September 10, 2009

Max’s Musings

maxBy Max Molleston

My poetry library is now reconstituted reality in Coralville. About five feet in height with six shelves, it contains contributions of Bettendorf resident Dick Mackin, a condo owner like myself. Mackin, a friend for years, knew I was involved with poetry, liked to read to broaden my knowledge of poets and could write a poem. He has gifted me with seventy percent of the library. He took nothing for it, saying he’d just moved from garage sale to sale, with an eye for a book of poems. Some of them were printed first a century ago. I have pushed one or two of those into this column, like Rudyard Kipling’s work and some others from the 1880s, and recognized female rhymers and romantics of their time. The book case is topped with a nicely-lettered DICK MACKIN LIBRARY in paper, not metal, but serious.

I have waited a few years to get our poet shaped into this August column. I would have the volume around, reading from it; then it disappeared. I finally found it in the seat pocket of my auto. Black leather seats, black cover and the fact I seldom ride in the backseat combined to be the challenge in finding it. I can’t swear Dick Mackin found this volume in his yard-to-yard travels, but it is most likely the case. These are charming and startling poems fixed in ethnicity and time and place, mostly. The poet is Judy Jordan, and several of her poems are published in a volume entitled, Carolina Ghost Woods. The poet can claim with much pride her work earned the Walt Whitman Award for 1999, in open competition as a poet never before published in book format. Many of her expressions are
borrowed from a stark reality. Here is just one:

Killing at the Neighbors

Never mind what you might think.
I was not so impressed, by the way,
three bullets in him,
he hauled himself the stretch of sidewalk,
dizzying, but catching on the car’s hood,
leaving a perfect handprint,
then each step’s larger mark of blood to the locked
house, where he shouted to the child crouched
behind the bed, the two others in the closet,
his wife shoveling words to the black mouthpiece,
I shot my man, Send somebody —
till his own mouth soured around the words
and he dropped to the garage floor,
so even the chickens returned to their scratching
just out of reach of the dog,
who all day dragged his chain through s_ _ t
and the mud of the upset waterbowl,
heard nothing. Never mind all that.
For what I slept with was the press of the brush
just an old handleless, used for whitewalls;
the ache of it in my palm
and my mother’s insisting, We don’t want her
to come back to this. Scrub harder.
What I slept with was not the taste of my chewed lip,
but the memory of the green hose taut against the
brick, not the cold water, jeans sucked up my thighs,
easing into my cupped hands,
but how the stains wouldn’t come up, just pinked,
like candy fireballs licked to their core.

Now I lie down years later. She’s back,
her children chasing me across the cement
in that old game of freeze
until I am tagged in the spot
where I had rubbed my five year old hands raw
and I wait, shallow-breathed to be freed.

Talk about nightmarish memories – real, of course, but a series of nightmares. We all have had nightmares, except for a few of us, but none so rigorous and in some sense, alarming in the clarity. Even as a creation, the language is convincing and from other confrontational poetry, grueling. That is what life is for some. We shame ourselves for looking past it or denying it. Judy Jordan has all the stuff poets claim to have, and this is not all she does. It is an example of what the fine memory and expressiveness can produce. To some it is actual. To others, including most of us 50+ readers, it is alarming and sinister. My goal in creating poems is toward some form of reality, combining situations and the words to express either what is taking place or what might take place. All of us who write believe we fall short of goals we have set, until we return to the theme and the words more closely to that ideal we may not have imagined. I aim to return in the September edition, and I hope you will join me in pulling emotion and purpose from words formed to poetry.