Preemptive Elegy for my job and father
The other waitress, Eva Lou,
slips a spare quarter
in the jukebox every afternoon
to trigger “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”
for the mailman. They lean together
on the bar like standing at an altar
all moony and gooey before
he takes to his route again.
He is so married. Bummer.
G.R. the cook invented a crush
on that stacked college mama
landed here just for the summer.
He wanted to do her bad, lurking
in the stockroom if she went in
for straws or ketchup, his eyes
on her tits whenever she’d stretch
to clip the order overhead.
The fries would brown and smoke,
too long in the hot oil, him so intent
for her to look at him.
Read more of "Intimacy at The Blue Moon Café" in the print edition of Issue 153.
Reed 153 Poetry Editor
Anne Cheilek's Commentary
“Intimacy at the Blue Moon Café” is a gem of narrative lyricism that explores a rather incongruous topic: the lives of the habitués of an archetypical American diner. These unvarnished close-ups are filtered through the world-weary eyes of a waitress, and like all candid portraits, they are uncomfortable, but ultimately heart-warming. This poem astutely exposes the flaws, vulnerabilities, and unexpected beauty lurking just under the surface of everyday human experience.
in conversation with
Do you remember the moment that inspired you to write this poem? Does the inspiration for such a narrative poem come to you differently than the inspiration for a more purely lyric poem?
Oddly, I think I was at the Grand Canyon when I got the idea. Maybe the seed of this claustrophobic vision needed vast space to sprout. Persona poems like this one, and others I’ve written, do arrive differently from a lyrical or conceptual or confessional poem. The voice takes over. Valerie Nieman, a poet and novelist whom I greatly admire, describes this kind of experience in her commentary about her collection Leopard Lady: A Life in Verse, composed entirely of persona poems: “This voice began, with no prodding or priming or expectation. It was strong and sure, a voice with Appalachian cadences, and it was dictating lines.”
The portrayals of the characters in your poem are so vivid and penetrating: it’s almost like a novel in miniature. Have you ever been tempted to write this novel?
Thank you, but no. I started out writing stories, fiction, at an early age, but transitioned to poetry later in life because plot confounds me. I always felt more attuned to epiphany than to the long haul.
The details of the diner were so gritty and realistic, which leads me to ask, have you ever worked as a waitress?
Ah, yes. Like other writers, I guess! At The Ground Round. Serving The Hodge Podge (a basket of fried mushrooms, onion rings, and cauliflower), and soft ice cream in little upside-down plastic baseball caps, and frozen strawberry daiquiris in bulbous long-stemmed glasses that would tend to topple off the tray.
Do you have a daily writing practice or schedule, or do you write only when the spirit moves you? Could you describe how this works for you?
While I find that writing in a journal first thing in the morning clears the cobwebs (like the “morning pages” that Julia Cameron recommends in The Artist’s Way); overall, I’m not one of those disciplined people who sets the alarm for 4:30 a.m. and then writes until leaving for work at 8. They are heroic. I usually write—and rewrite—in the afternoon: a luxury.
In her essay “Poetry’s Old Air,” poet Marianne Boruch asks whether “poetry is more than the ‘click’ of revelation, if it is, as well, a process, an invited, even willed, habit, not just a swift, unasked-for gift.” She sees an essential “intention and emptiness” in creation.
I guess in my view, the intention is the setting of the alarm and the emptiness is the openness to the “spirit,” as you call it, Anne. There’s an almost trance-like feeling when inspiration possesses you, as a writer—when you must get something down on the back of the crumpled envelope in your pocket, or in the margins of your camera manual, insistent notes or words that end up going through many drafts, ultimately.
That’s the patience of craft, a different kind of trance. In the same essay, Boruch says, “That patience over the [pottery] wheel, or before the blank page . . . is a trance, and crucial, I suppose, to all art, but especially to poetry.”
Prompts can lead me to productivity, get me to something true that I didn’t know was there. So maybe I should set my alarm. . . .
How are you coping with the coronavirus crisis—the restrictions, the fear and uncertainty? Are you still able to write?
My heart goes out to all those whose livelihoods are in jeopardy, or who struggle to juggle working in the kitchen with attending to kids 24/7, or whose survival is threatened. But my husband and I live in a pastoral setting, and we have each other. I see a river, turtles, herons, baby geese. That eases the anxiety, and dismay about the situation in the White House. I have been able to write. Like others, I stay connected via Zoom: my critique group meets weekly, as usual; our Nexus Poets monthly open mic goes forward; and I’ve participated in workshops and conferences. Staying connected with these creative folks is a balm.