Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Finding a New Little Mag to Love And in it A Poem that Startles
Okay, so I was sitting on the beach. It was nearly high tide and I'd moved my crumped out daughter twice to higher ground, beach blanket and all. I was wondering if I might have to move her/us again, if the blanket would suddenly be drenched. All the while I had my little Burnside Review beside me (it's so cute and tiny; it's like a little hymnal. I imagine people thinking I am pulling out a bunch of church songs from my satchel).
The tide stopped rising when it got to within two feet of our blanket. My daughter continued to lie there, not one peep, no discussion of how her corn chips were singing, nary a demand.
Meanwhile, my son was spending the afternoon building dams and "taunting the waves." Building dams had to do with a stream that ran into the sea, and making that stream run faster or slower, depending on what he did with the sand and rocks all around him. "Taunting the waves" entailed jumping up on a rock to face the surf, stretching his arms over his head, and sticking his tongue out as far as it would go. Then he'd dance around a little, then jump down, then up on a rock and repeat.
Meanwhile, I'm in a state of major euphoria because (1) I'm with both of my kids and actually able to read and (2) not only am I reading, but the reading is good and keeps getting better, is the kind of reading that reminds me of being really hungry and eating something that tastes really good--that kind of pleasure where you hardly even know what you're eating, it's just pure in-the-moment bliss, and you're not even thinking--you're entire being is at one with the chewing and the swallowing and the hunger that's starting to go away but still there's plenty of room in your belly to keep right on going . . .
If you're anything like me, you read lots of poetry. Most of it is pretty good to great, some of it you just don't get, etc., etc., but once in a while you come across a poem that startles you. As always, it's unexpected. You didn't expect to feel this excitement and amazement sitting on the beach surrounded by preschoolers running by with pails and splashing wet sand on your blanket and singing a few bars from Soundgarden's Black Hole Sun. To suddenly feel like the person who wrote what you're reading is sitting there beside you, whispering his/her poem in your ear.
You have to read a lot of good and great and not so good poems to have one of these moments. Again with the food analogy, it might be the equivalent of a foodie who, after trying out a dozen or more really bad Pho restaurants, lands on a little hole-in-the-wall that really knows how to boil its bones.
I didn't know much about the Burnside Review until a few weeks ago when I decided to enter their chapbook contest (sorry, but you just missed the deadline), but now that I do I'm a devoted fan. The current issue has not one bad poem in it. Contributors include Larissa Szporluk (3, plus a wonderful interview wherein she discusses pig books and Pinocchio, among other things), Ben Lerner, Paul Guest, and Dick Allen. There's a wonderful story called Hawkeyes by Leslie Jamison wherein a tornado touches down on a sorority; I mean, I was really enjoying myself.
And then, unexpectedly, a poem by Andrew Michael Roberts . . .
God Forgets. He leaves the iron on and your beautiful city
burns to the ground. God touches you and you are it.
Alone in a Desert of Ash is a difficult game to win. Home
base is flame and smoke. Once God said Hunger. Once
he said Fuck, and how could we tell him
we'd figured it out on our own.
I'm waiting, God, for a watermelon. Say pomegranate.
Say city, say rib. An armadillo to sniff at my feel. It's
Armor and nothing else. Let's lift it like a mirror.
Put it to my ear like a shell. God puts the ocean
in an armadillo shell. It rattles of whalebones. I remember
water, but all the cacti are black. All the sand
is water beneath the ash, a calm buried sea.
God descends the sky like a spider. I can feel it.
He is everywhere, twiddling his thumbs.
I think he's waiting for me.
Who is this Roberts guy? I look in the contrib notes and learn he lives in Seattle. That Tarpaulin Sky Press has just published his Give Up.
Andrew Michael Roberts: are you out there? Have you Googled yourself lately? Better yet, are you signed up for Google Alerts? You need to comment on this poem of yours. My guess is that your influences are James Tate, Charles Simic, and T.S. Eliot, but am I very far off? Also, I wanted to thank you for making my already good day even better, for giving me one of those moments where I'm, rooting for both the poem and the poet, really hoping the expectation of the first line holds up all the way through to the end (and you did not let me down).
I never wanted to leave that beach, but a clap of thunder and we were out of there. But my little hymnal is here beside me, all safe and dry and thoroughly miraculous.