By: John Dos Passos Coggin
On his back porch, he fills his pipe with burley tobacco, sips Spanish wine,
and picks up a fountain pen. The brown gauze of a government workday
that enmeshed his face
sublimes to a silver smile.
The moment conversation idles,
he springs up from his nook for another pen.
Each floods with folklore; the crudest ink stick,
snubbed for decades among jaundiced attic detritus,
acquires the historic provenance of Lincoln’s quill.
Stub, italic, and 360-degree nibs.
In his hands, they engrave signatures
exalting as an oil painting.
Walking home, I see nibs in the beaks of blue jays
and ink spots on the moon.
John Dos Passos Coggin is a writer based in Alexandria, Virginia. His poetry has appeared in Zenda and The Blue Mountain Review. He also published a biography of Florida statesman Lawton Chiles, Walkin' Lawton. He co-manages the John Dos Passos Literary Estate and serves on the advisory board of the John Dos Passos Society.
"This poem comes from true life, with a bit of embellishment. A friend introduced me to the culture of fountain pens and it lit my imagination. The writing style with the pens was interesting, but I was especially awed to learn about drawing with fountain pens. Fountain pen drawings can achieve a stately, ornate style that is ideal for certain subjects.
When I think about the choices for this poem, the word 'sublime' comes to mind first. The word is rarely used as a verb anymore; according to the dictionary, it’s archaic as a verb except in the field of chemistry. But fountain pens have an archaic quality to them, so I thought I would bring back “sublime” as a verb to set a tone.
The other notable memory of this poem for me is the word 'gauze.' I rarely use that word in creative writing but I saw it in the Seamus Heaney poem, “Death of a Naturalist,” and I thought I could use it to good effect here.
Mostly, I went for a light-hearted, imaginative vibe with this poem.