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.
For example, moths seem to be unignorable in my writing. They’ve crept in and out of my poems for years now. Experiencing moth season in Albuquerque, New Mexico only increased the fascination.
The bumbling after direction and light – yeah, I get that.
They are a symbol of fragility and persistence for me. In this way, they are all that more human to me.
Human fragility and persistence are also unignorable. Reading the poem below by Aimee Nezhukumatathil brought this lesson home. While the world of the poem is a dark one, the lyric never loses sight of the human factor. Through the final image, the fragility and persistence of the moth is made kindred to human predicament and struggle. This poem itself was unignorable.
This week The Friday Influence is proud to feature the work of Kenneth P. Gurney!
Ken and I struck up a friendship during my brief time in Albuquerque. He runs the Adobe Walls Open Mic out of Page 1 Books, the used bookstore where I worked. Once a month – while helping clean up and close – I would get to overhear the great community of poets he fosters there.
His poetry is marked by his background in art – surrealistic images abound – yet, there is always some of his sense of awe and humor throughout his work, something altogether his own.