National Poetry Month Spotlight: Joe Wilkins

Maybe you came here to read
the local news—obituary,
obituary, barn raising—but became
distracted by the boys playing Pac-Man
in the back hall with that reckless,
sixteen-year-old joy, and you
were a small boat drifting back
a muddy river of years. Or maybe
you have driven thousands of miles,
your father dead three states away,
but all you can think about is how
you’ll never make love again
to that girl you knew in high school,
and you miss her small shoulders
and the way she smelled of apples,
so you order a slice of pie
and with that first hot forkful
you know, no matter what,
you can keep driving. Maybe
you come here every day,
because here every day is the same
and you love that above all things,
as your days are most times hard
and wrong and wrapping your cracked
hands around a cup of milky coffee
is the best thing you know.
Maybe you are poor but Vera keeps
the toast coming all afternoon.
Maybe you are not so poor.
Maybe the world is like that
and there is nothing you can do.
Maybe this is your life—
corned-beef sandwich, fries,
one thin, bright slice of orange.

Q: Do you remember where you were and what you were doing on the day you wrote the above poem?

A: I have a very clear memory of drafting this poem in my second-floor office (and when I say second-floor office, read low-ceiling-ed, half-carpeted, hot, dusty attic) in Moscow, Idaho, a pile of English comp papers waiting to be graded and me wishing I was out on the road.

The moment the poem describes grew out of a road trip my wife and I took earlier that summer. We’d been driving Iowa all day, looking for a slice of that apple pie Kerouac crowed so about. I don’t know that we ever did get any pie, but near evening we found a great little café/bar somewhere along highway 20 and spent a good few hours drinking coffee with the locals.

Q: What is the last book you’ve read that made you want to grab a pen and write?

A: Though it’s been a while since I first ran across it, every time I go to Michael McGriff’s Dismantling the Hills I can’t decide whether I need to read all night or write all night. Just a stunning book.

Q: What is the most sublime meal you’ve ever eaten?

A: My wife and I used to spend as much of the Idaho summer as we could along the Selway River, where we’d hike and fish the inlet creeks as long as we had daylight. I remember a meal we cooked one evening on cast iron over the fire: cutthroat trout dusted with cornmeal and fried in bacon grease, hoecake, slices of onion and tomato, and cold Full Sail IPA. Oh man

Joe Wilkins is the author of the poetry collection Killing the Murnion Dogs, available from Black Lawrence Press in 2011.