Tuesday, January 29, 2008

a peach

I like it when a poet bets on his metaphor. I mean, really goes all in. Looks at the cards in his hand and sorts them until they tell a story. It won’t always be a winner but it’s a fun strategy and what’s the game for if it’s no fun?

Michael D. Minard:

A Musician Returning from a Café Audition

of the Owner

Now that guy was a real fruit. A peach,
To be exact: smooth, sweet-smelling, kind
To the eye, fuzzily attractive. Oh, but to the reach,
To the closer look, damned if you don’t find
Him a rotten dripper, bruised on the back side,
Brown from sitting on his soft butt;
Past ripe, but unaware that the tide
Of his past-ripeness is flowing, hungry to glut
On his easy pink pulp: O God! drop
A blight on café owners, the entire crop.


I misread this poem several times. The speaker is a musician angry at café owners. I kept reading it as a café owner angry at a musician. I worked up four paragraphs on that reading.

Now that I’m clear on what’s happening I’m not sure what confused me, although I do still find that title & subtitle awkward. How about something like, “A Musician, Returned from an Audition, Complains about the Café Owner”?

The poem’s first sentence is a slur, an anti-gay slur. But the poet immediately checks it with attractive qualities. “A peach”, according to my Microsoft Word dictionary, is “somebody … particularly good or pleasing”. I’ve probably heard it (& used it) more often ironically. But we’ve only begun the metaphor. Like a peach the café owner is “smooth, sweet-smelling, kind / To the eye, fuzzily attractive.” All of this has an androgynous quality – he’s nice but there’s something about him, and that something has traditionally feminine qualities – sweetness, kindness, physical attractiveness.

Suspicion that something is a bit off is confirmed when you look closer, “find / Him a rotten dripper … / Brown from sitting on his soft butt …” This is a bit too clever, chewing the metaphor like scenery. Yet I like imagining a peach sitting on a stool judging the music. The owner is rotten -- because lazy? His tastes are old fashioned? He hasn’t kept up with the times, expects the musicians he books to play the same old tired tunes?

Minard allows in an unrelated metaphor here – “the tide [which] is flowing”. It is a metaphor once removed. The tide is a metaphor for the unstoppable (over) ripening of a peach; it is the sickly sweet rot of the peach that is the metaphor for the café owner’s … the café owner’s what? And whose hunger is it – “hungry to glut / On his easy pink pulp”? The tide’s hunger? Not sure there’s another candidate. What is the effect of the tide’s glutting on the café owner’s soft meat? A blight? The café owner goes out of business? He gets a fatal disease?

The musician doesn’t hold out hope the café owner (this or any other) will wise up and see the musician’s quality. It’s not a stretch to hear a poet talking about an editor, or a poetry reading coordinator.

It’s playful work and I haven’t even mentioned the rhyme scheme. But then it may be the rhyme scheme takes the blame for that overstuffed third sentence.

source: Anthology of Magazine Verse 1980


Jim Murdoch said...

This is where cultures collide. When I first read "fruit" my mind jumped to "fruit cake" and I assumed that the narrator thought the café owner was a bit of a nutter, then "peach" suggested to me a great guy (as in peachy keen). The saying, “you're a real peach,” apparently originated from the tradition of giving a peach to the friend you liked. I didn't get the allusion to his being gay, fat perhaps.

It's an interesting poem – he certainly milks his metaphor dry – and I enjoyed your analysis. More blogs like this would go a long way to encouraging readers to take a little more time over reading poems.

David Lee Ingersoll said...

I've gotten so used to poems not rhyming that I didn't notice it did until you pointed it out. It helps that his rhymes weren't the obvious ones I'm used hearing in pop songs.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

Good points, Jim. Fat. Crazy. Yeah.

D, one of the ways the poet managed to keep you from being banged in the nose by the rhyme was his avoidance of end-stopped lines. One reads "kind to the eye" and "the tide of his past" rather than "kind. To the eye" and "the tide. Of his past"; the latter would make the rhyme obvious.