This week’s poem, Meredith Mitchell’s “How To Be Pretty,” presents us with a pointed set of instructions. I love the boldness and whimsy of this poem’s voice, its subtly recurring apples and lurches, and its edgy ambivalence about the feminine ideal it describes.

Mitchell describes herself as a storyteller, educator, artist and dreamer. As a writer, she is most inspired by her own exploration of the human experience, examining such realms as womanhood, heartsickness, and eroticism. She currently lives and works in Portland.

Poets, please note that submissions to Deep Water are open through the end of the year. Deep Water is especially eager to share poems by Black writers, writers of color, Indigenous writers and other underrepresented voices. You’ll find a link to submit in the credits below.

 

How To Be Pretty

By Meredith Mitchell

 

Get pacified or get gone. You are truly too dangerous.

Like some kind of young animal, maybe, or a sundress on a line.

Anything pleasant & ridiculous, jitterbugging across the tiles.

First blush of the day: a neighbor who tells you to smile more.

Kiss and be friendly. Then leave them in the lurch. A near miss.

 

Sway to the mailbox. Wave to the highway, church-quiet.

The seductive swirl of a near-ready kettle. First, be playful.

Be easy to please or just plain easy. Be anything easy

& Anything but plain. Split their sides but know when to zip it.

& By that I mean wait for God to pass through you.

 

Dogear pages in How to Be Quieter. A pretty readiness.

Like some kind of pleasant wheat field, maybe, or a young apple.

Playful as an artful kiss on the cheek of a church friend.

So subtle that even God will miss it. The glory of seduction

That swirls in the lurch. Then whisper: Genius.

 

Make the neighbors blush at even the sway of a sundress on a line.

Stand like a mailbox and wait for the emptiness

To pass through you. & By that I mean know when to zip it.

Dogear pages in How To Be Ridiculous. The art of side-splitting.

Apple-cheeked as a kettle and ready to please.

 

You are too glorious. Standing there as plain as day.

More passive than a wheat field waving to the highway.

To be truly pretty you must know how dangerous you are.

Then get gone like a whisper. Jitterbugging across the tiles.

Easy as a subtle smile. More animal than anything. Genius.

 

Megan Grumbling is a poet and writer who lives in Portland. Deep Water: Maine Poems is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. “How To Be Pretty,” copyright © 2020 by Meredith Mitchell, appears by permission of the author. Submissions to Deep Water are open now and through the end of the year. For more information, go to mainewriters.org/deep-water.


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