Friday, January 22, 2010

My Favorite Poem of the Past 2 Years

For the past year and a half I have had the wonderful opportunity to write a column on poetry each week and have it published in the local newspaper "Outlook." I've used that space to highlight area poets as well as poets coming to the area to give a reading, to make statements on the practice of or world of poetry, and to bring a little extra attention to the many deserving efforts going on in poetry today, including journals like "Main Street Rag," "Shape of a Box," "Dead Mule," and "Wild Goose Poetry Review," blog talk radio shows like the Joe Milford Show and the Jane Crown Show, programs like the Aroma of Art, and organizations like the NC Writers' Network, the NC Poetry Society, and the Poetry Council of NC. I've also posted those columns on this blog to give those not from the Hickory area an opportunity to read and respond to them.

I was recently told that starting in February my column will be reduced to once every other week. The newspaper has added a couple of other columns and can't realistically give me the kind of space they have been without slighting other columnists. All of this is fine, but since I usually write these columns about a month ahead it does leave me in a bit of a lurch regarding the column about Felicia Mitchell that I was going to run before her reading in Hickory on February 9. Publishing the column after the reading would do little to inform the reader what they might expect by attending the reading. Nevertheless, I can still publish the column here, as I do below. I will also post it on the Poetry Hickory website (

One possible benefit to this alteration in schedule is that I will blog less formally more frequently. Because I've used the blog to post my column each week and my reviews from Wild Goose Poetry Review, I've always been hesitant to use the blog just for informal commentary. I felt doing so might unnecessarily crowd the blog and detract from the authors whose work I was featuring in the columns and reviews. Now, however, since I don't want the blog readers to have to wait 2 weeks between blogs, I'll be more inclined to include a wider range of comments.

I hope everyone who reads the blog finds this satisfactory. And now, here is what I wanted to say about Felicia Mitchell:

My column today will consist almost entirely of a poem. It is my favorite poem from the past two years and one of my favorite ever. It was written by Felicia Mitchell, a poet who teaches at Emory & Henry College in Virginia and will read at Poetry Hickory at 6:30 on February 9 at Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse in downtown Hickory. Mitchell is the author of 3 chapbooks, including last year’s The Cleft of the Rock, which I reviewed in Wild Goose Poetry Review ( Both that collection and the poem below illustrate some of the features common to Mitchell’s outstanding work: evocative imagery, a strong sense of the dramatic, an awareness of the vitality of connections and all that we too often take for granted, and most importantly, a defiant embrace of life. Here is “Album,” first published in Blood Orange Review in 2008.

In the photograph I do not take,
my father’s feeding tube
feeds itself on his body:
the body that he has willed to outlast
every possible medical intervention.
And though he is not underground,
or lying in a wooden coffin,
there are flowers around his remains:
the Judas branch I snapped out front,
the hotel’s daffodils, azalea blooms
from my mother’s garden.
All of these fit in a Styrofoam cup.
All of my father fits in one bed.
In the photograph I do not take,
my father is not smiling
but his hand is waving,
its bandages white like flags of surrender.
He is waving at his grandson
whose yo-yo is a pendulum,
whose eyes are very sad,
whose note to his grandpa
written so precisely in a schoolboy’s hand
is answered with the truth
by a man who cannot hear himself speak it:
“Not so good, Guy, not so good.”
In the photograph I do not take,
my mother is out of the picture.
As much as she has seen, she has never seen this.
She has never seen quite this.
In the photograph I do not take,
nobody can see my cousin Walter
seated at the foot of the bed.
My father’s companion since his death,
Walter takes up so little room
not even the night nurse mentions him
to her supervisor, or turns him in to God
for being AWOL from the hereafter.
Walter the politician has no pull now,
but he lets my father in on little secrets
and pulls the blanket over his toes.
In the photograph I do not take,
all my father’s children are standing by
at the same time in the same room.
The black hair John pulled from our father’s head
to mantle his own bald head is long.
Of all of us, he knows the most.
He knows how veins burn out and needles hurt
and nights are long when your roommate sleeps.
He knows how handicapped the healthy are,
how hard it is for them to focus
when they pass through the door downstairs
to halls that smell of old urine.
Our father knows that John knows the most
and holds the hand whose last pulse he counted.
The rest of us fan out like angel wings
on either side, waiting for a sign.
In the photograph I do not take,
I am crying tears like baroque pearls
in different, scattered sizes,
and the miracle is that they fall
painlessly from my tear ducts.
The camera is not on a tripod.
My arm is long enough, my fingers deft.
I can capture myself in time.
Later, I will string the pearls with silk thread
that looks nothing like a feeding tube.
I will wear them to my father’s grave.
Another daughter might bury them.
I will wear them to my father’s funeral
every day I wear them
and I will wear them every day.


  1. I really enjoyed this poem, too. For some reason the line "how handicapped the healthy are" really stuck out to me.

  2. hey i just saw this somewhere else :)
    great poem and i look forward to more commentary!