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For Love of Common Words

I was hoping that the poem Claudia read to us in class from Steve Scafidi’s collection wasn’t the best. This may seem like a strange thing to say, but it’s because I wanted there to be more fantastic poems waiting for me when I opened the book. Well, it certainly wasn’t a disappointment. (Sidenote: he had my eternal, unconditional love anyway as soon as I saw that he’d chosen to put a mermaid on his book cover. We all have our obsessions.)

Scafidi’s work is a lot of things I don’t usually enjoy, but somehow it’s okay when he does it. I dislike the overdone ‘nature is brutal but so are we’ theme, but in “The Egg Suckers”, it’s intertwined so perfectly with beautiful, unexpected images that I even began to like the metaphor. It begins with “skulking” snakes, rats, and weasels, and ends with

the subtle brown of the egg and the perfect
religious fit of it in my palm and I roll it
across my kitchen table in the morning
before I crack it open and pour the egg

into my skillet and fry it openly thanking
the holiness of the hen, this exotic bird
roosting here whose children I eat everyday
over-easy with black pepper and a spoon.

Another thing I can’t stand in poetry is sentimentality. Scafidi’s “After Homer’s Catalog of Ships” is all about kisses. Well, after reading this poem I looked up ‘Homer’s catalog of ships’ and discovered that it is a remarkably dull passage in the Illiad, in which every part of the Achaean fleet is listed in great detail. (Wikipedia uses the phrase “sonorous catalogue”, if that gives you a good idea of what the passage is like.) I even started to read Homer’s catalogue the other night until I dozed off. I think I like Scafidi’s better.

I’m a sucker for endings, and Scafidi has a beautiful one in “The Language of Nomads and Ghosts”.

and you walk home and roam the world

all alone like a nomad or a ghost in the city
with the outline of chocolate on your lips,
all our dark sweet words at your fingertips.

(The beginning and middle of the poem are good too, in case you were wondering. Now that I’ve already ruined one ending for you: Kevin Spacey is Keyser Söze.)

Our reclusive friend Steve also does some pretty neat things with rhyme scheme and form. Most striking is when he leaves out stanza breaks in many of his poems. It’s a very unexpected thing to turn the page and see a long, rectangular block of text extending across the next few pages. The line length is often very carefully controlled, which also helps to create this effect. The form may be rigid, but the words seem to have a much greater fluidity when trapped within this style. One of the recurring themes within Scafidi’s work is gravity, which ties right in with his break-less stanza habit. (Interestingly, his line lengths–even when not tightly controlled into long rectangles–always form some kind of regular pattern and rhythm. This balance is also related to the gravity theme.) From “What Rose Light as Breath”:

raised her arms and reached
up into the sky and pulled
my body down because

it was starting slowly to rise
and even gravity itself,
that always falling force

against which the world
pushes and pushes gently
rose light as breath

From “On the Death of Karla Faye Tucker”:

…For Texas just killed a woman
who took a pick ax for a while against
gravity and swung it
down into the curled body of another
woman trying to sleep–just to sleep–one night

I leave you with one more ending (not Kevin Spacey this time):

and soon the day will be over everywhere
and the moon will rise so full of light
a glow-worm

could write its dark memoir and you could see
the angel of death, a little too perfumy,
under your window

with a banjo and a clean white shirt
and a singing voice so beautiful it hurts
to hear your name.