Until Nothing More Can Break by Kate Fetherston

Author photo: Howard Romero  
In her first, much-awaited book, Until Nothing More Can Break, Kate Fetherston says “every story spills out as emergence or / emergency depending / on one’s view…” And indeed her poems are lushly ambivalent in their alternation between joy and sorrow, yet utterly down to earth. Their wit, wisdom, and vivid detail are a delight. Among the book’s many virtues is its urge toward sheer love that, although questioned and qualified, insists on itself. After a warning not to mistake “gall for honey,” the final lines of the book strike a note of restrained delight in a diminished but living thing: “…my tongue / fills with brine and rose, apple / and ash, when I say life’s / hard enough—let us make of it / what we can.

Front cover painting by David Smith

This exile / calls you home.” Early readers of the book have been thrilled. Nancy Eimers says, “I love these poems for the toughness of their beauty, their difficult affirmations, the way they hang on for dear life.” Clare Rossini adds, “Kate Fetherston envisions a universe both fecund and dangerous….The poet is all wit and pluck, seeking harbor in the dazzle of nature and mystery of human connection.” And this from Charles Harper Webb: “Kate Fetherston’s Until Nothing More Can Break is a first book that doesn’t feel like one. These poems are redolent of experience—hard-won, fully lived, insightfully processed. Fetherston writes movingly of hardship, loss, and pain, but also of pleasure, fun, and happiness. Her sense of humor pops up when the poems need it. So does love, ‘which is, as I see it,’ she says, ‘a bad idea made / beautiful.’ Intense, eloquent, rich with strong narrative and powerful emotion, these poems are good ideas made beautiful.”

Kate Fetherston’s poems and essays have appeared in numerous journals, including North American Review, Hunger Mountain, Nimrod, and Third Coast. Co-editor of Manthology: Poems on the Male Experience and Open Book: Essays from the Postgraduate Writers’ Conference, she has received several Pushcart nominations and was a finalist for the Pablo Neruda Prize in 2008 and 2010. A psychotherapist in private practice in Montpelier, Vermont, she holds an MFA from Vermont College.

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ISBN 978-1-936482-24-5

Copyright © 2012 by Kate Fetherston

6" x 9" paperback, 102 pages





Nights of my childhood, Dad, instead
of painting in your garage studio, you’d
sip a Manhattan studded with two
cocktail onions, something fancy from before

the war, when you danced on the Jersey shore
to Benny Goodman with women whose pearls
gleamed from moonlit throats. Back then,
you’d have taken the train down from New York

where you drew stylish ads for magazines, while
bread lines swelled with men who rode
boxcars looking for work. Those years, you played
tennis, sang tenor in a trio—luck and youth

on your side. On a lark, you joined the National
Guard for the polo ponies, but, sent to spy in France,
abandoned for dead on D Day, a man you didn’t
recognize woke up in a hospital two years

later, who, when you could walk again, headed
west until the money ran out. There you met
my mother, a raw-boned girl young enough
to be the daughter you didn’t yet

have, and angry enough to keep you both
alive. You spent my childhood hunkered,
quiet so the nightmares might
lose your address. Instead of painting,

you twisted leather strips around broken
huaraches to the sound of Mexican
ranchero music blaring from a makeshift
radio. Just a kid, I’d sneak in behind your

back and filch onions from your drink, vinegar
dripping down my chin. You’d blow
smoke rings from Chesterfield Kings, and if
you weren’t in a bad mood, I’d

hang around memorizing paint cans, brushes,
gesso-lined shelves, lingering
over the color wheel, figuring who knows
whose coat of arms tacked to drywall, sawdust

scattered on cool cement. I hoarded these
scraps as if attention to detail could
lure you away from grief, as if in the right
light you could come back. I kept asking who

the blonde was in that painting you did years
before I was born—she swayed on a bent
nail by the screen door, glowing with color
and possibility. You never would say, but

maybe you knew she was how I’d look
thirty years into a future you couldn’t
bear to see except through my eyes.



