Thursday, 13 March 2014

Nebraska 20 - Aunt Alma

This poem about my Aunt Alma, born in Elk Horn, Iowa, and who lived most of her life in Omaha, is also about Nebraska: there is the obvious namecheck, but the references to the heat and humidity are so much about that midwestern State, and then references to decals, flashlights, neon and the Interstate place it firmly in America too.

It is a poem that I wrote some time ago, one of the earliest that I had crafted so carefully and perhaps represents a change in my style from youthful randomness. It was written here in England – like so many I was reading Gunn and Hughes at the time [I’m not making comparisons, just obvious influences!] – and reflects a little the two voices I have in my writing. I know it signals its ruse too much and too often, and it is metaphor/simile heavy in the way aping better writers will promote. But it is of its time and whenever I read, I recall with affection the influential person it describes.

Aunt a la Recherche

The filter wears a crimson kiss;
mug-brims too sport
lipstick crescents with coffee stains.
She is tattooing things with codes,
a few decals announcing her like billboards.

From sentences sanded through larynx bobs
her phrases growl out to press into my ears –
nostalgia as condensed as humidity recalling
summer heat, sweat,
days spent listening to her deep speech.

The words are flashlights, beacons from inland.
Nebraska plains span in her open eyes,
stretch behind into memories.
Perfume and smoke are
morse-smells tapping messages –

[car fumes along the Interstate creep back from nowhere].
Downtown neons flash across her smile
and she coughs: thunder roars from lightning;
hail strips leaves, roof shingles, dreams.
Rain falls all day here.

Cigarette butts, used tissue, empty glass – through these
she leaves a refuse. Clearing up,
I pocket the ash burnt off a long story.
The room is a limbo just then,
a tableau hung in the now silent air.

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