Jill McDonough needs a thicker skin and a perkier attitude, as she seems way too concerned with the fact that men like breasts, and worse, seem are going to remain men after all the social revolutions that have wasted our time in the last five decades. "Breasts Like Martinis", the current selection in Slate, would have us believe the girls are going along with the joke in an sexist terrain and manage to best the best efforts of the men who seek to demean them, but it all seems like a set up. A network TV drama couldn't be more black and white; someone is right, women, and someone is wrong, men. This is a fill-in-the-blanks formulation.I wonder why she and her partner were in that bar to begin with, and why didn't just leave the place which was giving them the creeps? McDonough remained and just leaned into the punch she saw coming, and goes home with her girlfriend to write a poem about the thin layers of her issues with men and their fascination/obsession with women's mammaries. There's nothing "tits up" about this poem.
When Mother diedI thought: now I’ll have a death poem.That was unforgivable.Yet I’ve since forgiven myselfas sons are able to dowho’ve been loved by their mothers.I stared into the coffinknowing how long she’d live,how many lifetimes there arein the sweet revisions of memory.It’s hard to know exactlyhow we ease ourselves back from sadness,but I remembered when I was twelve,1951, before the worldunbuttoned its blouse.I had asked my mother (I was trembling)if I could see her breastsand she took me into her roomwithout embarrassment or coynessand I stared at them,afraid to ask for more.Now, years later, someone tells meCancers who’ve never had mother loveare doomed and I, a Cancerfeel blessed again. What luckto have had a motherwho showed me her breastswhen girls my age were developingtheir separate countries,what luckshe didn’t doom mewith too much or too little.Had I asked to touch,perhaps to suck themwhat would she have done?Mother, dead womanwho I think permits meto love women easilythis poemis dedicated to wherewe stopped, to the incompletenessthat was sufficientand to how you buttoned up,began doing the routine thingsaround the house.
Stephen Dunn swings for the fence with his poems, and when he connects, the crack of the bat is loud and the ball is lost to the suburban trenches. What I enjoy about this poem, "And So", is Dunn's clarity and the ease in which this sequence of images, with the tone modulating ever so from point to point. It's a poem about nothing in particular and things in general, about the things that come into the narrator's field of vision and the memories that are sparked after his failed phone call and his resulting walk through the town he lives in. I especially liked the Nina Simone citation, since one of my absent-minded habits is to start thinking of or even hum a sung a phrase someone else had said had inspired; it's like a private intermission from the affairs of the day. This is a record, also, of the narrator's own thinking, thinking, in this sense, being not an interior essay one fashions as if preparing for debate, but impressions of what's seen conveyed in broad strokes, sketches of the real-world one is lost in. Less argumentative than reflective, with the reflection being refreshingly profound yet elegantly modest, it is a poem of someone starting a point of the day in a casual funk who comes to realize that the world in miniature, his suburban (or exurban) locale, is abuzz with others wrapped in their chores, their jobs, their hobbies lest they think too much on the emptiness around them and drive themselves desperately crazy.
And so you call your best friend
who's away, just to hear his voice,
but forget his recording concludes
with "Have a nice day."
"Thank you, but I have other plans,"
you're always tempted to respond,
as an old lady once did, the clerk
in the liquor store unable to laugh.
Always tempted, what a sad
combination of words. And so
you take a walk into the neighborhood,
where the rhododendrons are out
and also some yellowy things
and the lilacs remind you of a song
by Nina Simone. "Where's my love?"
is its refrain. Up near Gravel Hill
two fidgety deer cross the road,
white tails, exactly where
the week before a red fox
made a more confident dash.
Now and then the world rewards,
and so you make your way back
past the careful lawns, the drowsy backyards,
knowing the soul on its own
is helpless, asleep in the hollows
of its rigging, waiting to be stirred.
This reads effortlessly, and it's an easy mistake to assume it came to him effortlessly .It has the breezy informality of what Ted Berrigan could do with this remarkable faux sonnets. It's hard thing to pull off , the moment-to-moment progress of someone moving and thinking as they move about a community they know, and even Berrigan was, much of the time, a little too much off beat personality, too little genuine poetry. Dunn is a bit more formal than Berrigan (whose charm lies in his shambling verse), and that bit of reserve brings us a sharper focus as his gaze and thoughts engage. It's a swift stream .