On the way to Seattle for AWP last Wednesday, I was reading the latest issue of Sou’wester on the plane and was stopped in my tracks by a poem called “Self-Portrait with This Throat and Goodbye” by Gabriella Tallmadge, a poet with whom I was not familiar. That will soon change – if her poems are all this good, I may just give up altogether and just read them for the rest of my life. Since that poem was just released and has not been excerpted online yet, I did not want to step on the rights of Sou’wester by retyping it here, so I went in search of more of her work already on the web. Let’s take a look at “M-16” from Salamander:
My rifle is human, even as I, because it is my life. I will keep my rifle clean
and ready, even as I am clean and ready. We will become part of each other.
—The Rifleman’s Creed
I’ve heard the trigger is a metaphor
for a woman’s clitoris, a snake’s tongue
locked in hiss. My husband’s gun is human,
because he is. Not fitted with his fists,
she is simply a slender neck,
her mouth is the opening of a star.
And when she flashes her teeth,
they swallow sky. It’s called thieving.
She could one day cost his life.
I forgive her: she is the matte black animal
without the consciousness of eyes.
Paired with the poem “Suffering Says” from War, Literature and the Arts, Tallmadge’s speaker paints specific and moving portraits of life with a soldier. In that poem, we have the quiet moment of
“What was the last thing Justin said to me?
Hush. Wrap this moment in tissue.
His face was among the ones
pressed up against the bus windows.
Marines’ shaven faces moved like shadows
behind tinted glass”
so tender compared to the distanced and measured voice of “M-16” which humanizes and even seems to empathize with the very weapon that may put the husband at risk, this female mistress that the speaker cannot control, that is simply a harmless, slender neck until he places his hands on it.
Her poems are filled with simplicity and power. And, if these aren’t enough, get your hands on that latest issue of Sou’wester and read the throat poem. It will put a gulp/a lump/a gasp in your own throat. You can follow Gabriella on Twitter at @GRTallmadge
If you want to write:
1. Choose a weapon or an object usually used to harm and humanize it.
2. Use the title “Suffering Says” as anaphora and let it speak in several repeated lines.