Places, everyone, places!
In May, I set myself the challenge of writing about place. While I have, somehow, managed to publish two poems about Washington, DC, I very rarely—as in never—take on place as a topic. Details of place may figure strongly in a poem—“Jumping at the Green Mill” or “528 Shepherd Street, Night” (one of the DC poems), for example—but the subject’s poem is generally something else (although I suppose you could say the same about most poems.) What I was after with this assignment was purposefully trying to capture the sense of a particular place. I should add that probably the most frustrating part of this challenge was restricting myself to a certain subject. But like all good restrictions, it forced me to be inventive, and I was happy to find myself playing with form and narrative in different ways. I haven’t quite made up my mind if I’d term any of this month’s experiments a “success,” but I thought I’d share three drafts nonetheless.
“At the Writing Desk”
There is the invisible and the invisible. For example, the father who is here and the father who isn’t. Consider the things on my table: a red and white mug, a blank notebook that cost too much, a stack of business cards with no faces. Do they belong to the daughter of the visible father or the daughter of the invisible father? Which father has caused this particular arrangement of pictures on the wall—the cowboy, the mismatched column of doorbells, the peonies caught not in full bloom, but in full wilt. One father can read the sound of his daughter’s fingers against her keyboard like tea leaves. He wonders: is this my invisible daughter or the daughter I’d forgotten went missing?
“Still Life with Footnote”
Clutter of plants, tall and leafy, squat and bare-limbed, window-framed against the expanse of yard treed with apples and cherries. The untilled earth waiting. Bored or excited. The throaty throttle of the food processor masticating almonds into milk. The bread foreign and familiar to brown girls from certain southern countries. The living room leaks cricket and the Country music station nobody put on. Plastic table cloths are all alike; each ugly plastic tablecloth is ugly in its own way. Hard cheese and a mango and 20 boxes of pretty teas. And no peanuts at lunch or dinner, not anymore. And not another egg, no thank you. Hot pepper and a slick of oil, the stove with its permanent hiss. Sometimes the chatter of ice cubes, sometimes the clink of bottles, the weep of liquor into a glass. And yes, the calendar: does it matter the year?1
1. Here is the cancerous father. Here is his back once wing-cracked now so weary he wilts on to the table’s plastic like the yellow tulips at week’s end. Here is my father with his head in his hands at the table I have known since I was not yet 20. Here is my father hiding in plain sight? Oh Daddy, where have you gone?
“Here is the Place Where No One Is”
Here is the place where no one is. The photographs unhung are of clouds and grass. It is clear the photographer has never seen clouds and grass. And what of the table that isn’t there? Or the three chairs? Is the extra person left out, or is the extra person included? Absent too the wine, the glass, the first prick of alcohol on the tongue. Absent too that sense of absence, that crucial task undone, that right word unspoken. There is not even the memory to be stored away and then forgotten and then almost remembered on that spring morning that never comes, the one where the clouds are grey and syrupy, and the grass grows out loud. The answer, of course, is to invite someone. It is the answer, yes, but maybe not the right one.