Fighter jets loop fat chalk
marks on a turquoise

sky while I’m daydreaming
out my third grade

classroom window. The air raid
siren blasts and Mrs. Fisher hollers,

“Kids, get under your desks, arms
over your heads!” I crouch beneath

my pink metal bomb shelter, eyes
squeezed shut, waiting for the end. This

is what the last minute will be like,
I narrate to myself, The bomb

drops just like that, an enormoid
ball of flame bigger than the sun
, but

it’s like reading The Weekly Reader out
loud and my mind drifts. Through

the classroom’s open door insects
pop and click. Weeds reeking

in desert sun: stinkweed, goat heads,
and alfalfa by the tether balls where

I practice praying to see if
it works. Please, make Dean Posey

love me. But he turns his buck-toothed
smile toward that nasty Cindy Mercer

and a sonic boom shakes the swings when
he asks her to play kickball. I punch

the deflated yellow ball against
its whining pole, hard, and I picture

the shrunken ball sucked away and
swallowed by a relentless

heaven. The fragile thread attaching
me to gravity

snaps and I whoosh into space,
whirl farther and farther above

this little earth, crash into John Glenn
and the Cosmonauts. Cracking open

one eye, I peek at my desk’s moonscape
underbelly of gum wads and dried

snot, wondering if the sky has
a ceiling like my bedroom at home

with its glow-in-the-dark stars, and maybe
you smash into it when you die, but what’s

after that? Now, Mrs. Fisher’s voice
slams me awake, “Children, readiness

practice is over. Your arithmetic
test is next.” And, climbing back

into my seat, I smell eraser
dust. Cindy Mercer’s eating paste

again; Dean Posey throws up
his baloney sandwich, and everything’s

back to normal.



This morning the subway’s nearly empty, but
an ancient woman inside a mountain of rags
squats by the tracks shouting curses

at voices in her head, or at us, or the dead—who
can tell. We’re still being careful after yesterday’s
squabble ended with our making love like paper

boats struggling against undertow. Just up the tracks
a dreadlocked guy intones a two-chord
autobiography, guitar case open for cash, while

an opera poster for Aida salutes his tragic
composition. A few silent graybeards in black
overcoats line concrete benches, waiting as if

for news of rain or some other
reason to go on. The train’s late, but no one
except us is going anywhere. You turn,

head pointed away, but your body heat
pulses to mine. What will I do on the day
that you board one train, and I

another? Even when this crooked heart
shall vanish, love, my ashes will sing
the shimmering music of your name.



I’m lying face up in traffic, asphalt digging
into my tush, head fuzzy, when
an 18-wheeler swerves, barely missing
my phantom pink pedicure. Just as I spy the muse
punching the Walk sign, he shouts in my direction,
“Enough with the drama!”

“Who do you think you are,” I shout back,
easing onto skinned elbows. “Where
have you been anyway? Out on medical
leave? Scamming Social Security?”

“You’re getting the two of us mixed up,” he snaps.
“I’m not some 900 number fantasy you call up
and dump after you’ve wrung out one of those soppy
tropes you’re calling poems.”

“Those are odes to natural beauty and my higher self,” I sniff.

“Bullshit,” he growls, ”What a crock! Nature’s
up to its eyeballs in pus and the religious
right along with your higher
colonic! You just want a cheap
vacation—well, don’t
plan on using me to get out of your
crummy dog-eat-dog world.”

“Woof woof, fuckstick,” I spit back, “Your
self-esteem’s catapulted off the monkey
bars at the peek-a-boo stage. If no one
chased you around the desk anymore, you’d
be blaming the Internet and my left
nipple for your disappearance from
the lexicon. So cut the high and mighty, boychik.
You need me.”

