The seed of my poem “Original Sin” had been in my head for years, ever since the time of the incident that’s narrated in the poem, so it goes back to my childhood, long before I even became a poet.
As the poem tells, I took the blame for something cruel that a girlfriend did to my pet rabbit. She pulled off my rabbit’s tail, then lied and told my father I had done it and for some reason I agreed that I had pulled off my rabbit’s tail. For years after I wondered why I had admitted to doing what I hadn’t done. It bugged me. Eventually, I started the poem.
As I took it through many drafts, I at long last arrived at a kind of epiphany, an explanation as to why had I lied about my friend’s lie. That moment of acknowledgment of guilt in the poem startled me. It was something I hadn’t known about myself and I’m still not sure it’s true. But I am sure that it works for the poem. Writing this poem was both surprise and discovery.
Almost certainly at my kitchen table which is where most of my poems begin—after breakfast, still sipping on ginger tea, the house quiet. The table is octagonal and sits right next to a sliding glass door.
Looking through the glass, I see birds at the feeders and the baths, I see squirrels cavorting, sometimes deer grazing. My creative brain is at its best in the morning. That’s when I get my best material. Later in the day I’m good for revising, but for creating, I’m a morning girl.
It must have been sometime in 2011. Then it went through months of revision.
I see about twenty drafts for this one. That’s actually fewer drafts than I often go through. Initially, I just wrote out the story on lined yellow legal pad paper. After several handwritten drafts, I went to the computer. Gradually, the form of the poem emerged. You’ll notice in the photos that I revise my drafts with red ink. I’ve heard students complain about red ink, but I always tell them it’s what I use on my own work. It makes it easier for me to see what and where my revisions are.
Most definitely the end which left me feeling stunned, almost breathless. I had not anticipated arriving at that ending, that awareness. I felt sad for the little girl I’d been who could not speak up for herself. I suppose that an argument could be made for loyalty, that the speaker was being loyal to her friend, but I think it was more cowardice than loyalty. Fear of the father. That, too, for sure.
Yes, it was first published in the Naugatuck River Review, 2013. It won the journal’s annual poetry contest for 2012, that year judged by Pam Uschuk. That was an absolutely stunning surprise, too! The poem was later published in my book, The Uneaten Carrots of Atonement, and is, in fact, the title poem of the book; the book’s title is a line from the poem.
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She is also the author of four poetry books, most recently The Uneaten Carrots of Atonement (Wind Publications, 2016). Her awards include the Quentin R. Howard Poetry Prize, a poetry fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, and a Woman of Achievement Award. Her poems have been included in such journals as Harvard Review, Southern Poetry Review, and Prairie Schooner. Her work has also been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, The Writer’s Almanac, and Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry. She is the publisher of Terrapin Books.