this poem is not about the charity of the dead,

by Brenda Morisse
Wild Poetry Forum
Third Place (Tie), March 2012
Judged by John Timpane

their innuendo and walnut smiles.
It’s not about how they call to me in a subdued timbre,
fill my room with grandma’s sweet language
of papaya and arroz con coco, her shallow cooing
that originates at the tip of the tongue.
This poem is not about the virgin yolk
and the muck of razors and daily resurrection.
It’s not about yellow cuticles, the schoolyard ditch
or what do you want to be when you grow up?
I polish my last breath, forget tomorrow’s cringe
in the epiphany of an emptied pillbox beside the bed.
This poem is not about the puzzling safety of whiskey,
no muscles left to kowtow to the slap and stalking nude
as I slump and cherish the painless tumble
in the shower watering down my first drunk.
This poem is not about the throaty
Falling in Love Again on the jukebox,
belly to bar and midnight shooters,
the hangover gauze filtering neon lovers
as they offer up hotel-room champagne
or moon like reluctant grooms, unbraiding my hair.
This poem is not about the bloody clock
of the womb, Has it been a month?
or Oh shit, it’s been over a month.
Nor is it about the thick musk and gush of my insides
making an appearance and how it finished
with a shrug and vanished after forty years.
This poem does not begin at the feet and dress-up
with an impure strut. It doesn’t recognize the new chiaroscuro
of wrinkles in the mirror, confirming a lifetime
of velocity escaping the reigns of resistance.
This poem is not about the darkest floaters in my eyes
or the hollows beneath them.

It could have been gimmicky to create an entire poem around the conceit of what it’s not about. Preterition, that rhetorical device, mentions what it claims it won’t mention, therefore making us behold it, up against our noses. The reason “this poem” works is that the things the poem isn’t about are so wondrous, the language so unexpectable. And, despite its own protestations, it does build into a narrative of things it’s not about, as if the speaker is in denial and is trying to avoid the impression that s/he is trying to give an impression. In a poem that’s about what it isn’t, we latterly experience a rush of the fleshly, of periods and dressing and wrinkles in mirrors. The final image, of “the darkest floaters in my eyes/ or the hollows beneath them,” without really even touching on death, suggest it nonetheless, by pointing out the falling-apartness of supposedly integral aspects of the flesh (the retina, whose instability is marked in the floaters), and the empty basis of the supposedly solid. The unmentioned wrinkles “confirm” a particular “lifetime/ of velocity escaping the reigns of resistance,” a nicely telescoping surrealism worthy of Desnos. The wrinkles thus confirm a lifetime seeking to escape, as the poem appears to seek to escape. Plenty of beautiful, puzzling moments. ---John Timpane