or, I’d sleep with him. Certainly, she has the expertise I’m looking for.
She arrives and marches past me upstairs.
“Let’s find you something to wear,” she says. Though, as it happens, I am not naked. She rifles through my closet tsking until she comes to a revealing tank top I bought to put under several other items of clothing.
“This,” she says. “It shows off your clavicles.” Things I’ve never considered showcasing.
I put the shirt on. Cross my arms as if I’ve something to cover up, which, it turns out, in this shirt I do.
Next, she tries to unscramble a knot of necklaces in the small dish on my dresser.
“This is it for jewels?” she says. “My God, you are the most frugal person I know.”
She selects a pair of earrings she bought me for my birthday though we aren’t supposed to exchange gifts. When I produce my make-up bag, she struggles to get it unzipped.
“New foundation,” I say, proud of myself, though still cringing at the forty-eight dollars it cost me. Forty-eight dollars!!
“But how old is the mascara?” she says, putting it on me anyway.
“Same age as Beatrice,” I say. My oldest daughter. Six.
“You know I’m not a great photographer, right?” she says. “That at my house the joke-of-the-day is that I’m out on a photo shoot?”
She snaps fifty pictures, has a cup of tea, then takes the camera home to her husband who says, “Although it’s amazing that Carla has written a book, it’s more amazing you will get the photo credit.” He puts me on a disk that Miriam titles: Carla Gorgeous. Which is another reason I love her.
The photo we agree on has one small problem: my bra strap shows. It’s nothing from swanky lingerie shops. It’s beige, as old as Apphia, my middle daughter. Five.
I send it to my brother-in-law Jerry who erases the bra strap but gives me bushy eyebrows and a mustache.
Very funny, I write back.
When we finish, Caron writes: Great picture. You must have an excellent photographer.
But do I look like a poet? I wonder.
Dennis lifts it off the counter when he gets home from work.
“Hmm,” he says, “Very Joyce Carol O’ish.”
For the cover, I want black and white photos of the Cimalores. My mother rummages through a box that has gotten wet many times though we have never determined how. She peels a few off and mails them. Aunt Rita sends me an envelope with pictures of her grandchildren.
“She doesn’t want pictures of them for Christsakes,” my mother tells her.
“Well, they’re Cimalores,” Aunt Rita says.
My sister Jeannie says, “If you use that one with my hair flipping up, I’ll die.”
My mother says, “If you use one with that bastard my father in it, I’ll die.”
Months later when the cover still isn’t designed, my mother discovers a few photos undamaged by the mysterious flood. In one, cut to a strip, two of my uncles, one now dead, flank a woman I don’t recognize. At their feet, Aunt Nanny lays on her side, her head wrapped in a kerchief like a 40’s pin up. They’re all smiling, Uncle Joe with the irony I remember, though it has been years since I’ve thought of that expression, the one his sons have now, his grandsons in Aunt Rita’s pictures, too. Uncle Louie is so thin he’s hardly recognizable. The woman between them, I realize, must be Louie’s wife, Helen. I’ve only seen her image in the wedding photos Louie gave my mother to keep after Helen died suddenly at thirty-three. Two of the poems I’ve written about this aunt I never met are in the book. My mother is curator of her mini-museum. Not only does she have the wedding photos, she also keeps Helen’s pink jewelry box under her bed. As a child, I sat many hours with it, examining her clip on earrings, her thin gold watch. My uncle had long-since happily remarried with a large family, but Helen had never really left our house.
I told your story, I say to her now. To all of my young aunts and uncles who mug and clown for the rare photograph that survived.
Everyone volunteers to take me shopping. This appeals to me: buying clothes for fall readings off clearance racks in spring. Teresa holds up a red brocade jacket: “This,” she says. “With a revealing tank top underneath. Show a little lace.”
“Do poets show lace?” I say. I’m thinking about Jane Kenyon. Mekeel. Stephen Dunn. Keats.
Keren hands me black pants. “A must,” she says. “But what will you do about shoes? You can’t wear those. In fact, you can’t wear anything you currently own.”
Although I shop with one friend at a time, it’s as if they’ve held a conference first. Be tough with her, they have strategized. Make her spend money. Deny her elastic waist. Be especially merciless about not letting her have the over-sized stuff. Call out those clavicles. Tell her to stand up straight.
When the proofs for the book arrive, I put them on the counter. All day, I circle them as if they are a strange, reptilian pet I have agreed to babysit. Dennis comes home from work and eyes the package.
“What’s this?” he says.
I tell him.
“Have you opened them?”
“What if they’re not very good?” I say. “It’s too late to say I’ve changed my mind, right?”
He shakes his head and goes upstairs.
The next morning, Caron writes: So how does it feel to hold it in your hands?
I like the font, I reply.
It reminds me of Jane Kenyon’s font. Small, serif, unlikely to call attention to itself. For this I am so grateful I nearly weep.