Thursday, February 9, 2012

Circus Tents and Taxi Rides between France and Japan

The monthly poetry reading that I host at Glendale Community College happens to fall on Valentine's Day, so I will be making some poetry Valentine's cards to give out throughout the evening. Less chocolate, more haiku.

Which reminds me that I never posted about the other books I selected to give away during that December Gift Exchange reading at GCC. So here are the other three:

One of my favorite poets is Beth Ann Fennelly. Her debut (Open House) is my favorite collection of hers, but I gave away Tender Hooks which contains this poem:

I Need to Be More French. Or Japanese.

Then I wouldn’t prefer the California wine,
its big sugar, big fruit rolling down my tongue,
a cornucopia spilled across a tacky tablecloth.
I’d prefer the French, its smoke and rot.
Said C├ęzanne: Le monde—c’est terrible!
Which means, The world—it bites the big weenie.
People sound smarter in French.
The Japanese prefer the crescent moon to the full,
prefer the rose before it blooms.
Oh, I have been to the temples of Kyoto,
I have stood on the Pont Neuf, and my eyes,
they drank it in, but my taste buds
shuffled along in the beer line at Wrigley Field.
It was the day they gave out foam fingers.
I hereby pledge to wear more gray, less yellow
of the beaks of baby mockingbirds,
that huge yellow yawping open on wobbly necks,
trusting something yummy will be dropped inside,
soon. I hereby pledge to be reserved.
When the French designer learned
I didn’t like her mockups for my book cover,
she sniffed, They’re not for everyone. They’re
subtle. What area code is 662 anyway? I said,
Mississippi, sweetheart. Bet you couldn’t find it
with a map. Okay: I didn’t really. But so what
if I’m subtle as May in Mississippi, my nose
in the wine-bowl of this magnolia bloom, so what
if I’m mellow as the punch-drunk bee.
If I were Japanese I’d write about magnolias
in March, how tonal, each bud long as a pencil,
sheathed in celadon suede, jutting from a cluster
of glossy leaves. I’d end the poem before anything
bloomed, end with rain swelling the buds
and the sheaths bursting, then falling to the grass
like a fairy’s castoff slippers, like candy wrappers,
like spent firecrackers. Yes, my poem
would end there, spent firecrackers.
If I were French, I’d capture post-peak, in July,
the petals floppy, creased brown with age,
the stamens naked, stripped of yellow filaments.
The bees lazy now, bungling the ballet, thinking
for the first time about October. If I were French,
I’d prefer this, end with the red-tipped filaments
scattered on the scorched brown grass,
and my poem would incite the sophisticated,
the French and the Japanese readers—
because the filaments look like matchsticks,
and it’s matchsticks, we all know, that start the fire.

I also chose Everything Is Everything by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz.

It's a lively collection from Write Bloody Publishin.
This poem originally appeared in Pank Magazine,
but it's also one of my favorites from the book:


When the black plague hit the Saxon army in 1340s,
they didn’t let this stop them. Instead they catapulted
the diseased corpses of their fellow soldiers directly
into the enemy camp. It worked. Within a year, half
of Scotland was dead. Half the Saxons were dead too,
but at least, they knew how to put their dead to work.

In the 1930s, in the middle of legendary circus tent fire
which would swallow almost 200 people, a little boy
with a club foot remembered his boy scout pen knife
and sliced a hole through the tent large enough for him
and 300 other strangers to fit through. He thought this
would make people see past his disability. The next day,
the headline read: Boy with Club Foot Saves Hundreds.

In 2008, the U.S. National Parks Service reported
a significant uptick in suicides with their parks.
I guess they want to die someplace beautiful, said
the parks spokesman, but this is not the answer.
The Grand Canyon claims the most suicides by far
and park rangers are now instructed to look out
for signs: notes taped to steering wheels; weeping;
the lone person staring too long into the abyss.

In 2009, I stare into the abyss of another poem
struggling hard not to include you. Obviously,
it fails when, in the last stanza, you appear,
out of nowhere, mute, nodding your woolly head.
Look, I have no dead Saxon to throw at you,
no knife to slice through your lingering everything.
I only have this poem, the one I am taping
to the steering wheel of page, swearing to you
I’m not lonely, that I don’t miss you at all, that
I was grateful when silence enveloped us both,
happy that if the “us” we became had to die,
at least it would be someplace beautiful.

Finally, I also gave away Mather Schneider's He Took A Cab from NYQBooks.
Schneider is a cab driver from Tucson and this collection lets you ride along through all of the literal and metaphorical side-streets that only cabbies know. I wanted to post one of my favorites from the book like "Secret Santa" or The Virtues Of Self Locomotion" (both of which were lots of fun to read to the audience, before I raffled off the book), but I try to only post poems that are already available somewhere online. Here is one of his poems that I found at Apparatus Magazine.

Driving My Taxi Home from My Mom's Funeral

A cable lies across the street
to measure the migration of the living.

It reminds me of that black snake that stretched
all the way across our gravel road

when I was a kid in Arkansas.
Mom stopped the truck and we waited

while the snake took its fine old time
sliding through the gravel. We were leaving

the farm and father and everything,
but we sat and waited for that snake

to cross in front of us, and thirty years
later it doesn't matter.

I drive right over it, accelerating:
two heartbeats followed

by a flat line
in the rear-view mirror.

One of the things that initially caught my attention about this book was that I once saw a documentary style A&E television show called The First 48 Hours and the episode (Last Fare) was about a Tucson cabbie who was killed in the middle of the night. It was so heartbreaking that I could never forget it. Especially when the detectives had to go break the news to his pregnant fiance. Years later, I ended up meeting her once because it turns out we have a mutual friend.

In an interview, Schneider pointed out that his book's title is also jazz slang for when someone dies. "He Took A Cab, man." I asked him about the title poem and he confirmed my suspicion that it was about Timothy Royce, the cabbie I saw on television, although he didn't know him personally.


  1. Great books, Shawnte. You are an excellent poem pusher.

    I love "Everything is Every Thing" by Aptowicz. She's such a great blend of snarky, snazzy and perceptive.

    p.s. My scrambled word to post this comment was "suckies" -- Do you have some sort of smart program that matches code word to comment maker??

  2. Really? Oops.

    Those scramble codes are probably just indicative of my level of productivity. I must confess that I have yet to send out anything through the post office this month. I'm all intention, no accomplish.