Take a katydid

larger than a child’s hand,

spectral, spectacular green,

blown up as if in National Geographic.


My friend Joe, he’s a painter,

fond of all kinds of green.

He wants to coil in a spring

but to leap away as well, to carry coiling

beyond the bite of argument and tidiness,

to stop beside a stream, stretch

in the litter-free roadside rest,

yes, a bit cool, but it’s just for a moment –

then he expels some gas –

Joe is not the kind of guy Mom likes.


Instead of allegory, I’m using

dabs of design and color.

Instead of harmony, what shall we say,

ammonia?  I can’t help it, that’s

what Mom uses to clean the floor.


Melody’s a line.  Do you know that old joke

we diagrammed as kids, a straight line of small dashes

comes to a circle, goes in,

comes out, the line suddenly kaflooey,

dashes scattering everywhere?

Ants walking through spilled whiskey.


Harmony’s timelessness, all its seeming outside-timeness,

that’s guesswork; this tune,

puling like a kitten, just drops down the page

as sensibly as jazz

doing what it pleases.

David McAleavey has had work in many journals over the years, including Ploughshares, Poetry and The Georgia Review, and recently in such places as Epoch, Denver Quarterly, Poetry Northwest, and diode poetry journal. More work is forthcoming, including at Stand (U.K.). The British online journal, Pirene’s Fountain, recently awarded him their Editors’ Prize for the best poem in their publication in 2011. His fifth and most recent book is HUGE HAIKU (317 pp., Chax Press, Tucson, 2005). He teaches literature and creative writing at George Washington University in D.C.

There’s a lot of sweet turbulence in this poem, from the recollection of the graphic joke I learned as a kid (about ants and whiskey) and the seemingly childlike insect name (katydid), to the kitten (somewhat unpleasantly “puling” rather than more neutrally “mewling”) and the portrayal of at least some jazz as just doing whatever feels right.
I think I was trying to exemplify that kind of jazz freedom in the organization of this poem, though the intellectual stuff that is introduced (harmony and allegory seemingly opposed to argument and melody) suggests another turbulence, a kind of struggle to figure out how much “timelessness” (= spirituality?) a poem may aspire to, when really it also needs to complete itself, get to the bottom of the page, its end.
As to the tension between the bucolic beauty of the roadside rest (or the “spectacular green” gigantic image of a katydid) and Joe’s farting, or the irreverent kids’ joke, I guess it’s pretty clear I’m voting for a complex reality rather than for a neat, tidy simplification – though I’m also worried about too easy a sense of either satisfaction or cynicism 




Copyright 2009