Wading into the Sea Change

I sometimes contemplate whether or not it was wrong of me to think, upon discovering I had cancer, “I don’t want to be a cancer poet.” Please understand I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a poet exploring that experience, especially when it’s their experience, but there’s a fear of being boxed in that comes with writing about this new life. There’s a worry that this disease will overwhelm the creative desires and processes and narrow the vision.

I’ve made an effort to write about as broad a life as possible, but fighting against the sea change was a losing cause, as cancer will eat away at your existence in constant, subtle (and not so subtle) ways, just as it will your body. As such, I began noticing the details of this new life coming to the fore and calling for attention. So I gave it, and I found that writing about those details, rather than the overwhelming fears that came with this harrowing journey, comforting, rewarding even.

One of the details I noticed, repeatedly and quite hauntingly, was the empty waiting room. This limbo territory I found in doctors’ offices, hospitals, and labs became a fascination. Sometimes, they weren’t empty, but even the small groups, couples, or individuals felt remote from one another—separate tribes wandering a strange land, quiet and wary of what came next. When empty, the rooms were still littered with the detritus of those who came before and moved on, and for all we knew, may never return. How many people have read that Time or Elle? How many children that Highlights magazine? Who else has tapped on the tank of lethargic fish gurgling out an existence in the window overlooking Madison and 53rd Street? The song playing overhead from dusty speakers embedded into drop-ceilings, who else heard that muffled tune and didn’t realize that maybe it was the last song they’d ever hear?

Details like these made the experience not one of being “a cancer patient” but of being a human working through a homogenous system of rooms and regulations, of dulled grays and beiges meant to comfort but somehow dehumanizing the movement from healthy to dead, or at least being lost somewhere in between. I suppose it does circle back to some of the great fears we have, the core human emotions—loneliness and the uncertainty of what lies behind that final door. It’s something we can only know for sure once we’ve walked through it, our final appointment with the last grim doctor any of us will ever see.

Out of this experience came the poem, “Last Appointment of the Day,” which appeared in Kleft Jaw #4 and is slated to appear in my upcoming chapbook We Are All Terminal But This Exit Is Mine. I hope you enjoy the poem, or at least, can relate to it. Then again, perhaps it’s for the better if you can’t and never will. If only.

For the audio version, click here.

Last Appointment of the Day

across the table where picture books and
children’s magazines wait for small hands,
across the green carpet where plastic cars
and wooden jigsaw puzzles lie patiently

for children who may never return

there is a fish tank, the saddest looking pit
of gloom ever, dark as a thunderhead
in tornado alley, listless fish waiting
on death, floating nowhere in the murk

there’s a scream in my mind but there’s
no sound, like a horror film on mute,
internal and forever, and all these
empty chairs surrounding me

the receptionist calls out my name
so I get up and go inside while music plays
from somewhere overhead
as they shut the door behind me

James Duncan

James H Duncan is the editor of Hobo Camp Review, a former editor with Writer’s Digest, and is the author of What Lies In Wait, Berlin, Dead City Jazz, and other collections of poetry and short fiction. His work has appeared in American Artist, Up The Staircase, 3:AM Magazine, Boned, and Poetry Salzburg Review, among other journals. He resides in upstate New York. For more visit www.jameshduncan.com.

Photo Credit: the dark door by adamy on deviantart

Garbage Angel

April is the cruelest month, breeding
thesis statements from all-nighters, mixing
keggers and study groups…

Oh, whoops! Sorry, T.S. Eliot. ’Tis the nearing conclusion of spring semester that makes me so digress. It also makes this month’s The Poets That You Meet  a wee bit on the short side. But first, a few announcements…

  1. The Poets That You Meet will now appear on the first Wednesday of every month. I am excited for some great upcoming posts, including guest blogger James Duncan’s discussion of his beautiful poem “Last Appointment of the Day”; Kate Garrett’s analysis of her poem about lesbian pirates; and an interview, about the poetics of wine-making, with a talented vintner in Northern California. Do I know all the interesting people or what?
  2. Also, on the first Wednesday of the month, I plan to publish a new installment of Online Enlightenment. This month, the talented Heather Akers shares her sunset photo and a meditation on light.
  3. Well, I’m no Jenna Marbles, but I have recently started a YouTube channel with some videos of me reading at different poetry events. Click here, if you dare disturb the universe…dang it, Eliot, get out of my head—I have a blog to write!

