Common Courtesy; Citrus Rites
By: M.E. Walker
Did you hold the door
Open for me just now?
I’m afraid it’s hard
To tell on account of your
Staring off into the distance,
Perhaps waiting for a lagging friend
To enter this home goods store with you,
Or otherwise indecisive,
Wondering if what you really want out of life
Is ten yards of fabric festooned
With hula hoops and bumblebees.
But even if you aren’t holding it for me,
I’m grateful that here, under the sage spice
And halogen lights, you have not
Made a total stranger of me;
You would not believe, nor would I
Burden you with believing, how good they are
At laying siege to the soft spots, how good I am
At chanting nervous breakdowns in nothing languages,
How the hateful ones can ask you
To find a love, and yoke it tightly, for dear life,
I think maybe we are all going down together,
And I would like to buy you a wicker basket.
The weather’s shifting. Even while we shop.
Should you turn away, go back for your coat?
Do you feel me flexing in my head
Every weary muscle of well-wishing?
Go fill ten wells with the well I wish you,
You who are as likely to let someone else in
As to finally let me out,
You with your hand held tight, like dear life,
To the metal bar.
Her death was made of oranges.
Her life, no matter the angle,
Clearly wasn’t. Her life, you see
Was largely a matter of chicken liver,
Of the love and gossip
She could coax out of a day
While lifting those thin
Liver-bearing wafers to her mouth.
But in her last days how she begged for them,
How they rang like a gaudy parade
Through the grey curtains of hospice:
Navels, kumquats, cara caras,
The blood orange we cut open
Like a shaking scapegoat,
The way we plunged fire’s guts
To feed them to her.
Looking at the living will of her outstretched palm
We can believe that we’ve all been sent here
Ticking toward some hidden urge.
We picture our known pretensions
As molten things, as smoke thrown from Roman candles
Putting up a screen or a show until the day
We offer up the holy pulp of want
And leave the rind behind for the ants.
M.E. Walker writes obsessively, performs occasionally, and has worked as in education for the last seven years in South Texas. If you're reading this, you've encountered one of his very first published pieces, which he is simply over the moon about.
Behind The Scenes
"Citrus Rites" is my prime example of how disparate attempts can come together in one whole poem. A couple of years ago, I'd written a piece about romantic desire featuring a steady rain of orange imagery. Later on, I wanted to write about death and loss, and the strange and primal way those topics might intersect with craving. As it turned out, the orange imagery had been hanging around waiting to be placed in this piece. Oranges in a lover's hand? True, but tried. Oranges in a dying woman's palm? True in a different way, and striking. We amble away from the fruit in that last stanza, but I felt that the poem was begging for an ending with echoes of its central image. Thus the bit about "leaving the rind behind," which told me that my Big Orange Poem was finished at last.
One of my poetic heroines, Dorianne Laux, has written great poems set in the most mundane places--in bus stops, in gas stations. In was in that charged spirit that I wrote "Common Courtesy." The location of a home goods store turned out to be a sturdy vessel for holding together some wildly varied feelings; I love how a poem can give you a place to socialize ideas or concerns that don't harmonize quite so well elsewhere. I struggled a lot with shaping this one, but with the help of a brilliant friend, I was able to find what Kim Addonizio would call the "heat" of the piece: the image of a generously open door, with all that that entails, and all that it leads the narrator to feel.