Kelly Cherry, poetry and Mr. Perfect from the Neck Down

I used to write poetry. It’s been a long time, but lately, I’ve had an urge to start again. So it was interesting timing that my Christmas present from Sweetheart’s father and his wife was a volume of Seamus Heaney’s poetry.

There are massive holes in my literary education. Heaney was one of them, but thanks to D&K, that will be changing.

All the Christmas books from D&K include, somewhere inside, a photograph of a dead white guy. It’s fun to get money any time, of course, but there’s something truly special about being part of a family in which every holiday means that someone spent significant amounts of time imagining what you would love to read and went hunting for it.

Getting back to poetry, one of my favorite under-appreciated poets is Kelly Cherry. I met her when I was a baby journalist and my first editor sent me out to interview her. We don’t see each other often, but established enough of a connection to remain friends nearly 30 years down the road.

I was writing a lot more poetry then. Reading hers blew me away. It still does. I once told her – because it’s true – that my poems were like melody lines and hers were entire symphonies. Here’s one:

“From Venice: Letter to an Ex-Husband” (The Horses of San Marco)

I am riding on bronze,

Astride a sea-city.

I love my horse

With more than human pity.

His helpless eye,

His cool, wide flank

Are no less real than yours,

I frankly think.

His deep gold hue is like liquid,

As if a canal had been poured into the mold

Of a horse. He canters

Above the world.

Bold as the sky,

Eternity between his teeth

Like a bit.

Oh I love my

Horse with more than human

Love, with love

That is truer, animalistic,

Given to no man.

On him I ride

Through salt air and

The sinister, traitorous streets,

Sculpture’s bride.

It’s from her collection “Death and Transfiguration,” but she has many more. She’s written short stories and novels, too.

Anyway, back to when we met. It was an interesting time. First Husband had just met Better Wife than I’d Been, and I was madly in love with a guy I now refer to (when I refer to him at all) as Mr. Perfect from the Neck Down. The first time he dumped me was just after Thanksgiving.

This is a poem I wrote about it.

“Tonight’s Special”

What I would like

Is a fuse

To attach to the solstice moon

Lighting the year’s longest night.

Shining,

Benign

All ripe and round.

 Both of you,

Full of yourselves.

I, temporarily eclipsed by

Circumstance

In the pursuit

Of personal illumination,

Want that fuse

Lit.

Want to watch it crackle

And burn.

Explode

And fizzle.

Become a collection

Of harmless ashes

Floating,

Aimless

In a cold sky.

As unaware as the moon,

You have wreaked

Careless havoc in

Your attempt to ripen

And you continue on,

Willfully ignorant of

Any connection you

Could possibly have

To tides

Smashing against

Innocent beaches

As you orbit some

Nebulous idea

You call

“Holiness.”

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