Sunday, May 08, 2005

It's Sunday, May 8... you know where your mother is? I'm about to head home from campus and give my strong, amazing, funny, courageous, and sweet-souled mother a call.

I owe somebody else a call, too, who is going to be a mother for the first time in just a few months. My friend Amanda is going to have the luckiest little son or daughter, who, if genetics are worth anything, will hopefully inherit her sublime sense of humor, her automatic way of seeing right to the heart of something, and—even if she sometimes experiences this as a frustration—her incredible ability to become passionate and interested in an endless series of subjects, crafts, people, places, books, ideas, whatever.

I'm also thinking about Amanda today because Mother's Day is the traditional occasion when Cornell's graduating M.F.A. recipients in Poetry and Fiction read their work for the public. (That's where I'm heading home from now.) Amanda brought the house down four years ago when she was on the docket, and though she is liable to deny it, she's as good a poet as any you've ever read. She knows how much I always liked this one, as did The Cortland Review. (You can hear her reading it if you click on the link):

Sonnet While Killing a Chicken
The most important thing a girl can learn
is how to kill a chicken for a meal
to please a man, so she begins to turn
the bird by neck and bound feet—this skill real,
precise, my mother wringing damp bath towels
and snapping them on our rumps like the neck
snaps in the hand, wings sputtering, bowels
release shit. The bird, its broken neck thick
with draining blood, is lowered to a tub
and bathed in scalding water. Feathers pulled
like flowers from roots. Feet sliced off. Wings nubbed
like a girl's new-formed breasts. Tender meat culled.
The chicken flat on its dead back. The knife
just above its neck. The girl. The first slice.

And here's one more, since you can't ever read just one poem, especially by Amanda. For anyone who's ever let fly with a surprising outburst or an imperfectly timed remark, I think you might feel this one, which comes care of The Salt River Review. (Note: I have certainly never made an uncouth or ungenerous remark, just so that's clear.)

I Keep a Small Fool
I keep a small fool in my mouth.
In public, my tongue moves in and out
like a depressor, the fool bobbing
on the end, a cuckoo
chiming the hour with words.

The food I lay to my lips is to appease him,
the way, in some cultures,
people leave apples or water for spirits.
The fool will have nothing of it-
not the round, bitter cask of orange,
not the quick sizzle of frying meat.

I used to think enough whiskey
might drown him, but he knows
to plug his nose, float against my teeth,
wait until I wag him out
like a child's chewed-up food

and he speaks and he sounds just like me
and I sit back and listen,

Someday I might put razor blades in my salad,
a tart sprinkle of arsenic over toothpaste,
knock him over with a bunch of big vitamins
and swallow him like a pill.
Someday I'll just chew that fool up
and pick his fibers from my teeth.

Talk to you soon, Manders, and Mom, too. Hope everyone's enjoying the sunny day.

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