I remember reading that the semicolon is the most poetic of punctuation marks because of the way it holds two or more disparate things together, things that, under scrutiny, would not be thought of as usually being connected.
Which is what poems do: just replace “it” in the sentence above with “a poem” and finish the sentence: you’ll have a pretty succinct definition of the art.
This week’s poem “Selfish,” by friend and fellow poet Kenneth P. Gurney, charmed me in its ability to bring together so many disparate things – cookies (yum), tea (yum), Civil War figures (hmm), a clock (yum?), etc. – all within the context of a casual moment in a relationship.
What seals the charm for me is how the narrative leads us through various moments of knowing and not knowing, and ends with the speaker at a loss themselves for what the person they’re with finds “so funny.” We are left to wonder alongside the poet, which is how some of my favorite poems end.
Selfish – Kenneth P. Gurney
We bought Italian wedding cookies,
even though no one we knew
was getting married,
and some fragrant tea
the shop owner admitted he didn’t know
because the container
arrived without a label
and he couldn’t place the flavor.
You, out of politeness I think, asked,
Who was Patrick Cleburne?
And I told stories of the Irishman who served
in the Forty-First Regiment of Foot in the British army,
who emigrated to the United States
to settle in Helena, Arkansas,
then became one of the Confederacy’s
best fighting generals.
And the whole time I spoke,
I watched your eyes shift focus
from my lips, to my eyes,
to the divots on my right ear,
to the napkin that removed
white wedding cookie powder
from your fingers, to the tea,
to a hangnail on your right ring finger,
to the shop owner’s bird clock
that sounded sand hill cranes at eleven.
Before I got to Cleburne’s demise at Franklin
you laughed about something
that resided only in your head
and would not share what was so funny.
Happy not sharing!
* published in Decanto