Anyway…on with the show (and no talking of Michelangelo)!

Recently, I watched an episode of Bob’s Burgers, an adult cartoon about a family who struggles to maintain their burger restaurant, above which they live. One of the daughters, Louise, a sarcastic evil genius, falls hopelessly in lust with the teenage pop sensation Boo Boo, from the band Boyz4Now. As she enters a contest to ride on a “grown up roller coaster” with him, she gazes into his boyish face on the computer screen and exclaims, “I’m going to ride a roller coaster with you Boo Boo, you disgusting, beautiful, garbage angel!”

This scene reminded me of some advice I received from Barbara Anderson, when I took her poetry class in graduate school. She told us that, to add tension in language, poets should “juxtapose beautiful imagery or language with MTV street slang.” I haven’t watched MTV in years, but I believe what she meant was that one should contrast the elevated with the crude. I think of Tony Hoagland’s book, Donkey Gospel, and in particular, his poem, “Dickhead.” The adult speaker opens the poem with a reflection on his survival of adolescence:  “To whomever taught me the word dickhead, / I owe a debt of thanks. / It gave me a way of being in the world of men / when I most needed one.”  He goes on to explain that “back in the world of men, / when everything was…scary, / hairier and bigger than I was” that using the word dickhead became “a song that meant the world / was yours enough at least / to bang on like a garbage can.”

I think it’s interesting the way Hoagland transforms a crude word with humor and graceful language: “…and having that / beautiful ugliness always / cocked and loaded in my mind, / protected me and calmed me like a psalm.” Of course, I love the pun, but I also like the juxtaposition of “beautiful ugliness” and the likening of swearing to the comfort of a psalm.

Well, I think it was fun, last month, to include a writing prompt at the end of my post. If you are so inclined, include (in the comments below) a poem that you wrote (or a stanza or two) that juxtaposes a version of “beautiful language or images with MTV street slang.”

Until May, dear readers!

Photo Credit: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CLBWWsbVEAAD_jP.jpg

I Don’t Like “The Emperor of Ice Cream.” There, I Said It.

This week, rather than a poetry explication or an interview, I offer you a writing invitation. Follow me, if you will…

A couple weeks ago, I taught Wallace Stevens’ “The Emperor of Ice Cream” to my morning American Lit. class. I’m going to be brutally honest. I’ve never really liked this poem. I like the contrast between the living and the dead; I like the rhythm; I like ice cream, but that’s about it. I’ve always found the poem unnecessarily opaque. “Let be be finale of seem”? Please, Stevens.

Anyway, the students were able to recognize imagery and tone. Line by line, I guided them toward an understanding of the dramatic situation, and in some cases, I just filled in the blanks for them. They did a good job. What I remember most about this lesson, though, is the look on their faces when we discussed the ending of the poem and the meaning of the title. Here’s how I will describe their facial expression: blank, with a dash of surprise. They’re a good class, my favorite one this semester. Often, they make intelligent observations about the poems and are lively and fun to teach. I did not take the surprise in their eyes as delight, nor did I take it as a condemnation of the poem itself. It seemed more, to me, a question: “Are you serious?”

I don’t blame them. I wanted to say, “Yeah, you’ve got to do some acrobats for this one,” or “I’m not sure how important it is for you to have read and analyzed this poem; I don’t much care for it myself.” Instead, I just shrugged and moved on to “The Snowman.”

That day got me thinking about poetry in general. I do think there is meaning and growth that a reader can experience through this genre, but I tend to feel as Frank O’Hara did that “Too many poets act like a middle-aged mother trying to get her kids to eat too much cooked meat, and potatoes with drippings (tears). I don’t give a damn whether they eat or not.”

Am I sorry that I’ve read “The Emperor of Ice Cream” at least one hundred times in my life? No. Or at least, there are things I’m much sorrier that I’ve read even once. (The comment section of any online article, for instance.) I like piecing together the mystery of poetry, but at the end of this poem, I often feel like my students looked that day in class. Seriously?

