I'm going back and rereading the poetry books that initially excited me about the written and spoken word. First up, Mark Doty's Atlantis. This is the first of probably three interactions about how my response to this book changed over twenty years.
Sidenote, the title is a line from my poem, How To Survive A Sixty Hour Work Week On Just Above Minimum Wage. While it is, of course, a reference to the lost city, it is also a reference to Mark Doty's book and the time of my life when I first read it.
Atlantis At Nineteen
Sun starved leaves
A handful of wet beach ready for sculpture
The color of a paper bag under transparent tape
protecting textbooks from my clumsy adolescence
Horseshoe crab shell
All of these things we'd touched together And all i could think of
when you took off your hat in your parents' basement was
You have brown hair
It was only in the darkness that I could realize
the misdiagnosis of your hair color
Two years of loving someone without
noticing this basic physical trait
I was still flash cards at lust
At a bar with my coworkers
from the Reconnaissance Faire
I didn't note
the leather taut
atlassing the twin planets of the wax maiden
as the exhaust of her day and her bourbon
warmed my ear
I thought why is this woman
blowing in my ear?
Everything so straight
I didn't even know her name
just the job she weekended for two months of the year
The best part of her year
when her ex took her two twelve year old sons
and she dipped hands and roses into hot wax
and blew hot air into the ears of nineteen year old gay boys
too paralyzed to turn their heads
I was of course staring at you
a single row of straight white stones
the lower shelf never
cresting your bottom lip
On the drive home you kissed your own hot air
towards me without so much as leaning closer
This was how I learned to love with distance
2. Strangers & Family Members Are Fiction
I did not choose Mark Doty's "Long Point Light"
for its language
for how I would later imagine it
an apt description of our relationship
You liked lighthouses
I was too stiff for "Homo
Shall Not Inherit"
read a poem to a diverse group of people
ask them to tell you what the poem means
Diverse on Cape Cod
meant my ashen mother
my pasty boss
the blanched friends of the pale children I nannied
the cobweb customers at my corporate record store job
my eggshell psychology classmates
Diverse meant not the same age
level of education
All these diverse listeners patiently described what this poem
which was so obviously about how
every day was a new opportunity to be honest with you and
was so obviously about how I could see metaphor only
in things you cared about
All of these diverse listeners presented me with their own
incorrect translations of this obvious poem
Mistaking Doty's hazing and
flickering as an invitation to
build their own lighthouse to
I bought whiteboard
I mod podged photos of your favorite lighthouses
printed out all these wrong interpretations of what was
obviously our poem and threw away everyone else's truth
I drew crude approximations of boats
emerald fiberglass like your favorite color of seaglass
polyurethaned wood like your hair
silver like your car
barn red like your duvet
Each boat labeled with the description of an imaginary person
The waves beneath them
fake quotes I attributed to them
each one a different way I looked at the poem
Who else had ever had an opinion that mattered?
3. There Is Never Enough Ocean
I was twenty and selfish without understanding what my self was
I read Atlantis but came away with only "Long Point Light"
said everything else was ocean and shimmer
I had enough ocean around me
enough shimmer when I tried to look to the future
Eliza Griswold was recommended to me by Mckendy Fils-Aime when I asked poets to suggest other poets whose work I wasn't familiar with.
Griswold is primarily a journalist, and her poetry tends to be half-page poems that somehow manage to encompass both huge, international events, and small, personal parallels in about eight lines. They're rarely WOAH poems. Instead they're a series of quiet tremors.
Pokemon Key Chain
In the winter before the game's bold comeback
you bought a Snorlax figure
for the keys to my apartment
hoping it woud become our apartment
if you charmed it with the Pokemon most like me.
This first section of the interaction was inspired by the epigraph from Sharon Olds's "Late Poem To My Father". It's also part of a series of poems inspired by a Nicole Homer prompt.
The second portion is just my response to how I read this book at eighteen, and how I read this book at thirty-nine.
Ten Meals I Don't Remember Eating #10:
February 16th, 2016, Cambridge, Massachusetts
When I love you now,
I like to think I am giving my love
directly to that boy in the fiery room,
as if it could reach him in time.
--- Sharon Olds, "Late Poem To My Father"
You were never as eighteen as you were at thirty
sitting on my bed in your room
playing Kingdom Hearts
pretending you didn't hear me knock on the door
We had both ordered dinner at the same time from
slightly different restaurants
Yours arrived first but I had
mistakenly answered the door and paid for your meal
I knocked louder
Not your cluelessly optimistic ex but
a parent trying to
respect the privacy of an unnecessarily
I had a speech memorized
opening with a joke and ending with you
moving out again
I didn't speak to you for three weeks in case
I accidentally recited it
You smiled as you took your food into your room
I paid for my dinner too
sat on the floor in my room
watching the door between us
imagining I knew how to open it
without disturbing you
when i was eighteen and less metaphor i read the gold cell from cover to i can't anymore . laughed at the pope's penis and imagined i truly understood the solution . i loved how sharon olds viewed the world outside her own . but when her family came in . her father . her history . her impending children . i . i read them over and over . knowing that i was missing something . all of my love was current . all of my realizations were in other books . all of my love was things . all of my people were something missing .
when i was thirty-nine and prime time soap opera i read the gold cell from back to front . family to the outside world . how much simpler to start with the closeness i don't understand . end with the world i'm afraid to know
An ongoing conversation between writers and the text that they're reading.