a kiss is just a kiss, or is it?

 

When is a kiss more than just a kiss?

Read for yourself.

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GATE C22
by Ellen Bass

At gate C22 in the Portland airport
a man in a broad-band leather hat kissed
a woman arriving from Orange County.
They kissed and kissed and kissed. Long after
the other passengers clicked the handles of their carry-ons
and wheeled briskly toward short-term parking,
the couple stood there, arms wrapped around each other
like he’d just staggered off the boat at Ellis Island,
like she’d been released at last from ICU, snapped
out of a coma, survived bone cancer, made it down
from Annapurna in only the clothes she was wearing.

Neither of them was young. His beard was gray.
She carried a few extra pounds you could imagine
her saying she had to lose. But they kissed lavish
kisses like the ocean in the early morning,
the way it gathers and swells, sucking
each rock under, swallowing it
again and again. We were all watching —
passengers waiting for the delayed flight
to San Jose, the stewardesses, the pilots,
the aproned woman icing Cinnabons, the man selling
sunglasses. We couldn’t look away. We could
taste the kisses crushed in our mouths.

But the best part was his face. When he drew back
and looked at her, his smile soft with wonder, almost
as though he were a mother still open from giving birth,
as your mother must have looked at you, no matter
what happened after — if she beat you or left you or
you’re lonely now — you once lay there, the vernix
not yet wiped off, and someone gazed at you
as if you were the first sunrise seen from the Earth.
The whole wing of the airport hushed,
all of us trying to slip into that woman’s middle-aged body,
her plaid Bermuda shorts, sleeveless blouse, glasses,
little gold hoop earrings, tilting our heads up.

~ from A Constellation of Kisses, edited by Diane Lockward (Terrapin Books, 2019)

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quite a feast: jeff friedman’s “poem for ross gay”

 

Don’t you love it when a poem takes you by surprise? If you’re really lucky, it might even take you to a whole new world.

 

 

POEM FOR ROSS GAY
by Jeff Friedman

In the time it took me
to cut four Athena melons
Ross ate them.
Then he ate the entire container
of Mediterranean hummus
on a loaf of organic
sprouted spelt bread.
To distract him from his hunger,
I brought in
Larry Levis’s book Elegy,
and he said his favorite poem
was the one about the cook
growing lost in his village —
whatever that means.
He flipped through the pages
and read the poem aloud.
“That’s a great poem,” he said.
He stretched out his long legs
and arms and smiled.
Then he ate the book, too.
But he wouldn’t eat
the chocolate chip cookies
or the King Arthur chocolate
onyx wafers because his body
is a temple. Nor would he eat
the balsamic chicken, though
he scrambled all the eggs
over peppers and onions
and polished them off.
“Stay out of the kitchen,”
I ordered, “the fridge is empty.”
“Let’s do kettle bells,” he replied
and pulled out a twenty-five pound
iron ball with a handgrip.
When did you escape
from the chain gang, I asked.
He began swinging it
from between his legs up
over his head faster
and faster until he let it go.
The ball cracked open
the cathedral ceiling,
flying into the sky
like a bomb in reverse.
Tree branches fell.
Glass shattered. The phoebes
cleared out of town quick.
The kettle bell exploded
in a cloud, pieces
of gold nougat and caramel
falling on our table.
Then Ross ate the sun
and pretty soon, he was glowing.

~ from Working in Flour (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2011).

 

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What do you make of this poem?

Friedman had me at the opening lines. When someone eats four melons, I’m all in. I smiled at the hummus and spelt bread, delighted to know this voracious eater was also hungry for poetry.

When Ross ate the book (oh!), I happily stepped into Friedman’s world of altered reality. Curious and appreciative of his humor, I was game for anything from then on (yeah, my body is a temple too, but I wouldn’t turn down a chocolate chip cookie).

 

“Cantaloupe Slices” by Susan Clare”

 

As the narrative, fable, fantasy, tall tale (or whatever else you wish to call it) unfolded, I liked the sense of not knowing what would come next. It’s a good poet who can make you suspend disbelief and whet your appetite at the same time. 🙂

I didn’t know those weighted iron balls with the handles were called kettle bells. I also didn’t know Athena melons are actually cantaloupes. But I do know that the final image of the kettle bell shattering the ceiling, flying up into the sky and exploding in a cloud was one of those Emily Dickinson moments:

If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.

Pieces of gold nougat and caramel falling on our table. Then Ross ate the sun and pretty soon, he was glowing.

Wow.

