The Practice of Creativity

Poetry Publication: The Shells of Pink Bodies

Posted on: July 24, 2016

There is always a lag time between acceptance of one’s work and publication. So, I was thrilled to receive the recent Oracle: Fine Arts Review, a lovely literary and arts journal, and see my poem, ‘The Shells of Pink Bodies’! This poem was submitted last September and accepted at the beginning of the year. Oracle is published annually by the University of South Alabama. It features fiction, nonfiction, poetry, painting, photography, drawing, sculpture, illustration, glass, printmaking, and ceramics. I enjoyed working with their editorial team.

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This poem is my strongest one to date, both in terms of technique, structure and emotional resonance. I have not studied poetry in the obsessive way that I have studied novels and more recently short stories. Therefore, it’s such a joy when I write a poem that I immediately know works and sparks something for the reader. When I took a draft to my writing group and listened to their responses (unlike any other response to my poems), I knew the work was strong. I typically don’t decide to just sit down and write a poem. When I am compelled to write a poem, it is in response to a very strong emotion, usually something rooted in my childhood or adolescence. This poem contains some autobiographical material that has been reworked. It also takes up mother and daughter issues which is definitely emotional territory that I like to explore. Soon Oracle will have a pdf file of the issue on their website that I can link to. They produced a beautiful issue. Until then, here is my poem. Also, check out their call for issue 10. They would love to see your work. Enjoy!

 

The Shells of Pink Bodies

 a girl sits in a fine restaurant
her mother across from her, martini in hand.
the girl knows that being there is a luxury.

what awaits them in the tiny hotel room
the chair, the stained bedspread, no fridge
but a hotplate.

small cartons of milk pilfered from school
placed outside on the window sill,
to keep them cool, and
tiny boxes of Coco Puffs and Fruit Loops
decorate the TV stand.
their lives away from the stepfather
not with him
but not yet
somewhere else.
years later, the daughter will still loathe
small cartons of milk, and the cheery, sugary cereals
that everyone else loved, and describe their time in that room
as hand to almost mouth living.

And so a restaurant,
every now and then, makes the mother forget.
while the daughter practices
what it will be like

when things are different
in a barely imagined future.
the daughter wrings the napkin in her lap, eager
she takes her mother’s suggestion and orders what she wants
the most exotic thing on the menu.
Shrimp!
she has seen their small, pink muscular bodies
lying on ice-filled platters
in late night commercials,
wedged
between the Johnny Carson show
and B movie reruns.
the waiter smiles at her,
she beams.

“Another martini, please.
Yes the same as before, extra dry,
straight up, with two olives.”

the daughter’s platter arrives
and she eats and eats and eats.

the chewing though takes longer than she imagined.

the waiter looks at the daughter with a hint of surprise and just
as he is about to speak, the daughter glimpses a calculation

in her mother’s eyes,
the waiter sees it, too, hesitating.
a message, the daughter wonders
the waiter shrinks back.
the pink bodies finally surrender to the daughter’s jaws working,
chewing and snapping.
her mother is paying, so she must eat another and another
all that awaits back at the hotel is the dry crunch of cereal.
The waiter returns, rising on the balls of his feet, worried now
hovering, until the mother shoos him away.

pink bodies float in the melting ice, disintegrating.

the daughter’s throat is raw and she asks for another Coke.
her mother is quiet, drinking the next martini.

the waiter takes the completely empty platter away.

“You didn’t ask, did you? You just took,” her mother finally says.

the girl sees a meanness coming, shooting out from her mother’s eyes,
she checks the placement of forks, napkins.

“Don’t do anything,
in a restaurant,
without asking me.”
“You weren’t supposed to eat them with the shells on.”

the mother’s martini laugh, sharp and almost playful
rings in the girl’s ears.
her focus narrows
to the missing platter’s
indentation in the tablecloth.

“You always wait
and watch
and ask if you are unsure.”

“Next time, you’ll know.”

the bill is paid and they begin their journey back.
those perfectly pink bodies, those shells,
stay with her,
scratch inside.

years later they remind her
of the ability to endure.
the caring, but quiet waiter.

she waits to know,
for sure,
what is expected of her.

a different future
than imagined.

 

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3 Responses to "Poetry Publication: The Shells of Pink Bodies"

Thank you, Michele: the images and emotions in “The Shells of Pink Bodies” is going to stay with me for a long time! May I use your poem as an example in a future poetry class? Congratulations on your dedicated work and getting into ORACLE!!

Hi Alice,
What a lovely message to receive, thank you! Yes, of course, feel free to use my poem in your classes.

Dear Michele:

What exquisite tension builds in this story-poem. The contrast between the two meals and the two settings creates for the reader all manner of imaginings. The crunch of cold cereal and the crunch of shrimp shells, such a personal thing, masticating and swallowing, and the Mother, drinking martinis, coolly lays bear the girl’s vulnerability. Great title too. Congrats on the publication!

Always,
Mary Barnard

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Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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