Shelfie: Keri Kellerman Shares Her Bookshelf
Kellerman talks science poems, grief, the death of her father, and poetry that makes sense of the spaces left behind.
The books in this section of my shelf bramble with want. They call to each other. The girl in Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing cries, “Run. From a world more full of weeping than you can understand,” and Nina Burgess, the most elusive character in Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings, does.
Beside them, a middle-aged mathematician unravels in the face of a “clear-cut unhoped for” in Hilda Hilst’s With My Dog Eyes, while Claudia Rankine dissects it for us in Citizen, and Saeed Jones covers it in flesh and bones in his collection, Prelude to Bruise. Franny Choi echoes him in her poem, “To the Man Who Shouted ‘I Like Pork Fried Rice’ at Me on the Street,” from her collection, Floating, Brilliant, Gone:
you want to eat
me — out
of these jeans & into
something a little
cheaper. more digestible.
Patricia Smith takes desire generational, tracing it from the South to Chicago and Detroit in Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah, while Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz lays it bare in “July” from her collection, The Year of No Mistakes:
How good it felt: to want something and
pretend you don’t, and to get it anyway.
When my father died in 2015, I wanted to make sense of the sudden space he left behind. I turned to Tracy K. Smith’s collection, Life on Mars, again and again. An elegy to her own father who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope, these poems span universes and return home, changed and consoled, in passages like this from her poem, “The Speed of Belief”:
When your own sweet father died
You woke before first light
And ate half a plate of eggs and grits,
And drank a glass of milk.
After you’d left, I sat in your place
And finished the toast bits with jam
And the cold eggs, the thick bacon,
Flanged in fat, savoring the taste.
The idea of rooting ordinary human reactions in the complexities of science reverberates in Italo Calvino’s short story collection, Cosmicomics. “The Distance to the Moon” aches with a man’s desire to reunite with a lover strangely marooned on the moon, ending with:
She who makes the Moon the Moon, and whenever she is full, sets the dogs to howling all night long, and me with them.
In The Breakbeat Poets anthology, Fatima Ashgar howls with a different kind of desire in her poem, “Pluto Shits on the Universe,” which takes Pluto out of space and into the streets. This collection is required reading for anyone who still thinks poetry wants to sit politely on your shelf.
Kay Ryan concentrates the vastness of space in a hailstone in her poem, “Hailstorm,” from her collection, The Niagara River:
Like a storm
of hornets, the
little white planets
layer and relayer
as they whip around
in their high orbits.
And Jeannette Winterson grounds me again with Art & Lies, written in an imagined future where Handel, Picasso, and Sappho travel together toward the coast, and Sappho calls:
Fall for me as an apple falls, as rain falls, because you must.
Originally published on 9/6/15.