Catfish McDaris won the Thelonius Monk Award in 2015. He’s been active in the small press world for 25 years. He’s recently been translated into Spanish, Italian, French, Polish, Swedish, Arabic, Bengali, Mandarin, Yoruba, Tagalog, and Esperanto. Catfish McDaris’ most infamous chapbook is Prying with Jack Micheline and Charles Bukowski. He’s from Albuquerque and Milwaukee. The photo of me is after my house burned down and my dog died, the cat escaped.
By Jenny Ward Angyal
Poet Elizabeth Bodien has captured ‘a life entire’ in the 102 tanka of this handsome little book. Subtitled A Book of Hours, it is divided into nine sections inspired by the traditional structure of the liturgical day. Each section opens with essentially the same photograph of the sun over water, but the colors of the image and the sun’s position within it change to reflect the time of day or night, until we reach the final section, ‘Beyond’, which opens with an image of star-filled sky. The poems are printed in restful periwinkle ink on creamy blue-white paper; one poem per page allows plenty of time and space to contemplate each small gem. .
The poems I will be investigating are: her parents in The Victims; dating in After Making Love in Winter; marriage in The Wedding Vow; her daughter in The Month of June: 13 ½; and finally divorce in Unspeakable.
I – THE VICTIMS
This poem opens with rather prosaic lines explaining how the mother and her children battled against what must have been the abusive treatment perpetrated by the alcoholic father.
We don’t begin to know the essence of the father until we encounter striking imagery. His suits were “those dark carcasses hung in your closet.” “Carcasses” were once living things that the father no longer is figuratively, having lost his living as well as being kicked out of his home.
Likewise, that image is intensified by “the black noses of your shoes with their large pores.” Even the shoes were alive, if leather, especially if they had “noses.” “Their large pores” added a distasteful element to the human comparison that will be touched on later with the use of several other images.
It seems as though the mother, with her own limitations, had to teach the children to hate, because love for parents can be a powerful, instinctive quality without the leaven of reason. So “we pricked with her for your annihilation” employs a strange verb in that context; the children had to be pushed. The excessive word “annihilation” underscores how their hate had reached extremes.
Then the poem serves to view down-and-out street people. They are strongly described in ugly terms: “The white slugs of their bodies gleaming through slits in their suits of compressed silt” and “stained flippers of their hands.” It is as if these people inhabit an aqueous lower world.
The final telling image continues the sea reference: “The underwater fire of their eyes, ships gone down with the lanterns lit.” These people are still alive—“fire of their eyes” and “lanterns lit” and we are led to wonder if the woman who has spoken throughout this poem has come to feel pity for people who have lost everything– including her father.
II – AFTER MAKING LOVE IN WINTER
This is a very sensual, passionate poem. After making love the woman feels “a plate of iron laid down on my nerves” and “our bodies touch like blooms of fire.”
This experience has intensified all of her senses so that she sees “the light from the hall burns in straight lines and casts up narrow beams on the ceiling, a figure throwing up its arms for joy.” “The angle itself is blessed, and the dark globes of the chandeliers.”
A very unique comparison is “the silvery bulbs” cause her to “feel my ovaries deep in my body.” The intensity of this sexual experience reverberates throughout her body to its very core.
For her, intercourse has made her a complete human being; before, she was a child. “Like God putting the finishing touches on, before sending me down to be born.”
And with the line “we have come to the end of questions” the woman and man no longer wonder if they can relate fully; they now feel that they have formed a deep indissoluble union.
III – THE WEDDING VOW
The couple legalizes their relationship in a simple church, not an ornate high church. Although they have already made a laypersons’ pact between them, they desire a religious benediction.
IV – THE MONTH OF JUNE: 13 ½
Years later the couple now has a teenage daughter. They love her very much and applaud each of her growing stages. The poet capsulizes each stage by using school years. Kindergarten is defined as “a strip of thumb-suck blanket.” 1st grade is “a dim cocoon . . . back there somewhere on the path.” 4th grade was a “hard jacket . . . when she had so much pain.” This reference is cleverly slurred over, as many youngsters encounter difficult times for myriad reasons. “Magenta rind of 5th grade” could mean the daughter graduated from one school, shedding one for another.
The parents take joy in their daughter maturing into a feeling, expressive adult; so far they have succeeded in raising their child.
V – UNSPEAKABLE
She tries to show no anger, sometimes employs even humor. “All is courtesy and horror.”
We don’t know the complete story. Is someone to blame? We don’t know his side—except hints of another woman—and never will. In life we often don’t learn all sides of a situation. A poem can explore just so much. The ending is an enigma: “When I say, is this about her, and he says, No, it’s about you, we do not speak of her.”
Poetry by Gwil James Thomas, Holly Day, Foy Timms, John D. Robinson and Doug Holder