Those of you who have been reading this blog for awhile know about my passion for libraries, how I like to have a card for any library I pass so I can go in and get a book.
The only card I pay for is my UC Berkeley library card, and going there is a bit of an expedition, involving finding a parking space, at least a 10-minute walk, and usually a specific quest for a book I can’t get elsewhere. So it’s a disappointment when the book I’ve carefully looked up online and gone to get isn’t available, which happened a few weeks ago when the main library stacks were closed due to a power failure, which was itself due to an explosion caused by the theft of copper wire from a University power plant, a whole other story–one for someone else to write.
All of which is a preamble to explain why I wandered the undergraduate library for consolation, and came home with a book called The Best American Erotic Poems from 1800 to the Present, edited by David Lehman. The poems are arranged by the poets’ year of birth, and I find it depressing that people very much younger than I can write so well. In some moods, of course, I find it encouraging, but rarely.
Today’s poem from that collection is by Beth Ann Fennelly, who is the age of my second-oldest daughter and someone I’ll be looking for the next time I go to UC Library (the “Norton’s” she refers to in the first line is that doorstop, the Norton Anthology of American Poetry). If I like what I get from the library, I’ll even buy one of her books–like moving from dating to marriage.
Why We Shouldn’t Write Love Poems or If
We Must, Why We Shouldn’t Publish Them
How silly Robert Lowell seems in Norton’s,
all his love vows on facing pages: his second wife,
who simmered like a wasp, his third,
the dolphin who saved him, even “Skunk Hour”
for Miss Bishop (he proposed though she was gay),
and so on, a ten-page manic zoo of love,
he should have praised less and bought a dog.
We fall in love, we fumble for a pen,
we send our poems out like Jehovah’s Witnesses–
in time they return home, and when they do
they find the locks changed, FOR SALE stabbed in the yard.
Oh, aren’t the poems stupid and devout,
trying each key in their pockets in plain view
of the neighbors, some of whom openly gloat.
We should write about what we know
won’t change, volleyball, Styrofoam, or mildew.
If I want to write about our picnic in Alabama,
I should discuss the red-clay earth or fire ants,
not what happened when we sat cross-legged there
leaning over your surprise for me, crawfish you’d boiled with–
surprise again–three times too much crab boil–
Oh, how we thumbed apart the perforated joints
and scooped the white flesh from the red parings,
blowing on our wet hands between bites
because they burned like stars. Afterward,
in the public park, in hot sun, on red clay, inside my funnel
of thighs and skirt, your spicy, burning fingers shucked
the shell of my panties, then found my sweet meat
and strummed it, until it too was burning, burning, burning–
Ah, poem, I am weak from love, and you,
you are sneaky. Do not return home to shame me.
Beth Ann Fennelly
For those of you who don’t have a library with a good poetry selection and want to read more, you can hear her read here.