Jim Boring Interview, with Kaite Hillenbrand
Your poems capture and preserve intimate connections with people that could be missed by someone not looking for connection. The way these poems record that connection, they also record something important about the people on both ends of the connection, and they invite readers to share that moment. Because of that, they remind me of an elderly poet who said that, if he had it to do over, he’d write only of people he loves. I always thought that may have been so that he could keep alive (read eternal) those people and the love he shared with them, though I didn’t get the opportunity to ask him. My question for you is, what drives your poems?
The way your question is framed is as interesting as the question itself. What intrigues me to the point of writing a poem are the vitality of the people involved, their genuineness, and the context of their actions or thoughts. You are sitting in an outdoor café having a cup of coffee and a sparrow joins you, or the Venus de Cappuccino joins you, both genuine forces of nature. What can you do but write a poem? This is what poetry is for, to make such things visible and tangible. Preserving moments into eternity is an illusion, the job of poets is capturing such moments on the run. Eternity is for angels. A poem has meaning only for those who see the miracle the poem describes, who see that this connectedness you mention is the fabric of the universe.
There’s a series of intimate connections in these poems, but the moments are brief and seem to bridge distances, which perhaps are the norm. That is, people who are not otherwise together briefly share an intimate moment that fortuitously presents itself. These moments feel like the heartbeat rises on an EKG reading, the poignant spikes of each day that make life. What, for you, makes the days worthwhile?
My poems are not grand or overarching; they are just the view from the end of my nose. A guy in the back of a pickup truck, a nymph in a coffee shop, a girl hit by a car, an old, delusional woman – there is beauty in these things and the pleasure of knowing they are all extensions of us. The days are worthwhile because of them and Arthur Miller got it right when he had Willy Loman’s wife insist that to be truly human, “Attention must be paid.”
Why are stories so important?
Stories are what we are. Our job is to see and describe and invent and embellish. Art is both truth and artifice. Every thought, every conversation, is a story. We can’t help ourselves, it’s in our nature. If we don’t tell the tale, the universe does not exist.
The old lady next door was a pistol,
she begged her poor husband, Louie, for sex,
though at ninety Louie was permanently retired.
Louie would step outside their condo door,
look at the parking lot, watch the people.
She would call him back, “Louie, where are you?”
Louie was on a short leash, one called love,
so he did what he could, washed and fed her,
cared for her, loved her as a husband should.
Bedridden, her once pretty legs atrophied,
she would dream she could walk or dance again.
Asleep she would rise to the music and fall.
Louie couldn’t lift her so he would knock
and I would wake and come and pick her up,
nightgown immodestly above her knees.
She would smile up at me and cackle,
not seeing me, seeing Louie, who
in one sweeping motion laid her in bed.
At the Light
The pickup truck ahead of me is dirty
not with neglect but with work, alone
in the back, one arm flung over the side,
his face to the morning sun, a grizzled man
of uncertain age and the visage of Marcus Aurelius,
is being delivered to the jobsite or his destiny
or his fate. He tosses something from a paper bag
into his mouth, chews, tosses more, contemplates
without concern his destination. May the angels
of the poor protect him from those who would save him.
Venus de Cappuccino
Her legs went all the way up and then some
and her shorts barely covered the then some;
when she dropped her empty cup in the trash barrel
she turned and gave me the look.
I was having a cappuccino, watching the rain,
waiting for it to stop and hoping it wouldn’t,
peering into that middle distance where all the answers are.
The answers bounced in place as she walked through them.
The walk, like the look, meant to arouse, to waken –
almost a civic duty. “There’s another one,” it said,
“waiting for goddamn Godot.”
“Hey,” it insisted, “Look at me. Aren’t I something?
And wasn’t it nice to feel something stir?”
“Connie was here” was scrawled
in the grime on the hood of the car
that hit her. And someone made off
with her bike. In the alley Mrs. Gruber
quieted her boy, her lumbering boy,
by smashing his head against a garage
oblivious to damage she was doing
his brain and the ideal of motherhood.
Eddie Tenace slept in empty cars
in unlocked garages rather than sleep
at home, no one needed to ask why.
From the bridge the river was lovely,
closer you noticed sewage and condoms,
twin symbols of our block – human waste
and lust. And an optimism, sluggish
as the river, that somehow both would suffice.