Saturday, November 1, 2014

Reading Poetry in Bed (With Cold Rain, Potatoes, and a Poem by Mekeel McBride)


Crimson leaves, gray day
On this day of ceaseless, cold rain, I'm ignoring the housework that needs to be done in favor of something much more important: reading poetry in bed.  

First I devoured Trespass, the debut collection from a young poet named Thomas Dooley.  Thom was my student--already a confident and promising writer--way back in the first poetry workshop I taught at Saint Joseph's University.  
The manuscript that became Trespass was chosen by Charlie Smith for the prestigious National Poetry Series, and soon Thom will be visiting us at St. Joe's, taking a victory lap, and reading his poems to our current crop of promising young writers.


Tresspass is a brave and beautiful book, and I'll say more about it here when Thom comes to visit later in November.

My other book du jour is Dog Star Delicatessen, a new and selected from Mekeel McBride, my own very first poetry professor.  

Mekeel's poems are very much like she was as an instructor--warm, playful, always on the lookout for happy accidents, able to find the poetic in unexpected places--in slips a radio announcer's tongue, in discarded produce boxes that happen to bear her grandmother's name, in boaty pink Cadillacs and the death of a pet goldfish.

And in the humble potato, be it mashed, fried, baked, or still growing silently underground:



The Truth About Why I Love Potatoes


For Sarah Apt

1.

Of everything you get for dinner
they’re the most fun to play with:
gravy lakes soaking deep into the soft white Alps
of the mashed ones; French fries good for fences
to keep your fork safe from Lima beans;
the baked ones perfect for pounding down 
into pancakes from the moon.

2.

I guess I forgot to mention how much I used to love
globbing mashed potato into a ball then hurling it
at my brother so it seemed he was the one
who had made the mess. Now grownups 
do the same thing, too, but usually not with potatoes.

3.

If a potato were able to turn into a person,
I’m almost certain it would be someone you’d like
for a friend. It could teach you to understand 
the language of animals who live underground:
worms and woodchucks, foxes and bears.
On rainy Saturday afternoons, it would take you
to funny movies. When you were feeling sad, 
it would remind you of the good things 
you’d forgotten about yourself.

4.

There might be dozens, even more, in the garden,
without you ever knowing, fat moons blooming
a secret night sky right under your feet.

5.

If I could have my wish, I’d want my poem
to be just like a potato. Not afraid of the dark.
Simple and surprising at the same time.
You’d have to dig a little to get it but then
you’d be glad you made the effort. And maybe
after you were finished, something in you
that had been hungry for a long time
wouldn’t feel so empty anymore.


***

I'll be teaching Mekeel's book soon in my current undergrad poetry workshop, and I can't wait to give my students this assignment:

Write a poem entitled "The Truth About Why I Love X" with X being something completely unexpected and generally overlooked.  



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