The Poetry Reading
By Kit-Bacon Gressitt
For John Amen and Alfred Joyce Kilmer
“When did poetry stop rhyming?” the man asked the visiting poet.
It was a sad, an angry question, a plea for succor in a world where the man’s perfectly trimmed coif and manicured nails, his gem-laden pinky ring and custom-tailored finery could not stave off age or the crashing waves of a new era, splattering his tidy life with the spindrift.
The graying woman beside him, sipping wine, the gazpacho, whatever he ordered for her, made everyone chuckle with her innocent retorts to well-worn social graces, to the poet's verse of dark mannequins posing and Jewish Ophelias, to things only she remembered, mortifying her husband to his chill bone.
He scolded her for fiddling with her napkin. Poor thing. Poor thing.
“When I was young,” he mourned, “we learned wonderful poems, poems that rhymed. Like 'Trees.’ Now that’s a beautiful poem. But today, I don’t know. This poetry, this poetry is weird.”
The responding silence — of looks askance, awkward sips of flavored coffees, the oblivious few waiting patiently for an answer — was barely broken by a whispered suggestion of excess Chardonnay gone awry.
And then the poet rescued them, “Oh, around the late nineteenth century through the 1920s — with Ezra Pound and T.S. Elliot, E.E. Cummings — poetry began to turn inward. Rhyme was replaced with intimacy.”
Lovely trees and schoolroom recitations, replaced with roiling innards shared in quaint cafés; with masturbatory imagery, rending sorrow, arching hope; with things that make well-trimmed folks blanch in horror and wonder what in God’s name is happening to the country, how the economic hurricane could prevail, how men could couple with men, how an African peacemonger could be elected to preside over landed gentry.
“The rhythm, though,” the poet soothed, “the rhythm remains. Like a song! Listen to the rhythm, the rhythm.”
Indeed, the poet did not hide behind pretty things, romantic notions, heroic meter and pattern like an eclipsed sun. No, he burst forth naked, compelling his listeners to contemplate tortured children, broken bonds, recovery, resolve — things other people simply called life.
Still, the man’s dismay seeped from the corners of his eyes. It would not be quenched with revelations of newly-beloved poets roaring through town astride freewheeling verse, rattling teacups and sensibilities. No, he wanted something else.
He yearned for her, for her to re-inhabit the body next to him. He longed for her loveliness, for her hungry mouth prest against his breast, for the intimacy of his rain dripping among her limbs.
For her, though, there was no longer rhyme or reason. Addled by tangled neurons, sticky plaque, fading familiarity, she was not always sure he was her husband.
But she could still recite “Trees.”
He wiped her mouth, applauded the next poem, then guided her out the door, a sad, an angry parting.
And the poetry continues.
By John Amen
I spend the morning looking at photographs of my dead sister, dark mannequin posing beside husbands, parents, siblings, her son—people who look like extras on a movie set— the years’ battering superimposed on her face, reminding me of Holocaust images, olive-skinned girls who died in showers at Auschwitz. Even in the photo where she wades in a nurturing Atlantic, she reminds me of some Jewish Ophelia, her moribund drama hemorrhaging into the spindrift, thick shadow snuffing a nirvanic beach.
Last night a friend told me she felt my ex-wife had not been good for me, that I had hidden behind her like an eclipsed sun, and I thought about how my own mother was a piranha who each morning at the breakfast table stripped her sons and daughter to the bones. Years later, my father would tell me he sacrificed his children to appease his wife, offered us to her as if she were some pagan goddess who needed to drink daily her own family’s blood.
We all learned to hide; it is our legacy— my sister and I, even my brother, skulking in the custody of his own rage. We grew out of childhood like houseplants in a hurricane, domestic pets abandoned in a jungle; floating out of body in public places; passing like ghosts through marriages and jobs; watching ourselves fuck spouses and greedy strangers, naked bodies move; not recognizing ourselves, honestly not knowing how we were going to survive the relentless invasions, the ambushes and slow, secret military movements,
this thing other people simply called life.
Click here to read more of John Amen’s poetry.
By Alfred Joyce Kilmer
for Mrs. Henry Mills Alden
I think that I shall never see A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day, And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain; Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me, But only God can make a tree.
Click here to read more of Alfred Joyce Kilmer’s poetry.