Many years ago, I read Jim Simmerman’s “A Brief Introduction,” a postmodern poem whose speaker introduces the reader to tour the poetic home of Simmerman. The line I like best is when the speaker invites the tourist to view one of Simmerman’s forthcoming poems, which reads:

A robin pecks
at the ice
in my rain gutter.

I make a big
deal of it.

I love these lines. I think they perfectly contrast the ephemeral nature of birds and ice, with the blunt pragmatism of a poet’s job: to find meaning in the mundane. Also, I’m a fan of humor.

And so, dear reader, here is my writing invitation. I invite you, in the comments below, to post your own short poem that highlights the contrast between the ephemeral and the blunt. Don’t worry if you think it’s perfect or not—we’re all friends here! Let’s have some fun! But, please, let us keep President Voldemort out of this round. He doesn’t get to have all our attention!

Also, here’s an exciting announcement:

This Friday, (and hopefully every first Friday of the month, thereafter) I will post an installment on my new web corner called, Online Enlightenment. Each month, I will publish original literature, art, or music that explores notions of enlightenment. This Friday, I am honored to share karvy’s beautiful song, “A Place For Us.” Check back on Friday to read her description of how this song resonates with the theme of enlightenment and, of course, to hear her haunting melody.

If you are interested in submitting to Online Enlightenment, please email me at shantiweiland9@gmail.com. I’m leaving the topic of “enlightenment” open but would like work to focus more on what enlightenment is rather than what it isn’t.

Photo Credit: https://www.odt.co.nz/otago-museum-bristling-happenings

The Fish in the Mirror

When I lived in LA, I had a Betta fish that could predict earthquakes. No kidding. Right before the Earth shook, he’d start banging his head against the glass so hard it would wake me up. I don’t know if it was a warning or just his own reaction; he was always a rather strange fish. When I went to the pet store to pick out a Betta, I chose him because he looked like he needed some help. His fins were straggly, and he just didn’t seem happy. I brought him home and named him Rothko, because he looked like Mark Rothko’s painting, “Untitled (Green Divided by Blue),” 1968.

Rothko often tilted in his bowl, which is never a good sign for a fish. I bought him medicine; I gave him special food. Finally, I thought that he might need some privacy, so I bought him a castle. Unfortunately, the little fella got stuck in one of the tunnels, and I came home to a most unpleasant situation. (On a side note, I’m not sure I should have fish. After Rothko’s tragic, and possibly self-inflicted, demise, my brother gave me his red-striped goldfish, Killer, because it kept eating his other fish. Well, I happily gave Killer his own bowl. He was a feisty fish, which I appreciated, but he did not understand his own bodily limitations. One Sunday, I came back from a weekend away, and Killer had cleared the bowl! He had launched himself with such a stunning will to achieve that it took me a while to find his body.)

“To An Ailment” is a two-stanza poem that begins with a harshly worded explanation about why Betta fish need their own bowls. Even their reflection in the glass can ignite rage, if they think they are encountering another fish: “When Betta fish see themselves, / they get so pissed off / that they beat their brains out.”

The second stanza serves as a philosophy on anger that incorporates the image of the fish: “Glass bowls are slick and / cold like fish, but are not / fish. Anger is an emery board, / two-sided and portable.” What only seems a threat—the reflection of the other fish—is enough to cause Bettas to destroy themselves. Contrasting this drastic example of the way that anger can destroy, the image of the emery board depicts anger’s subtle influence. Anger has no smooth side, just as the emery board is rough on one side and rougher on the other. Although the fish is trapped in the bowl, attacking its own image, the emery board is “portable,” and the reader is left to imagine the destruction that subtle anger can cause, when it’s small enough to fit in your pocket.

This week’s poem is short and sweet, like the life of the prophetic, if not unstable, Rothko the fish!

To read “To An Ailment,” click here.

For the audio version, click here.

Mark Rothko’s “Untitled (Green Divided by Blue)” 1968



Featured Image: http///www.practicalfishkeeping.co.uk/features/articles/frequently-asked-questions-on-siamese-fighters

Home Is Where The Poem Is

This week, I had the pleasure of interviewing my old friend and writing buddy, Alanna Krinard, who has worked in real estate for the last twenty years. We discussed writing, literature, and the poetry of house-hunting!