“Oh, all right,” he concedes, and helps me up
with a grudging grin. “How about you lose
that tatty number you’re sporting and we crawl
between my sheets with a couple of beefsteak
tomatoes, a Ouiji board, and a match.”



If insomniac excitement was what you craved, why
didn’t you hook up with an acrobat you could keep
plumped with a bicycle pump? Go ahead—

pout behind that newspaper, bone up
on how Chinese authorities inoculated
fourteen billion chickens—anything rather

than engage your sweetheart apropos
the gallbladder attack visited upon our
bliss. You blame philosophy. “Sophism’s

a narcoleptic, not an aphrodisiac,” you kvetch.
Ok, I admit my urge to unravel
the meaning of internal objects begs a swift

karma sutric boot in the pants, but when
Wittgenstein says in the case of a miracle we must
imagine god—don’t your short hairs twizzle

in the cosmic breeze of my
direction? My wondrous darling—all
I want is an answering

seriousness. Ah, but glance
my way and I’ll shape-shift—shazam!—into
the torque-defying trapeze artist you

dream of who’ll nibble your paradigm
shift down to bare pixels
of pleasure. Yet, since the last

paragraph of that mystery novel you insist
on tucking under your pillow reads
“Oh Beulah,” he breathed, rummaging

in his pocket for the pearl handled straight
razor, “it’s always been you...”
I’m a bit
leery of falling asleep first—

know what I mean?



When I die, I’ll come back as a bowl and squat
proudly on the kitchen table, my painted

innards a beauty to behold. No way will I
be salt and pepper shakers perennially begging

to serve. And certainly not candlesticks lit
for disappointing holiday dinners. I won’t

return as a vegetable knife, or kebob
skewer—I detest pointing anywhere. Luxurious

on my ceramic back, I’ll stretch out empty,
and press my two faces into the gleaming

moment between moments that pass
slowly. Some days, I might roll an orange

at my navel to say, “Looky here!” Other days,
I’ll close my glazed eye and dream of light

so pure my heart might splinter into
a calligraphy of cracks that

you’ll finger absently wondering if I’m still
worth keeping. But then you’ll lift me, admiring

my handmade imperfections, and place
me on a windowsill where you remember

and also forget. One day, chasing squirrel
shadows, the cat springs and I

tip and shatter. You sweep the shards, sad
at how fragile everything is, how nothing

lasts, even me. Until we are both broken,
until nothing more can break, until then.


Each poem a stranger shanghais us sleep
drunk into a rickshaw rattling through this small

town dawn—incongruous
and alone with only our strangeness

for company. Yes, and under a sea of stars we fall
backward into our lives, from water

into water. I, half-witted insomniac, outside
in my robe at first light, attempt any negligible

truth, but, as usual, I’m not
equal to the task. Bleary, I stumble

into the honeysuckle bush whose silver leaves
cup orange and crimson berries. I measure

the weight of fruit in my hands, each
destiny held by nothing. Call it gravity, chance,

or family dynamics by whose impeccable
vertigo we navigate constellations drawn

from a game of pick-up sticks. Still,
the dust of the world is everywhere, luminous

as this air I’m breathing while upstairs in our bed
you’re softly snoring. Your unhappiness

blossoms over our pillows, its runnels
whisper my helplessness. All I have

to offer is a handful of alizarin, plus a few
liquid notes from the finches shacking up in our

neglected apple tree. I say neglected, but
what I mean is, left to wildness and the love

I will surely die of. If every poem’s a stranger,
then this dark form leans

against ghost light while a rickety
travois clattering

down an unlit street spills the loose
beads of my need

for you. The paperboy tosses today’s bad
news at the neighbor’s porch, as I

mingle my breath with yours, same
world, same cast of fools and angels

taking bitter for sweet. Isaiah the prophet
preached, Woe to those who mistake

gall for honey, day
for night
, but my tongue

fills with brine and rose, apple
and ash, when I say life’s

hard enough—let us make of it
what we can. This exile

calls you home.

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