First of all, I'd like to make a wee clarification. I recently discovered that my husband was discussing with the wonderful Peter Sears, bless their little hearts, all of my faults as a poet. Apparently they agree that I am too careless when it comes to letting others see my work; I don't let things simmer long enough.
Well, while it was heartening to hear that Tom discussed these things at all, I automatically became defensive. (This story has no moral. I'm still defensive.) No, I don't keep work to myself often. I obey basic copyright limitations when I'm published, but other than that, I'm usually more than happy to hand poems out and wait for a quickie critique. Not that I need to know. Not that I need assurance. But I do truly enjoy hearing other people react to my work. (Don't we all? Most writers--yes, only most--write to be read.) It keeps me thinking. And it makes my engine run. My poems aren't really few and far between, so I guess I'm not as protective as Tom and Peter think I ought to be.
That being said, I wanted to clarify that this blog is a posting of rough drafts on purpose. I put poems up, typically, within 24 hours of writing them. Sometimes they change drastically with time. (Once it's written, people, it's simmering, all right? We all exist in time, so technically everything I do is simmering.) Sometimes only mechanics change. And, sometimes, I abandon them in my computer files once I see that they aren't the effective ideas I thought they were.
This poem was composed last night. And we'll see in a week or so whether I like it!
WHAT’S SPECIAL ABOUT MILK
Say I meet the woman who runs the chocolate shop
out on the edge of the York countryside.
Say I ask her to tell me the recipe for a certain truffle
and she knows exactly how its liquor center is made
because the man who brought the rum from the belly of the barge
whose name is Patrick used to be her lover.
Say mentioning rum reminds her how she used to fall asleep
in Patrick’s arms down in the cellar while he told her stories
about Jamaican sunsets and suddenly she’s blushing
because her words are red as raspberries and she waves her left hand
like she’s swatting a familiar, beautiful bug away
and tells me certain truffles, like rum delivery men, just come to be.
Say she tells me this old brick building
used to be a hat shop and I can call her Hattie if I want.
Say my right hand is resting on a chilled glass case then
and I rub with my thumb the old bronze latch there,
straighten my spine, and introduce myself as Eliza Doolittle
because I know it doesn’t matter who I am here
and hats make me think it might have been fun to see the horse races
with a big bowl of birds and tulle and ribbon
pinned to the top of my head like Audrey Hepburn.
Say the chocolate shop woman isn’t thinking of hats at all
but of the building, the bricks, the waxy banister that swirls down
the staircase behind the giant silver mixer, down to the cellar
she used to sleep in so often, where the great refrigerator stands
over a cool concrete floor smooth as a bone.
Say it gets her thinking about those terrible French women
who make a big deal about chocolate among other things like sailors and rum
when all a true truffle maker needs to know is well-tempered milk.
Say she starts chanting m-i-l-k, milk, milk, milk, under her breath
right there behind the counter like she’s found an old rhythm
and she’s about to jump rope around it.
Say she nearly forgets I am there but because I ask
what’s so special about milk, she comes down
from her chocolate Jamaican heaven full of raspberries and Patrick
like a woman in a bottle being poured out in a white river,
and say she gets so sad waking up that fast she imagines
I am crying too and tells me, well, Miss Doolittle,
the angrier the cow the spicier the milk and the quicker
the chocolate is lost to an early curdle, and women like us
with our watering eyes couldn’t handle another loss like that.