Bio Note: Since my Poetic License column this month discusses Keats’s notion of Negative Capability, I thought I’d offer what I believe is the only poem I’ve ever written mentioning Keats. Whitman has a cameo in the essay, too, so here is one of the many poems I’ve written featuring old Walt, my poetic grandfather. You’ll notice it steals some phrasing from Whitman. Also inspired by Ginsberg’s poem about Whitman in the supermarket.
At the annual library book sale tempers run hot and so does the room itself, deep in the basement, aisles packed with fellow bargain hunters all shoving and shouldering each other like cattle down a chute. Even the Poetry section is competitive— one guy who looks to be a used book dealer pulls volume after volume off the shelf without even opening them, filling a big cardboard box at his feet and blocking my view every time I shift to scan a shelf he hasn’t gotten to. Then he starts filling another box. We both put our hands at the same time on a selected Keats I don’t recognize, and he doesn’t even bother with Excuse me as he wrenches it out of my grip and moves on down the row. A murderous rage rises in me such as I haven’t felt since first grade, when Mrs. Kenton slapped my wrong hand hard and swept all my misspelled words off my desk to the floor. I’ll never forget her toxic perfume as she leaned over me to hiss her redundant disapproval, angry as a swan. She was indeed just like a swan— tall, haughty, and vicious—and somehow in sixty years since I haven’t been able to forgive her. It makes no sense. I’m a great speller. Love reading. And I didn’t even want the Keats.
Originally published in One 16 (September 2018)
Lament for Kmart
How I used to relish wandering those broad glossy aisles with Walt Whitman at my side! We were afoot and lighthearted under a dozen fluorescent suns, pondering options at leisure—no clerk to spot us, glide over as in smaller, hipper stores, and ask if they could help us. We didn’t want help! We liked being faceless and democratic in the stadium-size store. Oh, we gazed long and long upon teeming shelves of cheap lampshades, lawn chairs, coffeemakers, dog food, rubber boots. We grinned at T shirts in hefty sizes, work shirts unsullied by designer tags. Slowly we wheeled our wobbly cart past racks of off brand TVs, none of them plugged in as at the upscale outlets, and we paused to glimpse our images reflected in each screen we passed, no rush, just American faces leaning and loafing at our ease, in vain the speeding or shyness as we starred in one TV program after another, our show brief as a sunbeam glinting on a passing windshield.
©2021 David Graham
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