I remember reading a poem in my twenties called “The Race,” by Sharon Olds, about a woman who is desperately trying to reach her flight in time so she can see her father before he passes. I always loved that poem and admired Olds’ use of enjambment lines. When I was older, and teaching the poem in one of my literature classes, I suddenly felt overwhelmed by the dramatic situation in the poem. What I had once just admired for its form and compression of language, I now identified as a possible scenario in my own life, knowing that my dad is getting older. Are there any poems that you read when you were younger that have now morphed in meaning or intensity for you?

Yes, actually. The most significant one for me is “The Red Wheelbarrow,” or perhaps more appropriately titled, “XXII,” by William Carlos Williams. This poem seems so simple on the surface but has stayed with me for so many decades, rolling around in my mind, popping up at many different moments.

When I was young, I was struck by its direct candor and the vibrant nearness of the red wheelbarrow to white chickens. I’ve carried that poem around with me for many years, pondering the colors and rain, finding more and more complexity within its short lines. As I’ve become older, it continues to expand with meaning for me. This poem was purported for some time to have been written as Williams cared for a sick child. I had a child with severe asthma, and spent a lot of time in the hospital with him. During those times, I realized how the more mundane, average things in life that we take for granted can become so foreign. Sitting at a hospital window watching the rain outside, just wishing that my child could be well enough to be home, hoping for the mundane to become normal again.

I learned much later that the poem was instead inspired by someone who was a very hard worker.  Interestingly, this information came to me as I was strongly developing my own career, and my son had mostly grown out of his asthma. So, the poem then took on new meaning for me. In my career, I’ve worked very hard to develop my skill set and be an asset for my clients. So much depends on my ability to see an escrow through—people’s lives are changing, more often than not in very significant ways, and it’s my responsibility to make sure this part of the transition goes well for them.

Another is “Oranges,” by Gary Soto. This poem still makes my heart race with its sensuality. The newness and nervousness of a budding relationship, the understanding of another person who sees the situation from the outside. It gives me butterflies. I love the color play in the poem, and the feeling of winter—so exquisite.

A couple years ago, I bought my first home. While house-hunting, it was interesting to see how other people had remodeled or decorated but even more interesting that it made little difference in the “feeling” of the home. On one afternoon of house-hunting, I, who had lived alone for thirteen years and am not prone to fear of spooks, suddenly bolted out of a basement that was visually no more or less creepy-looking than any of the others we had seen! Do you find, as a real estate agent, that this intimate look into people’s lives, has influenced your writing over the years?

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t write as much as I would like. I originally got into real estate because I believed it would afford me the flexibility to develop my writing and potential literary career. However, I’ve become so active in real estate, that my writing has become more of a hobby.

Real estate is a very interesting career, because I have the opportunity to very intimately get to know my clients and their families in an exceedingly short period of time. We spend a great deal of time together in a very intense setting.  I need to glean their needs from their reactions to properties they see, because often, people can’t definitively explain what they’re looking for until they see it. I’ve learned over the years to read body language and sometimes depend more on that than verbal explanations. I can always tell when someone walks into the home they’re going to purchase—everything about their body changes, and they take in things differently than they do when viewing homes that might be ok but are not ideal.

And of course, I have the requisite “spooky house” story! This happened nearly 20 years ago, but I remember it plain as day. I was with a large group of extended family looking at multiple properties in an afternoon. We came to one home that was vacant, and from the moment I stepped foot in the door, I felt uneasy. Because I depend so much on my intuition when working with my clients, I’ve learned to listen to those feelings, so I was cautious during the showing. There were several children I was doing my best to keep an eye on, while talking with the adults about the property. This particular home was three stories, including a large basement-like addition with several bedrooms downstairs. As we walked downstairs, there was a very audible growl. Everyone heard it, and it sounded as if it were rumbling through the ductwork, coming out through the vents. We finished checking out the downstairs while the growling continued, and finally my clients decided to go outside and find the crawlspace so they could look in the ductwork, assuming that maybe there was an animal stuck somewhere in the heating system. We found the ductwork, but there wasn’t anything in it. I still, to this day, don’t have any idea what was growling at us, but… My clients decided against purchasing that particular home, even though it had all of the space they needed and was in a great location.

