This week’s poem is from Rosie Shepperd’s debut collection, The Man at the Corner Table.
The Man at the Corner Table crackles with the unexpected. The voice is one of urban sophistication; a merciless charm that teases and tempts us with sensual evocations of food and place. The reader is surprised with tastes, scents, colours and textures. There is a winning insistence on detail offered with an irony that blends into satire.
The poems adopt a deadly seriousness to the business of comedy. In‘It isn’t just the under-floor heating that makes me lie down in the kitchen’, the poem explores the ineffable by sending it up in a domestic setting that subverts as it disconcerts.
The gorgeous place settings of these poems are not just carefully delineated backdrops. They toy with our interpretations of ‘at table’. As in a Dutch master ‘tablescape’, they become symbolic of our relation to ourselves, to others and the world.
These poems are exquisite meals, to be devoured amidst surprising intimacies, like the search for solace that is edging towards something more in ‘Balthazar Bakery, Spring Street, NY. Others explore troubling scenarios of grief and loss, such as the heartbreak in ‘You all have lied…’. Sometimes the poems appear like postcards from beautifully observed moments of exile, as in ‘Chorinho’ – where the author is hounded and haunted by unease. As in Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘Questions of Travel’ there is artfulness in this unease, and an obligation to close observation that resolutely refuses to moralize.
South Shore House, Long Island
Now the man who does the garden
has stopped gardening. Each Thursday he drifts
through the hothouse, composting silence.
His cash-in-hand drips home to Peru to feed
his sister and her children, Ana and round Amparo.
The youngest lives in an iron bed
on the longest, thinnest tubercular ward.
He will see them next year and waits without complaint,
sleeping his lunch hour in the coolness of the arbor
while the filthy cleaner flicks about your desk.
There’ll be ash under your chair and white musk
between the cushions. She checks empty
drawers and drops damp family secrets.
I pick them off and forget them.
The foxes are back tonight
savaging the trash, nosing the scent of bones.
Perhaps the ribcage of a roast.
Egg boxes, sticky with protein.
They find nothing, but I hear
their icy sex and cannot shake them.
One is injured; his eye reflects
a single bulb from the not quite busted light.
Rime hangs on his breath.
Lightly, he lifts a front leg. Up.
Slowly down. Up. I watch the dark space
between us, feel the fog
settle back. We are again separate.
I am not afraid of being alone.
I am alone because I am not afraid.