PICK OF THE WEEK: Charlie Getter + Deb Olin Unferth

Mon Feb 14 11, Makeout Room

(Evan Karp)

This week at The Rumpus, Charlie Getter recited all new poems and Deb Olin Unferth succeeded with a few excerpts from her new book Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War (read an excerpt here).

Deb Olin’s delight in the random details that define a situation and upon which humor hinges, quirk, and understated delivery was the perfect match to Charlie’s dramatic braggadocio’d acquiescence and redoubled froth prayer. I got the feeling first that I was doomed to make the primal lovable … and then rejoiced that every choice makes me more human. Check it out with full text below (line breaks are mine):


“A powder blue ribbon of silk”

A powder blue ribbon of silk

Holds my heart together

A powder blue ribbon of silk

Connects my soul to my body

If the former exists

Or the latter matters

I can feel the wind in my face

And I can see the reflection of the sun

Off the sea

And I can mark time with a clock

It can tic

And it can toc

But it can’t talk

Time has nothing to say

The sea is angry

Why do we go anywhere else

Where is there to go

Why does the blue sky call us so

If my last vision could be

A park in the sunshine

Would that be enough

For eternity?

I once saw a blur of red stares

And dim light

And that might have been my last vision

But time had more in store

For me

I sat on a floor

With my heart racing

And willed it to go slow

And walk away

Every day

We have a choice

But that’s a lie

Do we


Nor a chance

Nor a voice

We have a lie

And sometimes that’s enough

A powder blue ribbon

Of silk

Holds the earth to the sun

And the moon

A powder blue ribbon separates the sun

And the sky

And the sea

Is it that every thing has to revolve around each other

It revolves

And then it comes apart

Hands are shuffled

And cards are dealt

And hands hold hands

That determine their luck

And hands

Hold hands

That let go

Of rails

Of reality

And is it to be

And I don’t know who

Where what

Or when the wind blew

Or if it decided that it would forsake us


The moon burns an angry orange

Shouting something lunar

And I open

And close

My eyes

Too too often

To focus on the yellow

Pad below me

And I wonder how life and death

Became intellectual topics

And I wonder how the moon

Can look so ugly

And I wonder why my eyes

Hate my own face

And I drink

And I drink

And still feel



“Don’t Go to Oregon”

We know why people go to Oregon

It is the same reason

That people go to Vegas when their parents won’t let them marry

Or Sweden when they’re over their gender

Don’t go to Oregon

Delaware is the land of the cheapskate

Canada the country of the cowardly

Argentina collected Nazis

And Switzerland the gold they stole

Pennsylvania collected Quakers

And Maryland the Catholics I’m told

By my books

Don’t go to Oregon

Stoners’ eyes almost twinkle

As they board the plain to Amsterdam

Golfers’ eyes do the same as they stroll the jetway to Scotland

Muslims are required, if they can

To stand by a rock in the hot hot sun

Don’t go to Oregon

Though you can

Though you can

Living is a selfish act

And loving is that too

I’m selfish for living and

Selfish for loving

And loving the living

In you

So please

Though I know

Though I know

Only so well

Don’t go to Oregon

Though you can

Though you can

Please don’t go to Oregon

Though you can



George may have proposed to the Queen of the Peasants, but let’s get this straight: he proposed to me first. It was my one and only marriage proposal if you don’t count the four others, which I don’t. George wasn’t the first man to propose to me; the first man to propose to me was declared insane a few days later and committed to a hospital in Chicago. I went to visit him in the special room for visitors. We sat at a white table with our hands in the table rubble, coloring books paper coffee cups, and he became so distressed that afterward his family asked me not to come back. In any case it was more like a threat than a proposal: He looked at me in a menacing manner and said that I must marry him. After all, he said, he was the father of my child. That doesn’t mean much, I said, if there’s no child to show for it.

It’s dead, he said.

It wasn’t a baby yet. It’s not a baby if it isn’t before it is.

You killed it, he said.

You can’t kill it if it never was.

The second man came along a few years after George and I broke up. He and I shared an apartment in a small town full of snow. On the day he proposed the door to the apartment had a hole in it, because I had kicked it in. And the door was new because I had kicked in the first door a week before and the landlord had replaced it. And the TV was new because the man had hurled the old one across the room.

But the moment of the proposal was a calm one. He and I were standing at the window looking out at the parking lot below. He had been married three times already. He had children all over the country: children of women he had been married to, and children by women he hadn’t.

Isn’t this something you’ve tried before, I said.

It always works, he said. It’s fun, too.

I proposed to the third man. I wasn’t involved with him anymore. I had left him after he had left me after I had threatened to leave him. We were sitting alone at my aunt’s kitchen table; my aunt was out of town. I said let’s get married. Because somehow in that moment I had realized that everything had gone outlandishly wrong and had stayed that way for a long time, years, and was getting worse, and if I could just marry this nice, quiet man here, suitable, kind, I might be able to set things straight.

Half the time I don’t know what you’re talking about, he said.

Half the time all the time, I said, or half the time right now.

He thought about it. Half the time. He left his drink on the table and went outside.

The fourth one I married. Civil war. Nine months later I was back living my normal life alone.


“Good Ideas”

Afternoons on the landing at the brothel I closed my eyes and prayed. What did I pray about? I prayed that everyone on earth would get what they want. But then I think about that and decide that was an awful lot. People want so much. So, I prayed for these people to get these particular things that I named in my mind. Or at least for these particular people that I name to get these particular things. Or for them to get them when the time was right. Or when God wanted them to have them if He did. If God didn’t want them to have the things they wanted, then I didn’t want them to have them either. And it was probably wrong to want them. So I prayed for their souls, instead. I prayed for us to not want what we want but to want what He wants, whatever that was. How was I supposed to know what he wanted? I’d never even prayed before that year. I prayed to learn what he wanted somehow, not to have the knowledge of God out of the hubris that would come with it, but to see dimly the plan, or at least the section of the plan that involved me and the people I knew. So I could pray for the right things. Or at least, I prayed, let me pray for the right thing accidentally, by coincidence, or mistake.

My faith has the side benefit of sending my Jewish-theist family into fits of despair. In my house, Judaism referred to an abbreviated Passover and a few jokes about candles around Christmas. Once I announced I was a Christian, my family whipped themselves into shape; they joined a temple and went every week; they enrolled my sister in Hebrew School; they celebrated holidays they didn’t like or exactly understand, found a menorah in the garage. They put up a mezuzah, and my mother joined a Jewish study group for women. They made my sister have a traditional Bat Mitzvah, complete with a great grandmother’s lockets and chairs the air. By that time I had slipped back into my atheist upbringing, but they weren’t taking any chances. Yes, those days of faith were fun for the whole family, but, bit by bit after the trip, I walked across the dance floor and sat back down with my family, where I remained, like a wallflower, patting my hair and watching the walzters, admiring the grace of some, the awkwardness of others, but no, I will sit this one out. Long after I stopped being a Christian, it was clear my brothers and sisters weren’t going to become Christians either. My mother and father went to temple less and less, and finally they left off altogether, and everybody forgot about it. Except my sister. She is the last to forget; she still can’t forgive me for Hebrew School. Three days a week I had to go, she says. While everyone else was having fun. One day, you and your God will pay.