I can always sense discord in a home, even if it’s perfectly kept. Homes often very clearly represent an owner’s mental state. So, I suppose that I may have a broader understanding of the human condition than I would if I had chosen another career. In this respect, I do believe it’s true that these intuitions and experiences show up in my writing. I often find myself explaining settings and relating them to characters, and that’s probably a symptom of my own life experience as a Realtor.

Do you think there is poetry in the house-hunt?

Oh yes! Unequivocally so!! For me, poetry has always been about evoking emotion in meaningful, thoughtful ways. Poetry is often an opportunity to communicate something in a way that can influence another’s emotions or make something known that has been buried emotionally, politically, or that has just gone unnoticed. I’ve applied that to my real estate career.  From the very beginning, I’ve understood the power of communicating details.  That’s why I’ve always loved WCW’s Red Wheelbarrow—I’m so attached to the chicken that she’s stayed with me for decades. In my line of work, I use photographs and property descriptions to build attachment, and to depict a unique understanding of a property.

Every home has a story and can evoke emotion through that story.  Think of an older couple who is selling their family home to downsize—think of all of the emotions tied to the family who was raised there: Where have the children gone as adults? Are there grandchildren? How many birthday parties did the backyard see? How many spaghetti dinners were cooked in the kitchen? How many times did the oldest brother cannonball into the deep end of the pool? Was a chin ever split open on the pavement from a spill off of a bicycle? How many neighborhood kids played at the basketball hoop on the court, racing into the kitchen for a glass of lemonade that was made from scratch?

Where is the couple going now? What’s their new chapter? What is the freedom that will be afforded to them when they downsize into a more manageable property?

And what of the new Buyers? Maybe this will be their first home, and they want to start a family. Maybe someone wants to open a cottage business from the garage, and the location is just right for transporting goods. Maybe there’s an extra bedroom that would be perfect for….. A writing studio! The backyard might be amazing for BBQ’ing on a warm summer evening, with the pool lights on, and some music playing.

There’s always a story in every real estate transaction, but the story comes from the people.

People’s hopes and dreams are tied up in the spaces where they live, and this is what keeps me connected to the poetry of real estate. People build lives in their homes.

When I list a property for sale, my job is to tap into that feeling and market the home to people who might be attracted to feeling that way about where they want to live their life. That’s why staging is so important—it helps people feel connected to the space, and allows them to understand how they might live in a home. It’s harder for folks to envision a floor plan without furniture or warm paint colors that help tell a story. I want people to fall in love with my properties before they even see them in person and to be ultimately even more excited when they finally step through the front door.

One of the things I love about the Real Estate industry is that it’s always changing. When I first started working as an agent, our MLS database of homes ran out of  DOS, and I distinctly remember the day that my brokerage purchased its first FAX machine. There were no cell phones, and the internet couldn’t support photos, at least not in a way that was accessible to most people. We’ve departed from those days to a time when online representations are absolutely crucial, and video is becoming more and more valuable through social media. There’s poetry in innovation, because that’s where attachment is born.

Frank O’Hara wrote many of his witty and often conversational poems in his book, Lunch Poems, during his lunch hour, when he worked at The Museum of Modern Art. What would a book of “lunch poems” from a real estate agent be like?

What’s a lunch hour?!?

One moment, because, ah, I do love Frank O’Hara.  From “Morning”:

I miss you always
when I go to the beach
the sand is wet with
tears that seem mine

The biggest issue I face with writing is consistency. It’s not because I don’t want it badly enough.  I don’t have the kind of career that is contained within the hours of 9-5, with well defined breaks and vacations. I work during the day when banks, lenders, and title companies are open and am available for questions or deadline-related functions. I work long stretches after hours and weekends, when my clients are off work and able to see properties. I’m available to my agents for questions after hours that are crucial to their transactions, which are often highly complex.

Lunch is often trail mix with an orange in the car between showings and inspections. Both travel well. Sometimes I eat at my desk as I look through our MLS system for new listings. Our market North of San Francisco is highly competitive, and I need to be fully aware of new inventory in order to best serve my clients. Because there are so few homes that come on the market compared to the numbers of Buyers who want to purchase a home, I can’t allow my clients to miss out on a new listing. It’s crucial that I stay focused and passionate in order to serve my clients as they deserve.

