National Poetry Month Spotlight: Matthew Gavin Frank

sketch by Aldo Carpi
We can make it to any river
on foot, on bird, on fish
on humming—
though you need to close
your eyes, hug your knees
to your chest,
rock in that typical pose
of distress, a water lily
in the desert, wondering
how the hell it woke up there,
forgetting wind—
and humming is not
the way to travel fast
on sticklegs, on thank you
thank you thank you,
humming is not the way,
on trowel, on thermal, on
Serbian sergeant-back, the way
before the frogs freeze,
the storm of mosquitoes
succumbing to steam (you
are getting sleepy, sleepy)
on staying awake, on
eyes open!     until
I drool, say,
let go of my hand, bend
my tongue,
and you bend me here
in this field
like willowbranch
where everything you loved—
fresh strawberries cut
into oatmeal, collecting rain
in a blue cistern—you
left them with me,
you made it all the way there
only to lose to a fish,
your legs blown apart
like some half-remembered
song, ill-carried, but carried
nonetheless.  The handfuls of air
we couldn’t quite close
our fingers around
left us for water, the difference
between hometown
and birthplace.

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

A: I was riding my bike along Lyon Street in Grand Rapids, Michigan, toward the outskirts of the city, the businesses thinning, the dog parks cropping up. The sunflowers in the community garden were just beginning to die, and I parked myself on a bench in the mud in front of one of them, pulled the folded-up Aldo Carpi sketch from my wallet, and wrote the first few lines of the poem. At my feet, I saw, detached from any kind of stem and way out-of-season, a perfect unblemished red tomato. Then, I wrote “water lily in the desert” line and went from there.

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

A: Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland is inspiring me to write strange poems about chanteuse mothers and auto body shops, Jewish deli dill pickle fetishists and the wallflowers who love them. Italo Calvino’s Under the Jaguar Sun is informing a few lyric essays I’ve been writing about Mexico.

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

A: This month: carne cruda (raw heirloom beef tenderloin with arugula, porcini mushroom, and white truffle oil), agnolotti al plin (tiny Piemontese Italian ravioli stuffed with braised veal and leek, sauced with sage butter and veal stock reduction), wild boar braised in Barolo wine, and hazelnut panna cotta at Osteria La Cantinetta in Barolo, Italy. I’m still pinning my residual burps into my lavender-scented scrapbook.

Matthew Gavin Frank’s poetry collection Sagittarius Agitprop is available for purchase at Black Lawrence Press.