Saturday, February 13, 2010

Poor Pleasures

A few weeks ago I took part in a state poetry contest. The topic was to create a poem from the words rust, muslin, peony, coal, and forest.
I forgot to submit my work. Oops. So you get to see it:

Poor Pleasures

In the ragged shack on the edge of the blue-oak forest
she stands barefoot in the kitchen lit by one bare bulb.
Threadbare blue jeans cling to the stems of her legs
the sleeves of the man’s shirt rolled up to bare thin arms
as she washes dirty old dishes in the rust-stained sink.

It is 5 o’clock on a spring morning and he is gone
to the oil fields. The chill in the kitchen is bone deep
but her bare feet are tough with years of poverty
and the floor is smooth worn red linoleum, gleaming
underfoot from the damp mop standing by the fridge.

Anyway the coal box by the stove is empty of all
but black soot. The water on the stove is just lukewarm
but her hands sing with pleasure as she pours it out
to rinse clean dishes in the dish pan in the sink.
Even this small warmth is lovely on a chilly morning

The blackened glass over the sink reflects her face
unlovely and inscrutable, with one small scar adjacent
to that wide full upper lip where his fist came to rest
one night long ago before he gave his life to the oil field
and demanded nothing but her food and narrow hips.

She dries the dishes with a muslin cloth hand-stitched
by her mother in the lamplight of her cabin, a flour sack
converted to an endless use for dishes, a dowry
for a marriage tired before it even started. With a rag
she wipes the sink, untroubled by the rust today.

She wipes the old stove down and a song slips out
as she scours old grease spots, at first a humming
melody, but as she turns with the rag to the tabletop
and wipes its red-checked oil cloth, the words pour
forth: amazing grace and one white peony in a vase.



DuskyHue said...

Maybe you can submit it next time. I think they'll like it. :-)

RNSANE said...

Chris, that is just wonderful. It is such a shame you didn't submit it - but I can see how it was forgotten in all the Haiti stuff!

How do you hear about these contests?

the walking man said...

Chris this is an effective imagery that truly communicates the hope found in a seeming hopeless situation. A contentment born from within. This has a strange alluring quality that makes one want to feel bad for her but then brings me to her place of mind. And it is good.

Lou said...

"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation"

Wonderful talent you have, Chris..

Brian Miller said...

really a beautiful piece sets a simple scene and yet pulls the heart nice.

Kim A. said...

Lovely, just lovely. You would have won!

Reminds me of a coal-miners daughter...


Anonymous said...

That is a first prize poem. It is so real I have tears dropping for that woman in that kitchen, I swear I can see her...

Thanks for letting us read this, you really are so talented.


Mariana Soffer said...

I am really really happy to read your poetry once again my friend, now that the storm has passed. I wanted to tell you that I liked it a lot, although it felt so sad. It made me think about the power of our minds, how great things can became insignificant when sadness or grief blurs our emotions, life then is a completelly different one, as if we could only see it in black and white.

Beth said...


Prayer Girl said...

Wonderful poetry. I can't really find the words to tell you how powerful it felt reading it.

I was in that little shack of despair with that woman whose life is full of sadness. Despite the circumstances, I felt the love, the spark of God? that slips out in her song, in her appreciation of little things.

I wish you had not forgotten to submit. Keep it for another contest. In my mind it is a winner.


Tall Kay said...

That is absolutely beautiful. Too bad you missed the deadline. I think this entry could have been the winner. Thanks for sharing it with us...I'd vote for you:o)

Matty said...

Well done! It was like I was there in the cabin watching her.

Felicitas said...

Wow! Chris, what a story you've illustrated here - so sad because it's so real. The portrait of a very human experiece under difficult and limiting circumstances.

Next time, remember to submit, because your work is awesome!

e said...

This was wonderful! I hope you can submit it somewhere...Well done!

Enchanted Oak said...

I'm grateful you liked the poem. It was written in one sitting, from start to finish, which is unusual for me.
As soon as I started with the vision of the ragged shack and saw this woman in kitchen, I felt her power. I never thought of her as sad, despite the details that unfolded. I thought of her as a singing energy of light in the darkness of the 5 a.m. morning.
I loved her.
The tired rag, the empty coal bin, the bare feet and cold hands, were all offset by the simple strength of taking care of her home, her life as it is.
I had no idea how I would insert the peony, the final word of the five I had to use. But then I suddenly saw it on the kitchen table as I heard her singing "Amazing Grace." It seemed a perfect ending.
Far from being melancholy, she is triumphant.

Magpie said...

What a challenge and you nailed it!
Reading this is like watching a movie - the images come so quickly to mind. I love that she has risen above adversity and shines.

TechnoBabe said...

Sounds like a dreary forlorn life, but woven into the threads of the story are inner joy and acceptance.
Many people live this scene. Not so many have the joy. Very good writing. I so like that you used the gunny sack for the remake to towels. I have personal experience of remade gunny sacks. I like your writing and the way you view things.

Hope said...

I loved reading this. I pictured it from start to finish.

Nessa said...

This poem is packed full of concrete images that it is a treat for the mind.

Purdie Pyrate

Gabriella Moonlight said...

You and your muse always blow me away, I don't know how you or where this comes from in you, but it moves me in ways that are incredible and full my soul feels this...
thank you

Syd said...

A wonderful poem. It makes me remember how the simple things in life are what really matter. And you have been reminding me of that for a few weeks now. Thanks Chris.

Teri and the cats of Furrydance said...

Wow...very moving

Judy Sheldon-Walker said...

And the winner is... Enchanted Oak. We know you won, they just didn't get a chance to proclaim it. :-)

Susan said...

I love your poem, the story, the hope and optimism among the mundane. Thanks for sharing it. I live near Nashville and your poem has the makings of the perfect country hit!!