I recently went on my first vacation as an adult but needed to be able to check in with clients and the agents who were covering for me while I was gone. I’m pretty well tethered to my business—I’m sure that there are other small business owners out there who understand. Unfortunately, this doesn’t leave me much emotional energy for writing, but I love what I do and am most fortunate to have an amazing client base who refers me to people like them. I adore the people I work with, and at this point in my career, I choose my clients carefully. The benefit is, I have the opportunity to surround myself with people I enjoy being around. The downside is, I’m a better Realtor than anything else at this stage in my life. I’m working on that.

What does all of that have to do with the question of what a book of lunchtime poems from a Realtor would look like?

Well, I would say that my poetry is wrapped up in the relationships I build with my clients and the other people I work with, whom I care deeply for. I’m fortunate to have an amazing staff.  When I do have opportunity to write, they are often on my mind. They show up in places I wouldn’t expect—in pointed descriptions, in the way a character might laugh, in the distress of a life event that shows up in a startling turn of fictional events.

I’m currently writing a book for Realtors of eleven traits, which successful agents exhibit. I’ve learned these traits from observing other successful agents and by considering what things I would like to improve, so that I can provide the best service possible for my clients. I have two works of fiction that rear their heads occasionally as well. Sometimes, I have to stop everything I’m doing to contribute to those works, because a new twist has just dawned on me, or I’ve realized an aspect of a character that hadn’t quite come together yet.

So, just like my lunch hours are stretched into thin little pieces throughout the day, so too, is my writing.


Alanna Krinard: I started writing when I was about 10 years old, and have continued throughout my life. I graduated from UC Davis in 1997 with a degree in English, and went straight into my family’s real estate business. I’ve been in real estate since 1997, and currently manage an office, recruit and train for Century 21 NorthBay Alliance in Sonoma County, California. I also run my own sales.

Featured Image: http///www.oukongstick.com/2015/12/11/book-sculpture-arts/

Light or Dark, Depending

At 4AM in Mississippi, I woke from a disturbing dream. An old man, whose wife had died years before, had never stopped grieving for her. A group of us young people came to drop off some items that he was going to give to a charity, and when we went up to his apartment, we were met with a shrine to his late wife. Photos of her littered countertops, the coffee table, the walls. I knew that he would feel utterly depressed and empty until the day he died. The dream left me feeling deeply sad and anxious, and I decided to get out of bed, even though it was early.

I’ve never been a great sleeper. My partner kids that the buzz from a mosquito could wake me, and actually, it’s true. I once woke up when a mosquito flew past my head! I suffered many nightmares, when I was in my twenties, but this dream really shook me. It was summer, and even at such an early hour, it was already muggy and warm in Mississippi, where I was in graduate school at the time. I got out of bed, wrote this poem, and waited for my neighbors to wake up.

In the first stanza of “Earth,” the speaker establishes an unsettling situation: No one is perfectly good or perfectly bad, and this scenario has somehow been agreed upon. There is a lack of an authority figure, and the waters are muddy: “There’s no one in Heaven / who’s that bad. / There’s no one in Hell / who’s that good. / That’s the deal.”

In the second stanza, the speaker describes human lives as needing enthusiasm or to “rally.” The speaker claims that humanity is small and insignificant, like microbes that fit in a petri dish: “Here on Earth, / we rally. / It’s a petri dish.” Further, the humans have desires that can either be light (optimistic, healthy) or dark (destructive). The speaker describes humans as “microbes / bumping and worming” who want “dark or light, / depending.” The last word in this stanza, “depending,” points to their actions as a compass to either the light or to the dark. However, because “bumping and worming” also sounds rather haphazard, and because humans are described as somewhat of a science project, their desires could depend on something that is outside of themselves and out of their control.

The last stanza is inspired by my nightmare but is not a retelling of it. I wanted to continue with the narrative of life on Earth. In this stanza, the speaker describes humans, when they are old. The old humans suffer from the past. They wake from bad dreams before dawn. In the line, “We think that we forgot / to kill our tormentor, / but we didn’t,” the speaker describes the haziness we’ve all experienced when we wake from a dream but are unsure which part of our memory is reality. Even though, when the old wake and realize that their tormentor is long gone, they also remember that their family is gone. There is a sense of loneliness and uncertainty. The family is waiting on the other side but possibly in darkness. The last word “depending” lets the reader decide on what the location of the family depends. Did their actions lead them to light or to dark? Do they have volition? Or is it a decision made by forces unknown?

