Douglas Kearney, The Body is a Plantation of Needs

16 Nov

I was in Little League one season. Everybody got a trophy just for being on a team! From this, I learned that almost doing something (in that case, almost being competent at tee-ball) is just as good as doing something. This dovetails nicely with my Lutheran upbringing: a sin in mind is just as much a sin as one in deed.

Thus: here are a few poems I would like to write. This is just as good as doing them, yes? And if I do them, I am just an overachiever. Awesome!

1) “Ham Sammich”: This would be a poem about slavery. I think it would need to be a longer poem in order to justify “sammich” versus “sandwich” and the thought of sandwich at all. The Biblical allusion of “Ham” also seems like it needs longer to cure, or smoke, or honey bake. As I think about the length, it makes me think about the world a poem can make—here, a poem could make a world in which a poem about slavery would have to be called “Ham Sammich.” What happens in that world? Why the dialecty “sammich?” This poem would be ridiculous. Hooray!

Oh, there was a line I really liked about a year and a half ago. It went:

    “The body is a plantation of needs.”

This became:

    “The body a plantation of need.”

In a poem called “Ham Sammich,” would that line have to be:

    “The body a plantation for empty.”

2) Another section to the poem: “Thank you but    please don’t buy my children     clothes with monkeys on them”: This, I think, would be the last section I need to write, though it will probably go into position between the current third and fourth section (the ones with the cartoon tuxedo gloves and the proliferation of monkeys, respectively), though the current fourth will likely follow the current second (the one about the history of black baby tail circumcision). Hmmph. Of course, that would make it the last, unless the current third goes last (which it might). The new section will be the one where I might use the chimp who went crazy (or as Chris Rock might say, went “chimp”) as a Trojan Horse (er—Chimp) to get at how people at the mall say how cute my eight-month-old twins are, but will probably clutch their purses and such when they see them in 13 years. I have no lines for this yet—rather, the ones I have are too too too heavy. Ham-fisted, so to speak. Here’s two of em:

    “oh but they must grow mustn’t they?”

    “yes, and isn’t it awful?”

Isn’t it?

3) “Worksongs”: These were going to be a bunch of revisitations of the Herakles Labor tales, because what we need is another re-telling of a Greek myth! At one point, these were all gonna have one word titles (The one about the stables would be called “Shit.” The one about the hydra would be called “Heads.”); but then, I wrote a poem called “I was standing    on the corner    when I heard my    bulldog bark” which I think might be a good way to deal with the one where Herakles kills the lion (since the poem involves Stagolee killing Billy Lyons and wearing his skin). This could be more fun than my previous approach, called “Lion” which had lines like:

    great hope: man in a lion

    skin is more man than ever.

    you wake up one day
a lion in a city. you will be


The “great hope” plays off a series of epithets suggesting “champion.”

I said meh!

 There’s other stuff, too. A bunch of poems called: “A History of Negro Silences” (I wrote several of them, but I think they work better as studies; besides, I’m cannibalizing that title for a different project). A revision of a short story called: “Suhthen Ventriloquizardry as Jig-Breaking Catalyst.” A satirical Western opera called Dead Horses… Perhaps if I accumulate enough almosts I could publish a speculative un-collection of poems! Perhaps enough almosts will get me an almost grant, which is when someone nearly sends you money, but just doesn’t quite. And surely if I keep stacking up almosts, I can avoid writing the poem about the miscarriage, when I woke up to skulk of foxes stealing away from my wife, their red backs crossing the bed sheet, their tails disappearing over the mattress edge.

Poet/Performer/Librettist/Educator Douglas Kearney’s first full-length collection of poems, Fear, Some, was published in 2006 by Red Hen Press. His second manuscript, The Black Automaton, was chosen by Catherine Wagner for the National Poetry Series and published by Fence Books in 2009. It has since been named a finalist for the 2010 Pen Center USA Award. He has also received a Whiting Writers’ Award, a Coat Hanger award and a MAP Fund grant. An Idyllwild and Cave Canem fellow, Kearney has performed his poetry at the Public Theatre, Orpheum, and The World Stage. His poems have appeared in journals such as miPoesias, Callaloo, jubilat, nocturnes, Ninth Letter, Southampton Review, Washington Square and Gulf Coast. Born in Brooklyn, he lives with his family in California’s San Fernando Valley. He teaches at CalArts and Antioch.

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