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Reading a Poem: Mannone’s “Carrots”

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scan0002This is another poem I was particularly taken with from the current issue of Red Coyote. (Presented with the author’s permission.)

Carrots

John C. Mannone

My grandfather’s fingers shook a little
until they clamped the base of the plant
as if ready to yank weeds.  Gently,
he coaxed the root to the surface—
the bulbous end cresting loamy clay.
Muted orange poked through the soil
as if a morning sun lifting through mist.
Dirt clung to the carrot.  He rubbed it
off leaving that good scent of earth
on his hands.  He snapped the green leaf
canopy clear off, let it drop to the ground,
and dangled the tapered end in front
of my face.  The tendrils whiskering
the carrot caught the same glints
as grandpa’s white hairs stubbling his chin.
He urged me to take a bite, to feel
that cool crisp flesh of carrot on my tongue,
taste its earthy sweetness.

I was barely six.  His blue eyes winked
with wisdom.  He said carrots were good
for my eyes, that they would help me see
more clearly the world outside this garden.

Here are my thoughts as I read, and reread this poem.  What caught me up first was the detail of slow description of what is a fairly brief event: details like noting when the boy is seeing the bulbous end or the tapering end of the carrot.

Second, the word choices.  “Bulbous” is not a plain word. I particularly notice the way “whisker” is used as a verb and applied to the carrot, not the white hairs on a chin.  The “same glints” on the two caught my attention also, because I’ve seen such glints in early morning sun.

Another good touch is the delaying of the boy’s age until the short second stanza.  Now we meet the one for whom this very ordinary event is not ordinary at all.  And when the poem ends on “the world outside this garden” how could this garden not be Eden?

John C. Mannone has contributed to Sin Fronteras Journal, of which I am one of the editors.  I look forward to seeing more of his work wherever it appears.

Find out how you can contribute to Sin Fronteras Journal at http://www.sinfronterasjournal.com.  Submissions are open until June 30.

Reading a Poem: Barrett’s “The American Dream”

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One of the pluses of getting accepted in a print journal is receiving a small book of poems by many poets, at least some of whom are likely to be new to me.

scan0002I am currently reading my way through the 2017-2018 issue of Red Coyote, out of the University of South Dakota, which includes two of my poems, “Hold On, Let Go,” and “Corners.”

I’m finding a lot to like.  One poet new to me is Carol Barrett.  Of her three poems I am particularly impressed with “The America Dream,” a short and subtle piece.  Here is the poem, by permission of the author:

The American Dream

Frosted grasses
bear the shadows
of pines

once peopling these plains.
Cars laden with dust
loom on every hill

along the path
paved to make our journey
swift.  A bluing sky

melts the crystalline
landscape, and on we plow
oblivious to those

who forage here,
to any shade
or sorrow.

As I was reading this, my mind made a series of pictures, some way off base, it turned out.  In the first stanza—what’s the connection to the title?—the immediacy of the grasses made me think of walking beside them.  Having this image in mind, I saw those looming cars on an Interstate above the path.  Paved?  Yes, where I live they persist in paving walking paths.

It’s only as “swift” sank in, and I felt the distance of “landscape” that I “got it.”  The paved path is a road; I’m on that Interstate, if it is one, not beside it.

Because she doesn’t name it as road, and because she delays the fact that the pines are gone and doesn’t spell out why or how (removed for farming? cut down to build the road?) I have wandered inside her poem and so find myself complicit at the end in all that taking the fast road ignores or denies.

Thank you, Carol Barrett, for this reading experience.  Carol has two books, Pansies, just out, and Calling in the Bones.  I’m looking forward to reading both.

Helping Children Read

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Once or twice a week I spend an hour reading with second graders.  I got into this through the example of Bob Kaufman, who was a volunteer with third graders for a dozen years. (I’m only in my fourth year at this.) P1000707

After Bob died last summer, his wife and I gathered funds from his friends and relatives to give books in his memory to Conlee School where he volunteered.  We were able to purchase 37 books for the school library.  booksThe last class “Mr. Bob” worked with will be moving on to Middle School this summer.  Children who read the books in the future won’t know who Bob Kaufman is.  But perhaps some of them will notice the labels and realize that someone cared that their library has these books for them to read. P1000713