Eliot was wrong: April is not the cruelest month (I have a particular belief that February is, but actually, I think it’s different for everyone). For me, March was a bear, since I spent much of it sick and am still temporarily (we hope) deaf from a double ear infection that’s lingered. So it was not with great sadness that I said goodbye to March yesterday (but it was with great sadness that I said goodbye to my parents, who, visiting for three weeks, made the month somewhat bearable).
Because I’m still digging out from illness, I don’t know that I’ll be able to post a poem a day in April this year. But we can celebrate National Poetry Month nonetheless.
Today, I wanted to plug two beautiful books of poetry that found their way to me this winter.
The first is called Where’s Jukie? (Absurd Publications, 2013) by poet Andy Jones and essayist Kate Duren. I met Andy at the San Francisco Writers Conference in February. It’s interesting to meet someone as charismatic and upbeat as Andy. He’s something of a legend, with his own radio show and a reading series in Davis. But his book is about his family’s struggle to figure out life with a child with a rare disorder called Lemli-Opitz syndrome and regressive autism, to boot. It’s a really beautiful book. Kate Duren’s essays about her son feel controlled and confident and wise, but Andy’s poems attest to the incredible doubt and difficulty of parenting a special-needs child.
Here’s the poem “Dinner” from Where’s Jukie?
When I get up from the table,
Our relationship is the most honest.
Sometimes with the spoon,
sometimes with the napkin,
I wipe the applesauce from your chin.
The crow caws to us
from the backyard.
You crane your neck to see.
At dinnertime your fingers
are dull tools.
You swat at the spoon.
Feeling gravity too keenly,
you sink into the chair.
You must be strapped in.
You look at me as if to speak.
Your eyes refocus before
you chirp like a hyena.
The wasps thump against the screen.
How they wish the door
were thrown open.
Sometimes your mouth opens
so wide that I think you could roar.
The wind shifts the vertical blinds.
You look at them and cry.
How I wish I could understand you.
© Andy Jones
The second book is called Thunderbirds, by Christine Penko (Turning Point Press, 2015). This is an extraordinary book. It’s poetry, but the poems are linked so as to tell a story, so it feels as much like a memoir in verse. And the subject of the memoir is a family riddled with dysfunction and confusion, and a mother who’s both observer and orchestrator. I came away–having not been able to put the book down, I should add–with great respect for the writing and the characters in the book. Here is “Science Fiction” by Christine Penko:
Dazed by your news, I pretend
it’s possible for us to take
that summer trip we’d planned,
possible to leave our alien selves
locked in the battered house
I’d once considered a fortress.
In Sedona, it’s monsoon season.
Clouds boil against mountains.
Words pass between our mouths, melt
into lozenges of despair.
The future is impossible to imagine.
Inside my chest, something poisonous rips
open, spreads wings, gains speed.
© Christine Penko