How big is an alligator heart, Slushies? Have seen the wingspan of a Sand Hill Crane (a bird once mistaken for the Jersey Devil)? And what happens when you put Mentos in your soda? Life and its peculiarities, its soaring losses and aching beauty, and its utter, utter absurdity come barreling at us in “a flood of images” in Ryan Bollenbach’s poems, 2 of which we consider on today’s episode. Bollenbach has us recalling Willem Defoe at Sgt. Elias in Oliver Stone’s Platoon and envisioning Florida’s “serrated coast.” Cue Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.” Bollenbach’s second poem “My Lover Squawk Squawks and then Explodes” demands we take it on face value; the title is on point. Listen for a fabulous meta-reading and feel the way the poem wants you, too, to be Seagull. We couldn’t resist – a la Dillard’s “Living Like Weasels”– and spun out into our own squawking flock. Listen in as we welcome longtime member of the PBQ fam Warren Longmire to the podcast. His good work has a wide reach these days, keeping poetry thriving via The Nick Virgilio Writer’s House and Blue Stoop.
Poetry discussion starts at 3:30
Ryan Bollenbach is a writer with an MFA from University of Alabama’s creative writing program where he formerly served as the poetry editor for Black Warrior Review. He reads for SweetLit: A Literary Confection and Heavy Feather Review. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Timber, Colorado Review, smoking glue gun, Bayou and elsewhere. Find his tweets @SilentAsIAm, more writing @ whatgreatlarks.tumblr.com
“Adagio For Strings”
No one wanted this smoke. Not Willem Dafoe or the albatross
Whose wings Willem borrowed as splint for his splayed arms
As if real bullets ripped through him. Not the wisteria
Planting its tendrils on the ground’s sweaty palm
Like the sun taking pennies as a return investment on heat.
I drove my truck at forty miles per hour over the grey-blue asphalt
And looked into the eyes of some Sandhill Crane
Crossing the road unfazed by the wind whipping off my steel bumper.
On the radio, there was a composer giving a talk about the hope he found
In the last note of Sam Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.”
As if of body memory, Mark’s corpse rose from a bare patch of sand
On the side of Interstate 75! As is of body memory,
Chris’s corpse rose from the gated-in parking lot
Of a pain management center in Northeast Tampa!
The ground swallowed every traffic sign in immune system response
After swallowing them both on the same road.
I drive that interstate northbound to escape the gulf and the ocean
Overtaking Florida’s serrated coasts. I keep only the smoke,
The Blackhawk’s wingspan, and the violin notes
Piled on top of each other like bodies to be burned. I remember
The way the Sand Hill Crane did not flinch.
I cannot put my tongue around that.
Under the trees where I slipped into dreams, I woke skewered
By what the composer said, and the question the crane’s eye’s asked in response.
From my morning stomach, I pulled speakers made of the hearts of the alligators I have eaten.
Placing them in between the saw palm bushes, I started them
Broadcasting “Adagio for Strings” in a staggered order.
In the clearing, there were bushes of Pentas and Evolvus
In the shape of soldiers kneeling to the sound. There were squirrels kneeling.
Snakes bending their bodies to kneel. Bobcats kneeling.
Chris kneeling. Mark kneeling. The dusk sun made shadows
Of the withered tops of trees. The wind blew its violin trills
And all the hearts I planted fell on their side in unison,
Restarted in unison from the top. Just as the shadows started to grow,
Blue smoke rose from the grasses.
“My Lover Squawk Squawks and Then Explodes”
We spent the morning before just talking.
He said your body is slick like construction equipment, how it can move the sand to make a runway for my unhurried strut.
He said your body is like a French fry on a laminated paper plate.
In the high noon sun, I said you have a survivor’s disposition. It makes you gray.
Slick and survivor made us think of our own days of darkness, his coated in motor oil on the gulf coast in search of something white, mine coated in olive oil, garlic, sea salt tears and smooth jazz.
I told him his gray feathers and white food made me think of marbles.
I told him that it seemed odd that he prefers dark drinks when we come out to the beach like this.
He sipped his diet soda and said you just don’t understand, but I saw the white shining in the furthest reaches of his black eyes, that look as if he was already gone.
He walked toward me for a kiss, then changed direction. Sprinted to the white pearl beached in the sand.
I yelled to him as he passed me that I could see how, after living in all that oil, the clean sand, the white, could feel romantic, but inside I was hurt.
He picked the piece from the sand with an instinctual fervor then gave a soul-curdling squawk.
He swallowed the Mentos and exploded like a fourth of July firework over Coney Island.
At the table:
Warren Longmire, Addison Davis, Jason Schneiderman, Kathleen Volk Miller, Samantha Neugebauer, Marion Wrenn, & Joe Zang