Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Sunday, 23 August 2015


The Gift

"It's as good as a kiss," she said,
offering the loving cup to me,

and she smiled superfluously
her eyes reflecting my pleasure.

(For F.)

22 September 1983

woman-holding-a-tea-cupThis was something F. did say to me. It wasn’t a loving cup. It was a ceramic mug and why we were sharing it I’ve no idea. Or it might’ve been a can of juice by which I mean ginger by which I mean soda pop. I don’t remember. I do remember it was something she said and not just to me but when two people are in a relationship that no one else knows about they do like to talk in code whenever possible, to touch in whatever ways possible even if only metaphorically; at I said in ‘The Ophthalmologist’s Wife’ (#552) the need for taction contact is a desperate one. And this was one of those occasions. It might’ve been in her kitchen. I want it to be in her kitchen. Her kitchen feels right. I don’t remember.

What I do find myself dwelling on is the word ‘superfluously’. An odd choice. I know what I’m getting at—the smile was unnecessary, the words were enough (and the look in her eyes)—but it’s hard to resist a knowing smile.


poetjanstie said...

Divining those subtle signals from body language, facial expression or less .. just a glint in the eyes or even the merest change of shape to the skin around the eyes, is heady stuff, Jim!

Jim Murdoch said...

We writers can get so full of ourselves, John, but we forget how many holes there are in what we write. How do you communicate a look or a gesture? As we all know only a small percentage of the brain processes verbal communication and that’s what I’m struggling with in this poem. The bottom line is words can be more of a hindrance than anything else. All you have to do is compare two or more actors when they deliver a supposedly familiar line like, “To be, or not to be, that is the question.”

Gwil W said...

Jim, you are right.
is superfluous.

Kass said...

I don't mind 'superfluously'. It suggests the awkwardness of a sexual interchange.

Thanks for you comment on my blog. In our mutual appreciation of things awkward, I'm wondering what you think of another piece I wrote for the 'Abolish Nuclear Weapons' publication. I know this type of poem has been done before, but everyone seemed to like it (I tend to chalk it up to the drama in my delivery at the event):

Ground Down Below Zero

I am a deranged woman -
I speak from between my legs,
bear bloody witness
to the tatters of what man fashions
from the stained sheets
of his insensitivity.

Nakedness not stark enough,
he peels back my skin,
grafts shame on my belly,
pours cold war, hot war
on my swollen breasts,
carves deep sadness in my thighs,
puts out my eyes,
sees to it that I lose face,
dances on my back,
sells the produce of my body,
all the while casually moaning,
I love you, love you
to death - I

become parched to avoid his kiss,
wonder where I am in my cycle.
Will he leave me alone
if I bleed enough,
stink enough?
Hanging on a broken cross,
I flutter like a terrified bird,
thrashing against a wall of indifference.
I am a deranged woman.
I am earth.

Jim Murdoch said...

I’m not sure ‘superfluously’ is superfluous, Gwilliam, but it is inadequate. And that is the problem with the written word. To accurately describe anything you’d end up with something that sounds like legalese. In my new book, for example, I include the following sentence: “Here he stood and sat, knelt or squatted, moved to and fro and back again or lay in a medley of poses: accumbent, decumbent, procumbent, recumbent, superincumbent or curled up in a ball if the mood took him.”

Jim Murdoch said...

Thanks for sharing this poem, Kass. What do I think of it? I don’t think I could’ve written it although it does remind me of a poem I’ve got coming up. On the whole I’m against terms like women’s poetry, black or LGBT writing. I don’t think it really helps the cause. This is not to say that women, blacks and sexual minorities don’t have a unique story but there’s a danger that only those within that minority will seek out this kind of writing, writing that underlines what they already feel or believe. The trick is to get men to read women, whites to read blacks and straights to read LGBTs and so including a poem like this in a book about nuclear disarmament is good because it’s obviously not just about that. Even men talk about Mother Earth but how many men I wonder would write from her perspective? You say this has been done before—not much hasn’t—but it depends who you read whether or not you’ll find it hackneyed or eye-opening. The only poet I’ve read much of who talks about blood as much is Marion McCready; I even tease her about it.

Vaginas have lips. Comparing them to mouths is tempting. Some folk tales include teeth. It might’ve been nice (probably not the right word) to include some gnashing here. I think “produce of my body” could be stronger, e.g’ sells my children, my kidneys, my heart” but it still works. Cycle reminded me of the seasons. You might’ve made more of that perhaps comparing the change—a far more poetic term than menopause—with winter. The produce you refer to would be harvested in autumn. Parched is fine but it doesn’t really suggest barren. You might want to look at that. The cross is a phallic symbol but it is also a Judeo-Christian one and if you use the verb “hang” that’s the first one that comes to mind. A similar, but more ambiguous, verb would be “impaled” with its suggestion of penetration.

I’m not sure about “I flutter like a terrified bird, / thrashing against a wall of indifference.” I just don’t see a bird thrashing against a wall. But why does it have to be a bird? Why not a tethered animal fighting with its chain? Flutter is not strong enough: butterflies flutter.

On the whole I like it and I’m sure when performed aloud it’s powerful but, as you suggest, it’s also likely than an impassioned performance would detract from any minor deficiencies. This is what I have against readings plus the fact poems written with oration in mind tend to be longer than they probably need to be. (I’m not saying that’s the case here.)

One last thing. Beckett sometimes uses the expression “tear to flitters” rather than tatters. It might work here especially if you decide to keep flutters later in the piece. Or you might decide to change nothing and that’s fine too; it’s your poem and I’m just letting my belly rumble.

Kass said...

Jim, I love your suggestions. Thank you for your deep consideration (not meaning to be suggestive here, but now that those words have spewed forth from my keyboard, I want to use them in another poem).

Kass said...

For some reason, my comment was printed twice so I deleted one of them.
Glad for this function.
Wish it existed in real life.

Jim Murdoch said...

Glad you appreciated my thoughts, Kass. At the moment this is where my head it, looking at every single word and asking myself what it adds to the text. People think prose is easier than poetry but not if you do it right. It has its music too. I couldn’t resist using ‘flitters’ in my new book by the way:

Grown man or not the place filled him with disquiet and foreboding. The leaves rustled like voices, like whispers and gasps, each tree and bush with its own cry. An unblinking eye was waiting its moment ready to devour him. He could sense it and he was anything but psychic. He swatted his way through the undergrowth until he emerged on a path. The sudden transition took him aback. One moment he was surrounded on all sides by thorns and thickets committed to tear him to flitters. Now he was free of all of that and the path lay before him.

Now I look at it I see I’ve used ‘path’ twice. Need to sort that.

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