This is my thesis.
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.
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.
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
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.