Charity Gingerich’s debut poetry collection, After June, which won the 2018 Hopper Poetry Prize, came out on August 6. This book is full of wonder and heartbreak and the precise names of too many plants and animals to mention here. As I reread these poems, I feel awe at the abundance in the world, despite inevitable loss.
Charity and I met a decade ago, in my first poetry workshop, a graduate seminar. As the only fiction writer in the class, I felt intimidated and anxious. But all the poets welcomed me, and Charity and I began going on walks along the Monongahela River. We’ve continued our friendship despite shifting jobs, relationships, and states. We’ve challenged each other to write as many poems as possible every April for ten years.
At first, Charity’s poetry was difficult for me. I remember, in one of her first poems I read, bees linger around a choral group. The lines jumped around on the page, and I couldn’t completely follow the speaker’s thoughts. As I became a better reader, I saw that Charity’s asides and flourishes were necessary, like trills in Bach. And she became a better writer, too: “You’re getting so good!” I emailed her a few years ago. The lines and images and ideas were clicking in earlier and earlier drafts.
I can’t blame her if she sometimes discounted my praise. She sent out and revised and sent out and revised After June for over seven years. Like many writers, she wondered if she shouldn’t give up. Why were we squandering time and money on art that few, if any, would read? The answer, as always, is because we have to. Because defining the world through writing gives us joy.
I highly recommend After June, not because Charity is my friend, but because right now we all need to read more poetry that challenges us to wonder, despite, and to continue to wonder, despite, despite, and despite.
The Afterlife of Lepidoptera*
The heart by definition is an agrarian tapestry
With an up-welling brook at its center,
hedges of forsythia, chickens, room for violets.
To believe otherwise is to bolt the fence
in the pasture behind you where the moonlight ends
and the farmer’s prize bull begins;
the heart dies a little every day for lack of tending.
Let’s get back to the business
of milkweed and thistle, joe-pye weed and clover;
when have you last caught a Diana fritillary,
Beloria bellona, black swallowtail or painted lady
for the sheer joy of its wings,
for the experience of learning how they work,
the webs and scales of their flying jewel bodies
in the meadows between two farms—when have you last
stood in such a place, stood still, and not
merely thought of standing there, paper doll
with her paper moon on a backdrop of imaginary
Listen, the snow is falling. White roses
filling the air. I believe this is a reminder—
that when death comes it will be our longest moment
of suspension. The air we swim through
thick with the pieces-of-us, not as brokenness
but as an invitation to finally stop; we’ll build a butterfly
as if it were a house we could finally live in.
* “The Afterlife of Lepidoptera” won second place in the 2014 Janet M. McCabe Prize, and was published in Ruminate Magazine.
Charity Gingerich is the author of After June. Her work has appeared in journals such as FIELD, the Kenyon Review, Arts and Letters, Ruminate Magazine, and North American Review. She teaches ESL to international businessmen and their families. When not writing or teaching, she enjoys singing with various choral groups.
Rachel King’s short fiction has appeared most recently in One Story, Pigeon Pages, Flyway, and Lunch Ticket, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. Her poetry chapbook Between Work and Light is available from Dancing Girl Press. She lives in her hometown of Portland, Oregon.
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