Didn’t see that coming at all. Loved the feeling of wonder, exhilaration, breaking free, imagination unleashed. Words can take us anywhere and whatever we consume gives us power.

The poem starts out in a matter of fact tone, grounded in reality. It slowly builds as the reader is transported.

 

Ross is the tall one in the brown shirt.

 

I found this poem in Friedman’s book Working in Flour, after reading his interview with Annelies Zijderveld, a.k.a. The Food Poet. I was doubly rewarded, as I wasn’t familiar before with poet and Indiana Professor Ross Gay, whose Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude won the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award.

Apparently Gay is a founding board member of the Bloomington Community Orchard, a non-profit, free-fruit-for-all food justice and joy project. And he does work out with kettle bells. That explains it.

I also liked the round orb metaphor — melon to kettle bell to sun — each packed with its own brand of energy. Maybe Friedman was trying to say, “you are what you eat.” 🙂

What’s your biggest take away from the poem? All I know is cantaloupes will never be the same . . .

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Jeff Friedman has published six poetry collections, five with Carnegie Mellon University Press, including Pretenders (2014), Working in Flour (2011) and Black Threads (2008). His poems, mini stories and translations have appeared in American Poetry Review, Poetry, New England Review, The Antioch Review, Poetry International, Hotel Amerika, Flash Fiction Funny, Plume, Agni Online, The New Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish Poets, Smokelong Quarterly, and The New Republic and many other literary magazines.

He has won numerous awards, including a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Translation Fellowship, and two individual artist grants from the New Hampshire State Arts Council. Dzvinia Orlowsky’s and his translation of Memorials by Polish Poet Mieczslaw Jastrun was published by Lavender Ink/Dialogos in August 2014. He also collaborated with Nati Zohar on a book of translations of Israeli poets: Two Gardens: Modern Hebrew Poems of the Bible, published by Singing Bone Press in 2016. Friedman’s seventh book, Floating Tales—a collection of prose poems, fables and mini tales—is forthcoming from Plume Editions/MadHat Press in fall 2017.

Jeff Friedman lives in West Lebanon, New Hampshire with artist Colleen Randall and their dog Ruby.

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The beautiful and infinitely talented Tanita S. Davis is hosting the Roundup at fiction (instead of lies).Tippy toe over to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week. Happy December!

 


Copyright © 2019 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

[author chat + recipe] Around the Table That Grandad Built by Melanie Heuiser Hill and Jaime Kim

 

This week most of us will be gathering with family and friends for some serious feasting. We’ll travel from points near and far, bringing homemade dishes, stories to tell, and lots of good cheer.

As we take our places around the table, we can express gratitude for our many blessings, strengthen bonds, forge new connections, and enthusiastically lick our chops. 🙂

We’re especially delighted to welcome Minnesota author Melanie Heuiser Hill to Alphabet Soup today, as her debut picture book celebrates all the joyful deliciousness that comes with sharing a good meal with loved ones.

Around the Table That Grandad Built (Candlewick, 2019) is Melanie’s delectable take on the classic cumulative tale, “This is the House That Jack Built.”  A young girl first describes how her family sets the table with items that have special significance: “sunflowers picked by my cousins,” “napkins sewn by Mom,” “glasses from Mom and Dad’s wedding,” “forks and spoons and knives — gifts from Dad’s grandma long ago.”

 

 

And then (my favorite part!) she describes the mouthwatering menu:

This is the squash that took over our garden.
These are the potatoes and peppers we roasted.
And these are the beans, overflowing the bowl!

Yum! And there’s more — foods to reflect the diversity of her family, including “toasty tamales” and “samosas, spicy and hot.” This is all topped off with Gran’s homemade bread, Dad’s huckleberry jam, their traditional rice pudding, and lots of P-I-E-S!! 🙂

 

 

Jaime Kim’s exuberant mixed media illustrations, rendered in warm and cheery autumnal colors, burst with all the busyness and excitement of pitching in for a special feast.

Each step of the way, as Grandad’s handcrafted table is lovingly adorned by little hands laying on all the objects, ending with plates “red, orange, and yellow,” we can feel the wide-eyed, open-mouthed anticipation building.

By the time we see the finished table in all its glory, we share in the characters’ satisfaction of a job well done, where each has played a significant role. Build a table, build a meal, build a family.

Though this book is perfect for the holiday season, it speaks to any festive gathering of family and friends, where togetherness and convivialty reign supreme. Hungry munchkins will enjoy this lively read aloud as they identify and count objects, recognize colors, observe facial expressions, and pick out interesting details in all the pictures.

