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Dawn Potter


sugar maples green as monsters    burdocks 6 feet high in the ditches

every weed exploding faster than harleys & you

skating that loaded hay truck up the gravel mountain                baring your teeth

at devils        while I gobbled klondike bars like

pot roast on thanksgiving

o it was all similes and metaphors in those days    drunken

farmhands luring us into the sheep shed    peanutbutternwhitebread

3 meals a day           the stars they bit holes into the night sky 

truelove reeked of cowshit & milk  & we never learnt any better no no we’re still

spilling out of our ragged skin

A Preface to Paradise Lost

is the title of a falling-apart paperback that I have packed and

unpacked, shelved and unshelved, multiple times in multiple

rooms; a tome I first unearthed at the Snowmobile Club

Yard Sale as my husband was dithering over a vinyl couch

that looked like the ex-front seat of a Plymouth Satellite, as

my sons were buying five broken CB radios: because this

is the kind of family we are, always eager to acquire the unusable.

Today, after so many years of never opening this book,

I finally allowed the author to announce that “The first

qualification for judging any piece of workmanship from a corkscrew

to a cathedral is to know what it is—what it was intended to do

and how it is meant to be used.” But this is not an argument

he will enjoy starting with me because even though I myself

once wrote a book about Paradise Lost, I would have to tell him

that the only reason I took his book off the shelf is because my son

says he wants to use it as the title for a Spotify playlist and I cannot

believe that this would make the creator of Aslan happy. Oh yes,

that’s who wrote this thing I’ve never read: Mr. Screwtape Letters himself,

and whatever was it doing at the Snowmobile Club Yard Sale alongside

strange sacks filled with leather scraps and heaps of rusty Jell-O molds

and indecipherable hunks of iron and stained baby sweaters from 1976

and VHS tapes of Jane Fonda in hot pants?—a place that is more like

the Aftermath of Paradise Lost than the Preface, not that a place should

have to be like a book, but wouldn’t it be nice to stumble into a Preface

once in a while. By which I mean: Why do I have to know how a cathedral

or a corkscrew was meant to be used? Why can’t I just bring them home?

Dawn Potter directs the Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching. She is the author of eight books of prose and poetry, most recently the collection Chestnut Ridge. Her work has appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal, Sewanee Review, Threepenny Review, and many other journals. She lives in Portland, Maine.

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