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After James Tate

March 18, 2010

by Martha Deed

I don’t like knives, Sam said to his wife
on the morning of her minor surgery
to remove a thingy from her neck.

Sam’s wife contemplated her response for twenty minutes.
She was a devotee of James Tate and had heard him say that his poems took a long time to write, because he had to wait twenty minutes for each new line.

The twenty minutes came and went.
None of the immediately obvious responses
would seem to fit the current situation:

But you use a knife to carve the Thanksgiving turkey
shave your chin
remove a splinter
excise bindweed from your garden

This is what she wanted to say,
but she did not. Her silence
a testimony to the weakness
of her poetics this October morning.

The point is
it is the obscure, clever,
mind-piercing response
that is required
the stranger the better
and bindweed does not even come close

but Sam had not completed his disquisition
I do like Boy Scout knives
and fish knives
and even Swiss Army knives
although the latter are a bit
too much like quiche
which I eschew, he said

as Sam’s wife
the woman with no name
continued to meditate on James Tate
What would the Poet say here
she wondered
Is it fatal that James Tate a man
perhaps would not respond as she
a woman would
under such complicated circumstances?

This gender issue would haunt her for the next hour.

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Martha Deed (website, blog) is a retired psychologist who makes trouble with poetry inspired by crises and other mishaps around her house on the Erie Canal in North Tonawanda, NY. Recent publications include her chapbooks, 65 x 65 and #9, and an e-book, Intersections, a 20-day journey of the unexpected. Recent poetry publications include: Iowa Review on the Web (with Millie Niss), Unlikelystories.org, Poemeleon, New Verse News, Dudley Review, Helix, The Buffalo News and many others.

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  1. March 20, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    interesting, intriguing and clever
    to my modest mind…

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