Now, let’s find out more from Melanie — can you smell her homemade bread baking in the oven? Mmmmm. 🙂

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a childhood thanksgiving memory: “américa” by richard blanco

“The Cup of Coffee” by Cuban artist Lorenzo Romero Arciaga (1940)

 

When Presidential Inaugural Poet, author and civil engineer Richard Blanco was growing up in Miami with his Cuban-exile family during the early 70’s, he longed to be a “true American” like one of the kids in “The Brady Bunch.”

He describes it as living between two imagined worlds:

One world was the 1950s and ’60s Cuba of my parents and grandparents — that paradise, that homeland so near and yet so foreign to where we might return any day, according to my parents. A homeland that I had never seen . . .

The other, less obvious world was America . . . Typical of a child, I contextualized America through food, commercials, G-rated versions of our history in textbooks and television shows, especially The Brady Bunch. More than a fiction or fantasy, I truly believed that, just north of the Miami-Dade County line, every house was like the Brady house, and every family was like them.

Much of Blanco’s poetry centers around his search for cultural identity. Over and over, he asks the questions, “Where is my home? Where am I from? Where do I belong?”

When he was a graduate student at Florida International University, he wrote the following poem, inspired by a childhood memory of wanting an “authentic” Thanksgiving meal.

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“November Eyes” from Richard Blanco’s How to Love a Country

 

Do you remember how you felt right after the 2016 Presidential election? How the world as you knew it suddenly upended? I was devastated and filled with such dread — but I never imagined it could get this bad.

In this powerful poem, Presidential Inaugural Poet Richard Blanco describes our new reality in painful detail.

 

“Small Town Diner” by Layne Cook

 

NOVEMBER EYES
by Richard Blanco

I question everyone, everything, even the sun
as I drive east down Main Street — radio off–
to Amy’s diner. She bobby-pins her hair, smiles
her usual good mornin’ but her eyes askew say
something like: You believe this? as she wipes
the counter, tosses aside the Journal Times
the election headlines as bitter as the coffee
she pours for me without a blink. After a cup
and a blueberry muffin I remember my bills
are due by the fifteenth — so I cross on Main
to the post office. Those American flag stamps
are all Debbie has left. I refuse to buy them:
a never mind in my eyes which she dismisses
with a gesture of suit yourself. Bills can wait,
but not my dog’s treats or the milk I’m out of
— so I drive up Main again to the Food Basket.
Paper or plastic, Jan asks me at the checkout,
but it doesn’t matter. What matters is this:
she’s been to my bar-b-ques, I’ve donated
to her son’s football league, we’ve shoveled
each other’s driveways, we send each other
Christmas cards. She knows I’m Latino and
gay. Yet suddenly I don’t know who she is
as I read the button on her polyester vest:
Trump: Make America Great Again, meaning
she doesn’t really know me either. We manage
smiles when she hands me my change, but
our locked eyes say: nothing — so I dash off —
go see Tom at the bank to cash a measly check
from some grand magazine for some grand
poem of mine loaded with some grand words
like transcend, as if my inked verbs could bend
a river’s will, shuffle stars, change the fate of
our nation, or the blur in Tom’s eyes thinking
what I think of our reflection on the bullet-
proof window, asking: So now what, Mr. Poet?
I can’t answer. I can only remember today
I’m supposed to buy a rake, lightbulbs, nails
to hang my aging mother’s photos — so I swing
by Union Hardware, see Dan who knows me,
and what I need. He rings me up, doesn’t say
Goodbye, says Good luck, as if his eyes can see
the uncertainty in my own, worried about:
my immigrant cousin, factory jobs, groped
women, hijabs, blacklists, bans, the church,
the deep state, cops, race, and which lives
matter, hacked votes, refugee camps, dead
children, missiles, suicide bombers, carbon
footprints, polar bears, sunk islands, my gay
marriage, the bills for my preexisting ulcer
flaring, guns at malls, guns at schools, guns
at clubs, more guns, more corporate rights,
soulless cubicles, the empty Supreme Court
seats, the border wall, bullying, the demise
of language, news, the silence of suspicion,
the uneasy guessing, the surprise of who’s
who, the cheers and gloating, or jeers and
swearing, the final picking of sides, right or
left, red or blue state, city, or town, but no
grey today except for the November clouds
looming over Main Street with all the rest
of our unrest, arrested in our eyes clashing
against each other’s glares, ready for battle.

~ from How to Love a Country (Beacon Press, 2019)

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