“Box Ode” by Barbara Hamby

Barbara Hamby


Sarah is bartending at Waterworks, a local tiki bar,
and tells us about the box a colleague has
with all the creepy notes men have slipped her, 
and I think most women have a box like this,
and if you’re lucky it’s not your body, and I think 
of what my own box might contain, 
certainly the letter from the law professor’s wife,
the one she wrote when he asked me out,
and I said, “You’re married,” and he said, “We have
an open marriage,” and I thought, “Sure
you do,” so I said I’d have lunch with him 
if his wife wrote me and said it was okay, 
and I thought that would be the end of it, but he brought
the note to the restaurant where I worked,
and I went out with him, but it was so boring that even
he knew it was a stupid idea. How much
she must have wanted to get rid of him, and years later
I met her again at a dinner party with a new
husband, and she didn’t remember me, but I placed her
around three in the morning. My box
would have all the poems and drawings that men
had tried to ply me with, though most of them
were pretty romantic, but what is romance but a trick
on yourself, though a beautiful one,
a lot of work to keep going and worth it when you’re
deep in the tunnels of your body 
which lead to your heart box with all its swelling 
crescendos and arias of accordion classics
and your brain box full of Hamlet and refrigerator
warranties and your cunt box with its bongo
drums and traffic sirens, and I love to think of Whitman’s
box of notes for “Song of Myself,” 
all the little pieces floating like birds over the open sea
of America before they were anything near
a typeset page or Pandora’s box, which only became
hers when she opened it to let loose the flies
of smallpox on an unsuspecting world, the locusts
of polio, the invisible bubonic future 
that has just knocked on our door, everyone’s body a box 
of cells wanting to break free of its suit of skin.

from Rattle #80, Summer 2023


Barbara Hamby: “I started writing odes about 25 years ago and have fallen in love with the form if you can call it that. The ode has been defined as a poem of praise, but I’ve found it to be much more complex. The praise is a starting point for a poet, a way to grapple with all the big questions we face as human beings—who am I? Why am here? Life is short, so what do I do with it? Keats used his nightingale to address these mysteries. Walt Whitman used himself. One of my big questions is what does it mean to be a woman and how do I navigate the land mines that women face. ‘Box Ode,’ especially, deals with this.” (web)

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