So in September of 2006 I got an email from an editor at the New York Times saying they wanted to publish a poem of mine. Huzzah, right? Right. Except, they wanted it to be a poem for Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that has become a holiday because so many people start their holiday shopping that day. One’s first thought is, Do I already have such a poem? One’s second thought, in my case at least, was no, no, nope. Nothing of the sort. The Times editor had said that this would be a full op ed page of poetry, he was inviting a few other poets, all to write specifically about Black Friday — lots of good subject choice he said: the bloat, or guilt from eating so much the day before, the shopping, the coming of xmass and the new year. Would he tell me who the other poets were? Nope. He said that one year the poets, knowing who the other poets were, almost ruined the whole thing: two of them showed up at the same bar and apparently got in a fist fight about it. Say what? Yes, some kind of jealous brouhaha erupted. I am at a loss to imagine the dialog that led up to this, but I suppose it could have been as simple as, “When everyone sees our poems together, then we’ll know who is the baddest New York Times Op-Ed special occasion poet in these United States.”
Of course, when a poem you have not written is going to be in the New York Times, you feel a little pressure. I had other things going on at the time. It was my first semester teaching at the New School (in the Graduate Writing Program, which I adore, after having taught at Nassau Community College for over a decade, I was a tenured member of the History Dept.). Aside from a new job (and a new subject matter), I had a two year old boy and a 6 month old girl. And I was doing promotional stuff for my book The Happiness Myth which had just come out with HarperCollins — radio and running around the country, too. Still, a part of my brain cleaved off at the moment I learned of the assignment and got to work on the poem. I gave it a lot of full attention too. Oh and there was birthday matters to think of too, my husband’s and mine are near each other in late November — that year mine was on Thanksgiving, this year, 2008, his is.
There were times that I had versions of the poem laid out all over the living room rug and I stood over them, babe in arms, and made decisions. My husband took pictures, but who knows where, and were I to find them, who knows what I was wearing? So, we’ll let that go. Anyways, when the day came the other poets turned out to be Billy Collins, Philip Levine, Mary Ruefle, and James McMichael. Pretty great company to be in. I was a tiny bit disappointed that the other poems weren’t really about Black Friday, in fact, I’m looking them over now and none of them is even about Thanksgiving. The are all just poems that took place in fall, and had some family-gathering feel to them, mostly with a melancholy feel. I have never had an opportunity to ask them, but I would love to know if the other poets had tried to stick to the assignment, or if they had always known they’d use a prewritten poem. Just curious.
Anyway, bleaders, here, for your entertainment, is mine. I post on Wednesdays here at BAP, so if you want, you read this now, and maybe think of it on Friday. I’ll drink a toast to you all tomorrow, as I baste my bird. Hurrah for the beasts and the feasts.
Black Friday Reverie
Thanksgiving was my birthday this year
and I find two holidays in one is not
efficient. In fact, barely anything gets
done; neither the bird nor the passage
of the year is digested. Luckily, Black
Friday offers new pleasures while remaining
a stolen day; a day after. There is shopping,
the streets, or the hilarious malls, but I will
stay home with the leftovers and use
the time to rethink, turkey leg in hand like
a king. Pumpkin pie, solid soup of
pummeled end-of-summer. Chestnuts and
sausage chunks from stuffing plucked
regally, like an ape leisurely denuding
a blueberry bush of its fruit. Maybe I mean
Cleopatra’s teeth accepting red grapes from
a solicitous lunk of nubility. Same image.
The hand feeds, the mouth gets fed. You
too? Mother ate turkey in the maternity?
Imagine, you not-born in late Novembers,
if every few years a bird adjoined your
candles. Think, too, who comes to eat
that bird. Those whose faces look like
yours; those nearly-yous and knew you
whens; those have your same ill eases.
How’s the sciatica? Fine, how’s yours?
The world is old. Cleopatra might
have liked Black Friday. It’s as engaging
as a barge with a fast gold sofa. She also
might have liked aging. At least preferred
it to the asp. Yellow leaf patterned
sunlight dazzles the wall with its dapple.
It’s all happening now, as I write. This is
journalism. No part of the memoir
is untrue. Though I probably will
go to the mall, if everyone else goes.