The More Difficult Beauty

by Molly Fisk

Publication Date: March 1, 2010

Available for $15.00 from your local bookstore or

Reading Schedule


"Molly's voice is crisp and decided yet relaxed and just close enough somehow... and the pieces all are impeccably shaped and written. Fearless, clear-eyed work."
– John Updike

"It is good to wake and realize that Molly is paying attention, has paid so much attention, and we are not lost. What a fine poet! She is the real thing!"
– Lucille Clifton

"With unflinching honesty, kind humor, and vivid detail, Molly Fisk convinces us 'There's a loveliness to every ruined thing.' The More Difficult Beauty is a brave and generous book."
– Ellen Bass

"Whether writing of the way light falls on Paris rooftops, family remembrances and betrayals, the fragility of intimacy, or the physicality and metaphysics of blood, Molly Fisk does not hold back. Unblinking, she sets down dramatically whatever turns up in her poet-mirror. Fisk's poems twinkle with the dark, nuanced subtlety of painted miniatures; they speak from the heart and gut. Devils and angels dwell in her details."
– Al Young

About Molly Fisk's debut collection, Listening to Winter (Heyday Press, 1999):

"...[an] intellectually self-aware, bold and brilliant re/consideration of the culturally paradigmatic problem of incest. In lacunae and ellipses as artful as the poems themselves, she shows to the mind the heart's wounds and forces it to make of them an answer. Complex, memorable, Listening to Winter makes vivid the real and dangerous work of what is called, contemptuously, 'confessionalism,' meditating, from its most intimate perspective, on the nature and costs of 'The Old Order.'"
– Linda McCarriston

Little Songs for Antoinette


While my mother is dying I pursue a new man, leave
messages arranging dinner, asking about his book.

Standing behind her, hand on her back, a washcloth ready
as she throws up what’s left inside, I think of his long arms

winding my waist, the blue eyes closed in pleasure. I am never
going to die, and not like this:

an eight-months-gone pregnancy of tumors, morphine
every 20 minutes under the tongue. Her cancer makes me want

to have a baby quick, not to replace her but to prove that somewhere
life is winning. This man doesn’t know what he’s in for,

big hand on the small of my back as we enter the restaurant,
his apartment—he hasn’t seen her mouth gape in sleep,

the bones of her hands outlined in parchment, he doesn’t understand
the honor: that our hips cupped together hold a single ray of light,

that my tongue against his throat spells her name.


The tears we cry rinse our big hearts clean,
and our mother—past the wail-and-shudder
stage, losing everything—throws up
the two bites of scrambled egg she had for breakfast
and the half glass of water, fills the sink over
with waves from an inner river, the earth
now calling her home. She says she’s not
afraid of dying, just the pain and leaving us,
her quartet of old children. Who will take care
of her in heaven? Whose lips will she read there?


At times she dozes, one knee cocked
and her hands lightly holding the bed rails.
If you lean against the door’s white jamb
and watch her, love pouring out of your cracked heart
and spilling into the lives around you, she’s just
as likely to smile as groan, open her eyes and whisper
beautiful, spinning into the arms of the plum tree
out her window, taking a bow. She asks us
what time the wind gets up in the morning,
hums in her sleep, drums her toothbrush
against the side of the spitting bowl before
we can empty it, happy, laughing at us.


Now every dream is of my mother
carrying the years she’ll never have, her hair
grown in and whiter, approaching rooms
she’ll never enter now, and then leaving them
to stroll down avenues she’ll never see
because she is almost finished with us
and lies asleep after another dose of morphine
and some chipped ice. I look twice
to make sure she’s breathing and the quick
pulse in her throat has not stopped.
I sit beside her crying. The room’s temperature
has dropped: she is no longer always cold,
she who will be so cold soon, awake now, briefly,
looking out the window at a new moon.


Helping her die may be better than watching her age and falter,
but we’ll never know, sponging her back, filling syringes.

Her eyelids open like hinges on the door to the other world, whorl
of new hair behind her head, skin pearled with a luminous sweat,

stretched over cheek bone and jaw line, beginning death’s
paring away of flesh. This is a test — how strong are your children?

Who loves you best? Will you come back to us all in our dreams,
hawk on a fence post, rush of clear water? Two sons, two daughters,

dozing, talking, laundering sheets, wiping the counters,
waiting to hear one more breath.


Half-way through our nap the rain begins, hits the window,
plashes through the double-needled pines, and splurts down

onto the mule’s ears and rein orchids, the clustered blue-faced
penstemons, sinking without a trace into the granite soil.

I roll gently out from under his arm and watch him sleeping the sleep
of the sunburned, of the good son, the wall-primer and painter,

the sleep of a man who is truly tired and knows someone
loves him, since I unaccountably began to cry about it over lunch

and couldn’t stop, watching him eat was suddenly
too much for me, thinking how easily he could have died

in that fall, how he wandered lonely in the wilderness of his own mind,
never mind that people cared for him, for so long, twenty years,

long enough for me to get my second wind, to begin again
to grow up, so that I recognized true love when I saw it, looked

beyond the gnarled teeth and broken nose, the central, longitudinal scar
that runs his length from trachea to pubis, beyond the lost names

and repeated stories into kindness, so that when he began the steep
climb out of his brainpan’s maze into stronger light, how lucky

I was there at the top of the stairs, passing by.

for Tad

Reading Schedule

March 17th
Molly reads at Barnes & Noble Presents, Poetry Series

Grossmont Center, La Mesa, San Diego, CA
5500 Grossmont Ctr Dr Suite 331
La Mesa, CA 91942
7:30 – 9 p.m.
(619) 667-2870
Host: Seretta Martin

March 21st
Hip Pocket Press Book Launch/House Party

to celebrate Molly's new book The More Difficult Beauty
1 – 4 p.m.
5 Del Mar Court
Orinda, CA

April 1st
Molly reads with Becky Foust,
Poetry Flash Reading Series

7:30 p.m.
Moe’s Books, Berkeley, CA

April 7th – 10th
Find Molly at AWP (The Associated Writing Programs Conference) in Denver

call her cell phone: 530-277-4686
to say hello and have a cup of tea

April 16th
Molly reads with Jackie Kudler

sponsored by the Marin Poetry Center
7:30 p.m.
Barnes & Noble
313 Corte Madera Town Center
Corte Madera, CA

April 17th
Molly teaches A Voice of Your Own

10 – 4 a.m.
Book Passage
51 Tamal Vista Blvd.
Corte Madera, CA
(415) 927-0960

April 17th
Molly reads at the Sixteen Rivers Press anthology reading
for The Place That Inhabits Us with Margaret Kaufman and others

7 p.m.
Book Passage
51 Tamal Vista Blvd.
Corte Madera, CA
(415) 927-0960

July 9th
Molly reads with Barbara Joan Tiger Bass

Nefeli Cafe
Berkeley, CA
(details to follow).

July 10th
Poetry of Great Compassion
a benefit for Tibetech and Sierra Friends of Tibet
Molly reads with Bill Lee and others

7:30 p.m.
Sierra Mountain Coffee Roasters
671 Maltman Dr.
Grass Valley, CA

September 12th
Molly reads with Gail Entrekin
Valona Reading Series

4 p.m.
Valona Deli
1327 Pomona St.
Crockett, CA

December 13th
Molly reads with Becky Foust

Book Passage, Ferry Building
6 p.m.
(details to follow)