Wearing Heels in the Rust Belt


Out of stock

Poems by

Karen J. Weyant

Poetry chapbook.  36 pages. Cover price: $12

ISBN: 978-1-59948-343-6

Release date: 2011

 WINNER of the 2011 Main Street Rag Chapbook Contest



KWeyant_PxKaren J. Weyant is an Assistant Professor of English at Jamestown Community College in Jamestown, New York. A recipient of a 2007 poetry fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts, she has also recently won a SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities. Her poems have appeared in a number of journals including 5 AMCave Wall, Copper NickelSlipstream, and River Styx. Her first chapbook, Stealing Dust, was published in 2009 by Finishing Line Press. Before she was a poet and professor, she worked a variety of jobs including a brief stint as a third shift factory worker. Currently, she lives in Warren, Pennsylvania, and in the summer months, studies poetry writing at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York.

The poems in Wearing Heels in the Rust Belt overflow with vivid, gritty imagery. Weyant’s intelligent voice conjures scenes of hard-working characters struggling to not just survive, but thrive in their challenging circumstances. This chapbook captures an essential, flamboyant defiance against the landscape, women painting their nails bright colors even as their night-shifts in factories cover them with cuts, bruises, and grime. Karen J. Weyant is an important new talent and I eagerly anticipate reading more of her wonderful work!

–Jeannine Hall Gailey
author of She Returns to the Floating World

Gathered here are poems of place, a place where everything tastes, faintly, of rust. The speakers are girls and women used to moving through the fields, junkyards, and factories of the rust belt, through towns “made of churches / and bars.” They speak for those often overlooked girls who come of age by learning “to balance in heels, in mud / or dust or rubble.” Here are poems both accurate in description and true in spirit.

–Sandy Longhorn,
author of Blood Almanac

The women and girls that populate Karen J. Weyant’s new collection are enigmatic: sharpened by too-early experience, yet with a keen eye and ear for the beauty to be found in their dangerous landscape. Whether it is the blood red of a harvest moon or the rust flaking off an old pick-up truck, the crinkle of an emptied beer can or a jar of trapped bees, Weyant, like her women, conjures a new Rust Belt, broken down to its gritty, elemental base and hauntingly gorgeous.

–Katie Cappello,
author of Perpetual Care

Ways of Writing Rust

Use a red pen. Push October’s full moon through every line.
Scribble down an old barn and a children’s game of tag

that ends with a nail’s scratch and tetanus shot.
Remember to cross all your t’s.

Save the graffiti, the sharp letters, the language,
even if you are not sure if the words are a Bible verse

or lyrics from an old rock-n-roll song.
Scrawl down corner bars and closed stores.

Pluck the jewels from Queen Anne’s lace, throw away
the white blossoms, but keep the sunflowers and tiger lilies.

Never use a pencil. You won’t want to erase.
But always proofread. Just cross out the spring trillium,

the first frost, bedsheets that bounce in the breeze.
Use every margin. Stencil the last railroad trestles,

roadside mailboxes sealing shut with orange crust,
a bicycle left out overnight, its spokes turning.

Trace the Z shape of fire escapes and the half hearts
of coke ovens. Scribe the sighs of girls who want boys

drunk with dares and drivers’ licenses, boys
who drive through traffic lights and railroad crossings, flashing,

and mothers who teach their daughters to cut away,
but slice apples with knife blades coming towards them.

Buck Season

On the first day of hunting, my sister and I
made bets to see who would touch the dead.
The day’s kill hung flat and gutted against
the garage wall, eyes bulging but dull,
antlers clinking, tongues limp in the smell
of metallic blood and car fumes. We spent an hour
convincing ourselves they weren’t still alive.

With our brothers and father tucked away
in the warm kitchen, we pressed our hands
together, pinky swore with our cold fingers
wrapped tight. We would attack together,
that was the plan, but she darted forward,
her right hand a flutter in the shadows.

Later, she tried to explain. It’s like a cat’s tongue.
The grownups broke our huddled whispers,
sent us to get cleaned up for dinner.
I watched her stand at the sink, stretch
to the tips of her toes, wash her hands,
suds spilling through her fingers, hot water
washing away blood that wasn’t there.

How We Learned to Wear Heels in the Rust Belt

We started early, stole our mothers’ wedges, our aunts’ stilettos.
Stuffing newspaper in the toes, we made every shoe fit.

Our world a catwalk, we practiced balancing on construction planks,
railroad ties, backporch banisters. We sauntered across the Laurel Run bridge,

where the thick concrete slabs carried us over a trickle of a creek
that crackled when summer forgot its rain. We held our heads proud,

chins pushed forward, eyes straight. We swaggered our thin hips and thighs,
every strut full of defiant assurance. When we clapped, the hills caught

our applause, tossed the echoes high. We teetered through our teens,
wore heels on first dates, waded through mud of Friday night derbies,

sawdust on carnival grounds. At our high school proms, we dyed
our satin shoes to match our dresses: teal, tangerine, bright fuchsia–

shades perfect until we stepped in puddles and watched splotches stain our feet,
bright colors swirl away in gutters, water gulping without making a sound.

Stargazing Under the Influence

That night, the bed of your truck was a dance floor,
your grandparent’s farm our own private club.
I moved to the rhythm of a bass guitar
and a battery slowly dying. Music moaned
from the radio, old shocks rocked under my feet.
You watched as flecks of rust flew from my heels,

strangely silent with every new scuff mark.
We had the splinter of a Wolf Moon, a single star
shivering, the strange halo of the farmhouse
splintered in the wooden fence shadows.
As I twirled, your gun rack rattled,
drops of beer sprayed. I toasted every flake

of new snow. In the distance, branches reached
out for us, more stick figures than trees, the shadow
of a silo struck a regal pose, ivy sticking out
like loose strands of hair in a girl’s tight braid.
Dizzy, I fell to the tailgate, stripped off my coat, stared
at Orion’s Belt quivering in the black brow of the sky.

Sweat froze to my temples, cold metal burned
through my thighs. I told you I was sorry
for the night before, how I pushed
you away. It’s not you, I wanted to say.
I just hated the plastic seats of your truck,
how my chapped lips, winter dry, had started to bleed.

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