To read this poem, check out Imitation Fruit, Issue 5, November 2009, and for the audio verison, click here.

First published in Imitation Fruit, Issue 5, November 2009 

Featured Image: http://shushi168.com/earth-wallpaper/36939229.html

Cozy in Your Cage

“ego” (more on the lowercase in a moment) draws on insecurities I felt in my relationship at the time that I wrote this poem. More specifically, it addresses themes of jealousy and control in relationships. While we were together, my partner was in love/infatuated/in limerence with a (for all intents and purposes) straight man. It was something that put a strain on our relationship and troubled me (and him) for a very long time.

About two months before we decided to separate (we are still very good friends, by the way) I wrote this poem. As I usually do, when I’m going through writer’s block, I used a prompt. I can’t remember if I found the prompt online or used a random word generator—at any rate, these are the words I got: salmon, aluminum, concord, can, cage, ballast, and pry. It’s interesting to see how well they all worked together.

In the first line, the speaker says, “I decide to keep you.” Immediately, we see the speaker exercise his control; he is the one who “decides.” He goes on: “in a can, to have you / all sealed up on my shelf / like pink salmon—.” The speaker wants this person for himself and goes so far as to objectify him with the salmon analogy to prove his point.

In the next few lines, the speaker justifies this possessiveness: “your soft meat swimming / in itself, safe from any bears.” The speaker calls the subject (who we can presume is his partner) “soft,” and for this reason is protecting him from outside threats (“bears”). While this could be interpreted as purely an act of love, the next lines reveal another motivation: “and all / those other men out there, / cozy in your little aluminum cage.” The speaker doesn’t care about the threat of bears; he is motivated by jealousy. “[All] those other men out there” are the real threat; and not necessarily a threat to the subject, but to the speaker and his possibly small ego (hence the lowercased “ego” title). The speaker acknowledges his possessiveness by calling the “can” a “cage.” The subject is likened to a prisoner, but the speaker insists the partner is “cozy” and compliant with this situation.

Here is where the poem shifts, and we get more information about the speaker’s psyche: “cozy in your little aluminum cage, / you this little thing / I ballast myself against.” He both objectifies the subject and acknowledges his role in keeping him balanced. He realizes/remembers how much he relies on him. Still objectifying, the speaker addresses his partner’s (or maybe his own) perceived shortcomings: “this thing / too small to pour myself into fully.” He wants to give himself over to the subject entirely, but there just isn’t enough room for him.

Recognizing his faults, the speaker attempts to release his partner from the prison he’s made for him: “cutting my fingers trying to pry you / open again—the sweet / concord of my hand bones breaking, the love-sound / of my tearing flesh.” Here, in the last third of the poem, the speaker romanticizes his actions. It’s as if he were valiantly sacrificing so much of his well-being to set his partner free, even though it’s his jealousy that leads him to confine the partner in the first place. He’s cutting his fingers; his bones breaking make a “sweet” harmony; he even describes the sound of his flesh tearing as a “love-sound.” From the imprisonment to the release attempt, the speaker believes his actions come from a place of love.

For the audio version, click here.


I decide to keep you
in a can, to have you
all sealed up on my shelf
like pink salmon—
your soft meat swimming
in itself, safe
from any bears and all
those other men out there,
cozy in your little aluminum cage,
you this little thing
I ballast myself against, this thing
too small to pour myself into fully,
cutting my fingers
trying to pry you
open again—the sweet
concord of my hand bones
breaking, the love-sound
of my tearing flesh

“ego” was originally published in Mesmer: A Journal of Poetry and Drawing


Mathew Pereda’s hobbies do not include fishing, hunting, bird watching, pearl diving, fortune telling, matter splitting, coin collecting, or jigsaw puzzles (he’ll never like those) though he does love the word “jigsaw.” He loves words, in general. Read more of Mathew’s words at Outrageous Fortune, Microfiction Monday, Sweet, and MockingHeart Review.

Featured Image: Jar (Sketchless Phorography)