This week’s episode features three poems by two authors: “As Snow” by Pam Matz and “Solu-Medrol” and “Words” by Michael Levan. Pam Matz reads poems to get some real news and writes poems to find out what she means. The previous sentence is almost true….
Pam Matz reads poems to get some real news and writes poems to find out what she means. The previous sentence is almost true. She’s spent most of her working life moving words around, as a typist, editor, librarian, and writer. She has a pet rabbit, who is bossy and silent.
We started off our conversation with “As Snow,” a poem about death, dying, and possibly dementia. A poignant account of what we read as an instance of mother-daughter interaction, Matz brought into discussion the impact of death on the survivor and how losing someone close can make us hyper-aware of our own mortality. Images and ideas of snow, cliffs, and death are well-woven elements in this piece and part of what left us anxious to give our votes.
Michael Levan, unlike previous Slush Pile-r Frank Scozzari, didn’t finish the John Muir Trail because 30 miles into the trek with his future wife, he sprained his MCL. He’s a diehard Clevelander who couldn’t bear going to school the day after Earnest Byner’s fumble versus the Denver Broncos in 1988, which is why he made sure to attend the first major Cleveland sports championship celebration last summer along with 1.3 million other fans. This past Easter night, he and his wife welcomed their third child, Odette, who along with Atticus and Dahlia, have made their world complete, no matter how difficult the pregnancies were.
We move on to discuss the work of Michael Levan, “Solu Medrol” and “Words,” which also affects reflection on life, death, and dealing with illness. Levan’s structural choices for his writing lead us to ask what certain decisions might do – or undo – for the effect of our words. Can form distract from the intent? Can interruptions in pace lead the reader astray? Either way, Levan has a way of sustaining the sentimentality in his writing and making the speaker’s thoughts clear.
Tune in for the results! Let us know what you think about this episode, these poems, and virgules in poetry on Twitter and Facebook with #ScallopsAndVirgules!
Present at the Editorial Table
Kathleen Volk Miller
for P.M., 1920-2007
Until the end, which was sudden
you were dying a long time
and because I’d been casting my mind
toward yours for years
I was afraid I would go with you
slide over the cliff
being tied to you
I haven’t yet arranged for the plaque
next to the pathway under the birches
I think you would say
you will when you’re ready
trying to avoid any sting
of worry or impatience
since you died, I forgive others
keep the anger banked
whenever I came to the nursing home
at noon, I saw the man
who proposed marriage to his friend
after her diagnosis
he’d be rubbing ointment on her lips
feeding her lunch
her face straining open-mouthed
his pants ragged at the cuff
he’d be telling her the story that always began
you were a little girl in East Texas
you’d know—what’s the Yiddish word
for someone like him?
I could tell you about
the rough wall you built
the stones you gathered
one by one
stopping at roadsides
for a shape, a color
basket-of-gold and lobelia
trailing from crevices
I couldn’t tell you
whether you and your last man
a kind man
ever slept in the same bed
snow falling again
in its own time
snow falling from the branches
that had held it
The man can only find words / to help his wife; he is unaccomplished / in so many ways that are useful to the world. / And sometimes he can’t even do that, but here,maybe, are these words / that stand for his hopes for her, for them, for the boy, / and the boy’s sibling who may come still. Here are these flowers / that stand for the medicine meant to renew her / appetite, to keep her from sickness’s wither. He can’t stand it, / but of course he does. Everything must have meaning, / each thing must stand for something if only / he’d take the time to see it all answered.
He says to the delivery man, / Thank you for the beautiful vials you’ve brought her; she’ll take / a few dozen more, however many gets her to see / the end of all this, which is the only time to make it mean. /He is willing to go down on his knees / before who might have insights and answers,who might / take what’s burning the man inside and quench it. / This is the woman he loves. This is the way / he knows to love her.
As the man falls into sleep, he thinks of all the words / he was told to never use in his writing. Words too big or too abstract / to mean anything specific to the reader, words with baggage, words / that have become cliché. He remembers a professor arguing for the impossibility of soul / to appear in a poem, except for that Zagajewski one /(and maybe a half-dozen others, off the top of his head). / The man believes he understands the reasoning, / though he doesn’t know how much he believes it. / He thinks of how his days with her are broken / into pain and sadness and anger and, yet,/ love too, love most, love in spite and because of this sickness. / How it drives everything he does for her, / and how it hurts him when his effort fails her, / how it’s the last word on his mind before sleep comes, / and the first he must struggle to find when he wakes again / and again for her all through the night.