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poem is in bowl on second from the bottom shelf

poem is in bowl on second from the bottom shelf

 

Kitchen Song

 

by Laura Kasischke 

 

The white bowls in the orderly

cupboards filled with nothing.

 

The sound

of applause in running water.

All those who’ve drowned in oceans, all

who’ve drowned in pools, in ponds, the small

family together in the car hit head on. The pantry

 

full of lilies, the lobsters scratching to get out of the pot, and God

 

being pulled across the heavens

in a burning car.

 

The recipes

like confessions.

The confessions like songs.

The sun. The bomb. The white

 

bowls in the orderly

cupboards filled with blood. I wanted

 

something simple, and domestic. A kitchen song.

 

They were just driving along. Dad

turned the radio off, and Mom

turned it back on.

 

 

IMG_0527

 

 

I’ve recently become enamored of Feldenkrais, a slow-paced non-exercise class in which students explore unfamiliar movements in order to break through rigidity and harmful neuromuscular habits.  That may sound like a load of Felden-krap, but it’s one of those practices more fruitful to try than to try to explain.

 

I bring this up because reading Laura Kasischke’s “Kitchen Song” is a little like practicing Feldenkrais.  It’s unfamiliar.  My habitual way of reading and presenting a poem on this blog—drilling in for meaning until I’ve nearly destroyed it with holes—wasn’t opening up “Kitchen Song” for me.

 

Not that this poem is especially experimental or opaque.  It’s just not the type of poem I feature on PoemElf.  If I don’t understand a poem after a quick couple of read-throughs, usually I’ll put it aside. But something drew me to this poem, and I kept it in my purse for a few weeks.

 

“Don’t worry about it,” my Feldenkrais teacher often says.  “Just explore.”  Could the Feldenkrais approach—moving with ease, not forcing a result—help me with Kasischke’s poem?

 

I tried to just be with the poem.  I sat amongst the disturbing images, felt around the disjointed line breaks, listened to the biblical and gothic overtones.  Soon I felt like I was in a creepy game of word association, where every word refers back to death:  the empty white bowls that fill with blood; the lobsters boiling to death; the funereal lilies in the pantry.

 

A fatal car accident keeps popping up in the kitchen like a knife-wielding poltergeist.  The speaker turns on the faucet, opens the cupboards, looks through a cookbook and out jumps the grisly end of her parents. She tries to escape in “something simple, and domestic.”  But her kitchen song is nothing like Cinderella’s—that is, unless Cinderella happens to be cleaning Bluebeard’s castle.

 

But after all that gore and surreal imagery, the end of the poem arrives quietly, so moving to me in its familiarity and ordinariness:

 

They were just driving along. Dad

turned the radio off, and Mom

turned it back on.

 

My husband and I play this game all the time.  Most couples probably do.  It’s a wordless disagreement that is indeed simple, and domestic. The speaker got what she was asking for but not what she wanted.  The final surprise of this horror show:  her kitchen song becomes that last song her parents heard on the radio.  And she can never turn it off.

 

I still don’t understand everything here.  I don’t get the applause in the water faucet, the drowned people, the sun and the bomb.  (Please let me know how you interpret those images!)  But the poem unsettles me and won’t leave me be, so I think I “get” it after all.

 

I couldn’t resist leaving the poem in a white bowl at a home goods store, a store that sells domestic fantasies to people who crave order, simplicity, cleanliness. If only we could banish clutter and complication from our lives for the price of a bowl.

 

Laura Kasischke was born in 1961 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  She went to University of Michigan and teaches in the MFA program there now.

 

She’s won multiple prizes, including Pushcart Prizes, and received fellowships from the NEA and the Guggenheim Foundation. She’s written eight novels to date, two of which (The Life Before Her Eyes and Suspicious River) have been made into movies.  According to Wikipedia, Kasischke is particularly popular in France, which puts her in the strange company of Benjamin Franklin and Jerry Lewis.

 

 

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