What is your favorite Zoe Strauss
photograph? Everyone has one, or two, or many. For this exercise get your copy of her book AMERICA
and find one. “STAY ALIVE” is a favorite of mine. What is your favorite canned vegetable? I love canned peas. Canned peas would make a lovely pillow in a coffin or dream. Think about your favorite canned vegetable in your life, take notes. This exercise needs three consecutive nights. ONE: BOILED canned peas, very simple, careful to carry the scent and texture through the mouth, sinuses, and let’s be CHEWING while looking carefully at Zoe’s photograph. Eyes open WIDE, look through a hole in the bottom of a box. ALLOW ALL MIXTURE of senses to explore. Take notes then go to bed. When you wake, what dreams did you have? TWO: FRIED canned peas, in olive oil, a little toothpick to eat them one at a time while looking at Zoe’s photograph with a magnifying glass, then through panty hose. The clouds in “STAY ALIVE” move over the trees in my dreams. One night my old boyfriend Tommy who died of AIDS was in Zoe’s photograph, standing near the yellow sign along the highway, its black letters commanding “STAY ALIVE.” He pointed to it, “Did you read this today?” THREE: FROZEN canned peas, spread out with salt on wax paper in the freezer, QUITE DELICIOUS! Tonight stare at one part of the photograph, STARE without blinking for as long as you can. Then pop a delicious frozen pea in your mouth and close your eyes. SEE the details of the photograph in your mind. Open your eyes, focus on another detail of the photograph, then pop another delicious frozen pea in your mouth. Close your eyes and THIS TIME imagine someone you love thawing from ice as the pea warms on your tongue. How are they doing? What do you love most about this photograph? Pop another frozen pea, keep your eyes OPEN, but shut the light off, then back on, off, on again, over and over, all the while popping delicious frozen peas. EYES WIDE OPEN in light, in dark, seeing, chewing, then suddenly STOP in the dark. Let your eyes adjust to the darkness, the photograph taking shape in the shadows around it. Staring at the unlit photograph look for MOVEMENT and take notes about what you see. Dreams this night for more notes the next morning. All the notes from this exercise will come together into a poem.