caroll ann duffy | mr. midas

27 11 2012

POETRY DISPATCH No.386 | November 27, 2012

Carol Ann Duffy

Editor’s Note: Though the “Poet Laureate” honor has never been my cup of tea (given the politics present in such selections), I do occasionally visit whatever fashionable Laureates have been honored on the American scene just to see if they have done anything of value for the poetry cause while holding office.

I’m pleased to remind/report that though Billy Collins (far from Laureate material in my humble estimation), sure did one fine thing in his brief “hour upon the stage”: edit the anthology, POETRY 180, A Turning Back to Poetry, an anthology of contemporary poetry that speaks so plainly, so perfectly to one and all.

He also wrote a magnificent intro to this book, wherein, in part, he describes the discomfort many readers experience dealing with a poem. Having experienced the war zone of trying to teach poetry on the high school level many years ago, I could especially relate to this quote from a student:

“Whenever I read a modern poem,” this teenage girl wrote, “it’s like my brother has his foot on the back of my neck in the swimming pool.”

Buy this book. Treasure it in your personal library. Consult it often. Give a copy to a friend—even a teenager.

Another beautiful thing about this book, and all anthologies, as far as I’m concerned, coming across a poet you have not read before. And falling in love with his or her way with words.

Which is what happened to me, discovering Carol Ann Duffy for the first time. I now own three of her books…and still counting. “Mrs. Midas” indeed. — Norbert Blei

Mrs Midas

by Carol Ann Duffy

It was late September. I’d just poured a glass of wine, begun
to unwind, while the vegetables cooked. The kitchen
filled with the smell of itself, relaxed, its steamy breath
gently blanching the windows. So I opened one,
then with my fingers wiped the other’s glass like a brow.
He was standing under the pear tree snapping a twig.

Now the garden was long and the visibility poor, the way
the dark of the ground seems to drink the light of the sky,
but that twig in his hand was gold. And then he plucked
a pear from a branch – we grew Fondante d’Automne -
and it sat in his palm like a light bulb. On.
I thought to myself, Is he putting fairy lights in the tree?

He came into the house. The doorknobs gleamed.
He drew the blinds. You know the mind; I thought of
the Field of the Cloth of Gold and of Miss Macready.
He sat in that chair like a king on a burnished throne.
The look on his face was strange, wild, vain. I said,
What in the name of God is going on? He started to laugh.

I served up the meal. For starters, corn on the cob.
Within seconds he was spitting out the teeth of the rich.
He toyed with his spoon, then mine, then with the knives, the forks.
He asked where was the wine. I poured with shaking hand,
a fragrant, bone-dry white from Italy, then watched
as he picked up the glass, goblet, golden chalice, drank.

It was then that I started to scream. He sank to his knees.
After we had both calmed down, I finished the wine
on my own, hearing him out. I made him sit
on the other side of the room and keep his hands to himself.
I locked the cat in the cellar. I moved the phone.
The toilet I didn’t mind. I couldn’t believe my ears:

how he’d had a wish. Look, we all have wishes; granted.
But who has wishes granted? Him. Do you know about gold?
It feeds no one; aurum, soft, untarnishable; slakes
no thirst. He tried to light a cigarette; I gazed, entranced,
as the blue flame played on its luteous stem. At least,
I said, you’ll be able to give up smoking for good.

Separate beds. In fact, I put a chair against my door,
near petrified. He was below, turning the spare room
into the tomb of Tutankhamun. You see, we were passionate then,
in those halcyon days; unwrapping each other, rapidly,
like presents, fast food. But now I feared his honeyed embrace,
the kiss that would turn my lips to a work of art.

And who, when it comes to the crunch, can live
with a heart of gold? That night, I dreamt I bore
his child, its perfect ore limbs, its little tongue
like a precious latch, its amber eyes
holding their pupils like flies. My dream-milk
burned in my breasts. I woke to the streaming sun.

So he had to move out. We’d a caravan
in the wilds, in a glade of its own. I drove him up
under cover of dark. He sat in the back.
And then I came home, the women who married the fool
who wished for gold. At first I visited, odd times,
parking the car a good way off, then walking.

You knew you were getting close. Golden trout
on the grass. One day, a hare hung from a larch,
a beautiful lemon mistake. And then his footprints,
glistening next to the river’s path. He was thin,
delirious; hearing, he said, the music of Pan
from the woods. Listen. That was the last straw.

What gets me now is not the idiocy or greed
but lack of thought for me. Pure selfishness. I sold
the contents of the house and came down here.
I think of him in certain lights, dawn, late afternoon,
and once a bowl of apples stopped me dead. I miss most,
even now, his hands, his warm hands on my skin, his touch.

[from POETRY 180, A Turning Back to Poetry, Billy Collins, Random House 2003]

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9 responses

27 11 2012
Magnolia

I like this very much! I too am a poetry aficionado, please check mine out. I will be sure to read more of your beautiful poetry!!

27 11 2012
Pat McCorkle

. Norbert: I first became aware of you at the Spring Green Literary Festival.  A couple of years ago, I spent time in your workshop at The Clearing.

I’m supposing you’re pretty robust these days….and I’m very glad. I appreciate the up tick in POETRY DISPATCH posts, which seems to indicate good things on your end. Be well.  Enjoy. Pat McCorkle

27 11 2012
Nancy Rafal

Carol Ann Duffy is the current Poet Laureate of Britain and will hold that title until 2019. This is a deliciously thick poem.

27 11 2012
Kathy

Thank you for the introduction.

28 11 2012
Cathryn Cofell

Love this poem and adore her work in general. I had the privilege of hearing her read this one in Chicago a few years back. Her reading voice is scrumptious: slow, wry, that wicked accent. Thanks for sharing.

30 11 2012
brian

I’ll check out the anthology, but mainly because I want to see how it stands up to Carruth’s The Voice that is Great Within Us. Haven’t found one yet that compares…

3 12 2012
Kathleen McCoy

Reblogged this on The Real McCoy and commented:
I rarely reblog, but this is a particularly enjoyable piece from Britain’s poet laureate.

15 12 2012
clawfish

Carol Anne Duffy is over rated she is stifling poetic energy as in Britain they use her as a benchmark no way i will be rating this

28 12 2012
Maggie

i don’t know much about Midas but this is one hell of a poem. keep thinking i’ve met this guy! and she was smart to sell the furniture. good move. what is missed most…certain light. warm hands. fairy lights. his touch. yes.
thanks norb.

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