“The Noises Poetry Makes” by Andrew Nurkin

Andrew Nurkin


I had zoned out, at first counting the numbers
in Fibonacci’s sequence, then considering
the idea of California as a kind of limit
that approaches infinity, and then
measuring my pulse the way my father
used to in church, and then remembering
a meatloaf sandwich I had one time as a kid
at a roadside café somewhere near Big Sur.
To this day, the best sandwich I ever had:
lightly toasted sourdough, ample slice of meatloaf,
just the right amount of mayonnaise.
And my whole family was there in the sunshine
on a road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway,
my brothers cutting up in their windbreakers,
my mother making little oohs and ahhs as she
gestured toward the ocean with a potato chip,
my father opening a Diet Coke and rolling his eyes
because I couldn’t shut up about that sandwich,
which I was just now having again in my mind
for the umpteenth time when the woman
at the front of the room finished reading
her poem about her difficult father and a rusty can opener,
which apparently had picked up some symbolic meaning
in the several minutes since I had stopped paying attention
so that the last line was pregnant with
charge and emotional resonance, causing,
after a pause, a chorus of audible exhales and low sighs,
the noises people make at poetry readings
to let each other know they have been moved,
that they love and can have their breath arrested
by poetry, the same sounds people make
when they sit in the electronic massage chairs at the mall,
exclamations of unexpected sensation that cannot be
suppressed and yet are muted for fear
of seeming uncouth, half stifled chortle, half
guttural sex groan heard through a hotel wall.
It must have been a damn good poem
because everyone seemed to be giving off
sympathetic cries and muffled moans
struggling toward articulation, a room
momentarily full of Meg Ryans in the throes.
And I, too, let out a little sigh, a soft but
audibly approving coo,
not because I wanted to go along with
the crowd, though everyone around me assumed
my noise, like theirs, owed to the difficult father,
but because I had been thinking about that sandwich,
could still almost taste it—sourdough, grease, mayonnaise,
picnic table in a gravel parking lot, penny sun
over the Pacific Ocean—and just the memory of it
gave me more pleasure than I could silently bear.

from Rattle #36, Winter 2011
Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist


Andrew Nurkin: “Though I like going to poetry readings as much as anyone, occasionally my mind wanders. But the thing I love most about poetry, and poetry readings, is the dialogue a poem can open up between different points in time. The best poems I know are ones that knock me out of my lemming linearity into the free-form expanse of memory and experience.” (web)

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