On My Nightstand: poems, poems

In a Cafe

I watched a man in a cafe fold a slice of bread

as if he were folding a birth certificate or looking

at the photograph of a dead lover.

Richard Brautigan

Comforting things: my fuzziest blanket. The window cracked open. A handful of milk candy wrappers on my nightstand, spelling out a delicious and handsome sweet on my tongue. Falling asleep to poems, poems. 

Like Emma mentioned last week, it’s so rare for me to find time to read simply for leisure. But I’ve started this ritual every night where I read one poem or two before going to bed while eating one milk candy, and some days, this read-&-sweet goodnight pattern kind of blooms into my daily miracle.  

So. Poetry on my nightstand this week:

The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster, by Richard Brautigan. Crazy collection of poems published in the 1940s. And also, is the home of the poem I quoted above. Brautigan is incredible and also insane. Many of his poems are fairly short, yet they are all tucked with stunning observations about the world. In one of my favorites, The Chinese Checker Players, he wrote:

When I was six years old

I played Chinese checkers

   with a woman

who was ninety-three years old.

She lived by herself

in an apartment down the hall

   from ours.

We played Chinese checkers

every Monday and Thursday nights.

While we played she usually talked

about her husband

who had been dead for seventy years,

and we drank tea and ate cookies

   and cheated.

–Richard Brautigan 

!!! I hope you are stuttering exclamation points. This is the kind of poetry Brautigan feeds you: lines stuffed with endings that just kiss you hard on the mouth. 

(A side note: Brautigan also wrote one of my favorite prose poetry books, In Watermelon Sugar, a fictionalized narrative on a post-apocolyptic world, and characters’ struggles to define and love such a world.)

Another poetry book worth noting: Teeth, by Aracelis Girmay. I saw Aracelis perform in Ann Arbor a few years ago, and decided to begin writing poetry because of her. Yeah. She’s pretty lovely. Her poetry is infused with images that flip and sing and scald. Her poems rotate between diving into the political, to small day-to-day blessings. In one of my favorite poems by her, Ode to a Watermelon, she blesses the fruit. Now every time I slice a watermelon, all I do is think:

I love you your color hemmed
by rind. The blaring juke & wet of it.
Black seeds star red immense
as poppy fields,
white to outsing jasmine.
Again, all that green.

and later:

Sandía, día santo,
yours is a sweetness
to outlast slaughter:
Tongues will lose themselves inside you,
scattering seeds. All over,
the land will hum
with your wild,
raucous blooming.

–Aracelis Girmay

Oh, shoot. Thank goodness for Aracelis.

Finally, a must: Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah, by Patricia Smith. A book erupting with dynamite sticks. I was insanely lucky to be at the Chicago book release party for this event last March. Patricia writes to cleanse and to dirty you up – in all the best ways possible. Many of her poems in this particular volume deal with familial and racial pride, spark, and struggle. I’m a HUGE advocate of her work! She’s got sass and strength all fried up inside this book. Plus, there’s some crazy delicious references to Southern food within many of her poems (cornbread lovers out there!? where you at!)

To end, mark your calendars! PATRICIA SMITH IS COMING TO ANN ARBOR on November 29 for this year’s Poetry Night in Ann Arbor! (At Rackham Auditorium, doors will open at 7pm) Both PATRICIA SMITH and SHIRA ERLICHMAN (another wonderful poet and songwriter!) will be the featured poets of this year’s event. If you love being swept over by some serious joy and feeling like you are built completely out of sugar, I HUGELY recommend you to come to this annual event! There will be youth performers from the Neutral Zone’s VOLUME Youth Poetry Project, and University of Michigan U-Club slam poets. Finally, Patricia and Shira will be releasing a book for the event, published by the Neutral Zone’s Red Beard Press! More info on all this goodness to come.


Enjoy the week, wonderful people! Go read poems and giggle and fall in love!

Carlina Duan – Sophomore, English major, Xylem’s Layout Chair 

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