Poems I’ve Loved: January 2018

“After You Left” by Jean Yoon.

I died at the peak of my stardom

I slipped into a pleat in the wheat field

I considered shopping, then surgery

I wept into your turkey jerky silhouette

I married myself begrudgingly

This short poem in jubilat‘s most recent issue struck me for its sparsity and humor, which feels true to heartache and longing, at least to me. “(After you left,) I died at the peak of my stardom” has got to be one of the best break-up lines of all time, in pop music, poetry, or otherwise. But humor isn’t all of it, there’s more mystery here—how, in a world barely 3-D, someone can slip into a pleat in a wheat field, almost like a paper pocket on a collage or the back of a journal, disappeared yes, and also safekept. The beloved’s location is known, though the beloved herself is invisible. It’s “the” wheat field. Their silhouette, like Christ seared into toast, materializes in jerky. Meanwhile, the speaker is the subject; the beloved is only a clause. She dies, slips, considers, weeps, and marries—a kind of afterlife. She puts herself at the first of each line, each sentence. But the beloved is locked in a clause that becomes refrain, implied before every action the speaker takes. The beloved’s absence still comes before. That seems only right.

“Fat F*ck” by Diamond Forde.

what is a pig
if not unclean?          If not the ungodly

gristle buttering your teeth?

I got to see Diamond Forde deliver this poem as part of an audience at the Only Tenn-I-See Reading Series in Knoxville, and it killed. Her body of work was excellent, and luckily this one’s available online at The Offing.

This poem balances on the head of a pin the sexually explicit and violent language used against fat women in our culture. The “you” in the poem, someone who has deployed this abusive language is as distant as a street harasser, as intimate as a lover. The speaker chooses intimacy, the poet chooses to connect. At every harsh word, the speaker opens and blooms, like a wound.

The speaker moves the language and the action from her own onto the “you.” At first, funny, coarse, sensual:

I could reach into your fridge, tongue
the Hӓagen Dazs, stuff its lengthy
pint into my ever-eager mouth—
that’s the kind of sick bitch I am.

By the end, still sensual, the humor turned into a gyre of cleverness that spins out this stunner: “Tell me my belt wraps the world’s waist // then beat me with it.” Read the whole poem here.

“Discovery” by Wislawa Szymborska.

I believe in the refusal to take part.
I believe in the ruined career.
I believe in the years of wasted work.
I believe in the secrets taken to the grave.

This is not a poem I “found” this month, but instead one that’s been recurring to me over the past year. Many Americans are choosing how to engage, but how to disengage, to opt out, could be equally powerful if invisible. The biggest sacrifices may be those we never see. I love this Szymborska narrative poem about a scientist who works meticulously to delete every trace of a discovery. It begins: “I believe in the great discovery. / I believe in the man who will make the discovery. / I believe in the fear of the man who will make the discovery.” Read it.

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