NOTES ON READING FROM THE AUTHOR:
These two poems share a common interest in the sensuality and responsibility of attentive language; both were inspired by spoken phrases.
“Know You From Adam” spun out of my fascination with that idiom – my sense, hearing it in casual conversation, that while of course the proverbial first man is as unknown to us as the most mysterious of strangers, somehow, imaginatively – shouldn’t we recognize him? Oughtn’t there be something about him that would give him away? The same, of course, with names: isn’t there some inherent knowing in names, a deep recognition, and a great power in bestowing them? The poem imagines the unknowingness of parents waiting to greet their first child, as strange to them as Adam, but for whom they will become the gods of language, the giver of names, as Adam was, and also word, meaning, the shape and sound of all that could be.
“Maybe I Should Eat That” emerged as a promise to a group of brilliant women. I am wildly fortunate to have had my first book, Sweet Husk, published by Perugia Press, and last November I traveled to Massachusetts to read at the Smith Poetry Center as part of a celebration for Perugia’s 20th Anniversary. There, poet Lisa Ortiz told the story of having seen a snipped-from-the-paper poem on her kitchen table and feeling that she should have eaten it. (I think of Li-Young Lee’s “From Blossoms” – “O, to take what we love inside, to carry within us an orchard, to eat not only the skin, but the shade, not only the sugar, but the days.”) The thought of consuming, bringing into the body, a beautiful poem, stuck with me, and I told Lisa, along with other Perugia poets who were in the room that day (and who said such gleaming things as “Attention is the mother of kindness”) that I would write this poem.
WHERE’S YOUR FAVORITE AND/OR STRANGEST PLACE TO WRITE?
My gmail inbox at work. This practice began right after I graduated from college, when I spent about nine months working as an “Archaeological Analyst” for the University of Virginia – for the most part a glorified data-entry gig. For eight hours a day, I entered written information from the late 19th century excavations of Chaco Canyon by George Pepper and Richard Wetherill into an online database: this room in Pueblo Bonito had walls this high, with this many vigas and latillas, with this many stones, with a doorway whose jamb measured this many inches. Chaco is an astonishing place, no doubt, but this work was not, and I needed an outlet. I’m also not a writer who sits and mines my creative coffers for hours. I write in fits and starts and lightning strike, so I’d keep my gmail draft box open and scribble in it when my eyes started to cross and my brain wandered the empty rooms. That job was a decade ago, but the inbox-drafting I still do regularly.
Know You From Adam
A blessing for J. & E., awaiting the birth of their first child
Charming, conjurous, but never an expression
I set stock in. Couldn’t I spot him
in a crowd, after all? The autumnally red
hair with its perpetual cargo of twig & leaf,
the tawny skin, his shirtsleeves rolled high
& his twill pants tucked up around his ankles
like a bicyclist. His eyes would have a far-off
look. He’d speak soft, with the confidence
of one long accustomed to gazing into the sub-
terranean sense of things, & summoning the word.
But thinking of you in these slow days
before the birth, my wish for you
is that the old adage ring true, & the babe
not know you from Adam. That borne
through the little yard in Pittsburgh
as you point to raspberries & kale, to the fall’s
last lavender sprigs & the changing oak leaves
lining the street, to him you will be the right, pure
giver of all appellation, & the child himself
like the rivers of that city, Alleghany, Ohio,
Monongahela, braiding their ancient tendons
under bridges of steel, carrying over
all they touch, through darkness, against stone,
dam & drought, the gasping weight of a name.
MAYBE I SHOULD EAT THAT
for Lisa Allen Ortiz
she thinks, upon seeing the poem
she had already noticed that now
her daughter has cut from the pages
of The New Yorker & left on the kitchen
table like an offering of thin bread, rice
paper, lemon rind, dried curd, its text
shavings of clove curling, about birds
clustering on humming wires, what they
know, & don't, like these starlings
in my apple tree clattering the twilight.
Maybe I should eat that, she thinks,
but not like in the tale of Witter Bynner
spooning DH Lawrence's ashes into his
morning cuppa—no, like grapefruit, woodsmoke,
lilac, like leaning in to listen, the way jealousy
of a fine poem is delicious, lavender
on the wrist, the mint in my mother's field
that would sprawl forth its scent when hoof
& warm hide stirred through it on the way
to maw grass, passed twice through the belly.
Maybe I should eat that, she thinks,
the way handling wool is satiating
like a slow chew, the work of our muscles
in our own cupped ears, the deep moving
muscle of the world, maybe I should eat
that, maybe taste is the tuner of attention,
attention the mother of kindness, the tongue's
attention cultivating as a garden the frolicking
flora & fauna in the tender cage, the glittering,
set table of our gut around which we gather.