Is That a Poem in Your Pocket or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

This is my thesis.

thesis.jpg

I keep it on the toilet. Much like the tattoo on my shoulder blade, I forget it’s there until I happen to turn my head around or somebody points it out.

This past December, I graduated from NYU with my MFA in poetry. I learned that iamb is not a brand of dog food and that the world would be a better place with less “it rains in my soul” and “his eyes were pools of light.” I now get jokes where the punchline is “Jorie Graham awarded herself!” And if I were at a party and someone happened to bring out a plate of rotten fruit, I wouldn’t skip a beat before asking “Do I dare to eat a peach?

Since school ended, I’ve stopped writing poems. I only want to read them. I spent three and a half years with poetry. I dated poetry, I moved in with poetry (too soon?), and now I need to see other genres. Or to be alone. Although I think I’m falling hard for memoir.

But this Friday night is my Graduate Reading, and I’m excited. I get to hear my friends. I get to stand behind a podium and read three poems from my thesis and drink too much free NYU wine that probably goes by the name of Cheap Loon.

Here are the poems I’m going with. This first one is a villanelle. The repeated end words are ways to prepare Waffle House hash browns: battered, smothered, covered, diced, topped, chunked.

Waffle House

Your heart is a golden hash-brown smothered
In chili–no more chill feel of porcelain;
On my hand your hand, laminated, covered.

You had resigned yourself to a scattered
Place setting. Refused to accept that skin
Would ever again arrange you, but smothered,

Pain unplugged its hot plate. (Even diced
Intimacy regenerates.) You begin
To recollect the flesh: body covered

By another body, T-boned, topped,
Limbs pancaked–harder to remember when
Love’s last neon flickered, slept. You smothered

Hunger then, grit teeth and stomach, heart chunked
Solid as Formica, as ice, you’d been
Open so long then not–Oh! How I covered

You, shielded a blue flame battered
By an outer air. We sat down to dine
With scarred flatware–me, smothered
No longer in doubt. You, finally covered.

I’m a big fan of both Jane Kenyon and Anna Akmatova and how they give expression to the metaphoric moment in short lyric. It can be more of a challenge to condense something. A Kenyon or an Akmatova poem is like a suitcase packed with vacuum sealed space organizers– you can’t fathom how much they fit in there.

spacesaver.jpg

I wrote this “suitcase” poem after the death of my obstetrician, a close family friend and the first person to hold me after birth.

When You Who Delivered Me Died

My mother attended your funeral
alongside nurses in black dresses
while I made a tender list
of all the men who had ever touched me.

Part of my poetic growth has involved embracing pop culture in my work. I used to feel vaguely ashamed that I watch Surreal Life marathons or that I can tell Milli from Vanilli. Then I discovered poets like Denise Duhamel. She writes about Barbies. Like, I totally had permission to explore Nick and Jessica’s relationship in verse.

So the last poem I’ll read is a sonnet about the death of Steve Irwin. I like the interplay between formal structure and pop culture content. I was getting into Gerard Manly Hopkins when I wrote it, tinkering with sound. You can go to this site and click on the audio for Carrion Comfort to hear why I revere Hopkins. My poem includes an epigraph of an actual Irwin quote.

The Crocodile Hunter

Even if a big old alligator is chewing me up I want to go down and go, ‘Crikey!” just before I die. That would be the ultimate for me.”– Steve Irwin

The stingray stabbed your heart. You expected
claw and welter where instead a barbed spike.
At upturned tail’s puncture did erected
faith fall? You never could distinguish like
from love. Only shallows heard your toxic
call–what word went? Fatal stun and hover
not unlike the rest: old cardiac
adrenaline push, sense and water
same. Did you surface? When I read you pulled
the creature sword from chest, finally lept
from my holeless heart dread of a lulled
life–long mindful of aftermath I’ve kept
calm. Unassailable I’ve held at bay
some animal.

Friday is also New York City’s Poem in Your Pocket Day. Last year I carried this. Doty’s closing bit gets me every time. I know it by heart. It reminds me how we carry poems with us everyday without realizing.

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7 responses to “Is That a Poem in Your Pocket or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

  1. Wow! These look great. Good luck at your reading!

  2. Hey thanks for the Blondie-project props. I am having trouble getting though the greatest hits so if you want in, I am all for help. The weird thing is that people respond to them like … it actually happened to them.

    “I remember you — you were in a weekend mood and feeling proud!”

  3. I was very sad when I heard Steve Irwin died. Very sad indeed.

  4. While I am a big fan of poetry, I am a bigger fan of Waffle House.

    -sj

    p.s. I enjoyed my visit to your site, but I don’t quite get the thesis on the toilet thing. However, the imagery of a mirror, toilet, thesis, matches and a candle speak to me in that picture. The writer in me say that there’s a short story hidden in there somewhere (the imagery, not the toilet).

  5. Poetry has never really done it for me. I tried Oscar Wilde once and it’s great but, but lyrics are the thing for me. My absolute favourite at the moment and has been for years is Morrissey this just sums everything up for me. Does this count as poetry? I don’t know but I love it!

    Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want by The Smiths

    Good times for a change.
    See, the luck I’ve had
    could make a good man
    turn bad.

    So please, please, please
    let me, let me, let me
    let me get what I want
    this time.

    Haven’t had a dream in a long time.
    See, the life I’ve had
    could make a good man bad
    So for once in my life,
    let me get what I want.
    Lord knows it would be the first time.
    Lord knows it would be the first time.

    David
    England

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