Jude Nutter

Field Notes : Watching the Crew of Atlantis Renovating the Hubble Telescope

Winner of the 2013 Strokestown International Poetry Award

What comforts me most is imagining the regular, calm draw
and blow of their breathing, and that they are floating,
for a while, in exile

and surviving, because, after weeks of drifting, tethered
to a machine the size of tea trolley that pulled in
the room’s ambient air, compressed it
and vented off its nitrogen with such a quiet, relentless
suck and surge, my mother had crossed
into the homeland no one is equipped to travel through. Tethered

securely, and laden with tools
and equipment, the astronauts bury their arms,
elbow-deep, into the golden torso
of the telescope. Beneath them, across the earth,
night’s precise curve approaching and nothing
around them but the constant
wash of their own breathing. What I remember most

about my mother’s last breath was the way her eyes
opened slightly—slim buttonholes
in the body’s fabric—and my father rising
out of his chair and leaning over
the bed’s chrome railing to get as close
to her as he could, to rest his forehead against hers
and whisper hello, Eileen, and I found myself thinking

about that white and half-wild pony
in the pasture next door; the way, each morning,
it was a solid, pale patience behind a single
strand of fence wire as it waited for my father
to trail through the damp nap of the lawn
with his small offering; the way it would lower
its head, then, to press against him, with such
restraint, the long, heavy treasure of its skull.
The thick plate of the forehead. Each nostril’s
soft cuff. But it was over

already and that machine went on breathing
without her until I rocked its small, red switch
into silence. There was the fixed curve
of my father’s spine. There was the still weight
of his head against hers. Our first night on earth
without her. Wind in the hawthorn.
The great carnival wheel of stars. The astronauts

are repairing the gyros; they are fitting the spectrograph
and the wide-field cameras that will allow us to gaze
right onto to the cosmic frontier. And the undertaker unzipped the dark

bloom of his body bag. Later, the froth
of the first birds and the lights of the fleet roped
three deep along the quay fraying
in a dawn that arrived like wood smoke and,
for a while, my father and I not knowing how
to be with each other. With their gentle

and deliberate gestures the two astronauts
appear almost tender, like lovers.
The visors of their helmets are golden
blisters of reflected light. It is impossible to gauge
the ferocity of thought inside them.

Jude Nutter was born in North Yorkshire, England, and grew up near Hannover, in northern Germany. She has been living and teaching in The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, since 1998. Her poems have appeared in numerous national and international journals and have received over 30 awards and grants, including three fellowships from the Minnesota State Arts Board, two McKnight Foundation Fellowships, The Listowel Prize, The Larry Levis Prize, The Robbinson Jeffers Prize, the Marjorie J. Wilson Award for Excellence in Poetry, as well as grants from The Jerome Foundation, The Elizabeth George Foundation and the National Science Foundation’s Writers and Artists Program in Antarctica.

Her first book-length collection, Pictures of the Afterlife (Salmon), was published in 2002. The Curator of Silence (University of Notre Dame Press), her second collection, won the Ernest Sandeen Prize from the University of Notre Dame and was awarded the 2007 Minnesota Book Award in poetry. A third collection, I Wish I Had a Heart Like Yours, Walt Whitman (University of Notre Dame Press), was awarded the 2010 Minnesota Book Award in poetry and voted Poetry Book of the Year by ForeWord Review in New York.

Jude Nutter has remarked: ‘Being shortlisted for the Strokestown International Poetry Award is, if course, a great honour. As a Brit currently living and teaching in the US, I work hard to maintain my European identity and connections; to be acknowledged in this way by the Strokestown Festival is deeply meaningful. As a poet, my connections to Ireland are strong: it was winning the Listowel Writers’ Week Poetry Award in 2000 and the subsequent publication of my first collection by Salmon Poetry in 2002 that really launched my career in the US. With family living in County Kerry for over 30 years, I now spend more time visiting Ireland each year than I do the UK, and the Irish landscape itself is the predominate landscape in many of my poems. And as for poetry’s place and importance in my life? This is probably best answered by these words from Rilke: “…ask yourself in the stillest hour of the night, “Must I write?” Dig deep into yourself for an answer. And if this answer should be in the affirmative, if you can meet this solemn question with a simple, strong “I must,” then build up your life according to this necessity.”’

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