Terry Wolverton produced this fevered writing based on four prompts given her by this month’s collaborating poet, Sesshu Foster. Sesshu will be writing a new poem incorporating his choice of these words.
When the dead poets come to dinner I cover the floor in peanut shells. I lock the cat in the bedroom because someone is certain to be allergic. I serve similes as hors d’oeuvres and the glasses of absinthe glint green in the fading twilight. I can’t seat a formalist next to a symbolist, or the LANGUAGE poets next to anyone. Everyone appreciates the strict meter of the main dish, but I find Whitman poking around in my kitchen cabinets, looking for the table salt.
What cannot be written are the names of all the dead, the ones disappeared, buried in mass graves, those who entered the prison and never came out, who swung from trees, were dragged behind cars, raped and raped by so many men until nothing was left. And the ones who mourn them, search for them, who travel to the capitol demanding answers, the ones who offer prayers, the ones who die themselves, never knowing. These names would set the page aflame, and burn down the world.
You are a medical scientist. You have devoted your life to a search for answers. You believe there are answers. You have placed your faith in reason, in the intellect, in progress. You are convinced that once answers are found, life will improve. Some days you find yourself just enamored with the idea of being the one to find the answers, you and nobody else. Some days you practice your acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in the bathroom mirror before heading out to the lab. You believe anything is okay in pursuit of answers.
Wire hangars on a bar in the closet. They’re like a group of men jostling elbows at a bar. The baseball game is on TV and the announcer’s voice reminds you of childhood. The beer in front of you is sweating in its glass and the darkness heals the pain of the outside world—everyone rushing somewhere, doing things they imagine are important but which really mean nothing in the press of time. You order a hot pastrami sandwich, douse it in mustard, grab a handful of peanuts in the shell and let them crack in your giant hand.
Readers who are contemplating writing your own poems may work with just the prompts or choose to use one or more passages of fevered writing to inspire your poems. Best Reader poem we receive in August will win a $25 prize.