In his poem “A Supermarket in Portland,” Gibson Fay-LeBlanc is echoing the Allen Ginsberg poem, “A Supermarket in California,” in which Ginsberg imagines finding Walt Whitman in an all-night grocery. Here the poet finds Ginsberg and draws him into the busy life of a father shopping late at night, carrying concerns for his sleeping family. He imagines paying tribute to his own dead along with this dead poet who has honored others, and imagines a world in which such echoes of fellowship can bring transformative results. This poem originally appeared in Port City Poems: Contemporary Poets Celebrate Portland, Maine, Moon Pie Press, 2013.
“A Cry, A Shout, A Song” pays tribute to the work of artist Daniel Minter, his “A Distant Holla,” on exhibit in the Portland Museum of Art, 2018. As with any poem responding to visual art there is rich description of the art, and also of the experience the poet-view encounters. In this case it opens up a whole panoply of history and feeling, a solemn “weight” of grief and awe the viewer and reader become willing to share
Gibson Fay-LeBlanc’s first collection of poems, Death of a Ventriloquist, won the Vassar Miller Prize. His second book, Dangle Dazzle Dive, is forthcoming from CavanKerry Press in 2021. His poems have appeared in numerous journals, including on the PBS NewsHour Art Beat.
Betsy Sholl, MAJ Poetry Editor
A Supermarket in Portland
And you are not my father, Allen Ginsberg, and I don’t see you here
alongside havarti, swiss, and prosciutto purporting to be from Parma,
though I wish to, kinder and gayer than my own—you who knew how
to enumerate America like a lost love that maybe never was.
I have no time to be lonely here while my boys and my love sleep
in dark rooms—those small bodies in particular need green apples
and berries to drip down chins and avocadoes to teach about sex
and extra large watermelons with no seeds to teach absurdity—
no time because there is a list I grip while wandering wide-lit aisles
for mangos and oranges, for small sad cucumbers under wraps,
while puzzled by which of the thirty-seven kinds of peanut butter I need,
while gazing at the steeple of cheap beer, its garish prayer.
Phil’s out back lugging crates of potatoes from eighteen-wheelers—
let’s go see him, Allen, and wander a sky wide-lit by stars we wish
believed in something. Let’s believe in something. Let’s name
the brothers and sisters we’ve lost, the tongues, and share clementines
we lifted, too old to be suspected—the cemetery goes on and on,
Allen, and you’ll know why we remember our dead with stone phalluses.
Tonight we’ll stop to read the words. We’ll say some names: Wentworth,
LeBlanc, Davis, Johnson, O’Fahy; we’ll roam with the skunks through
the beautiful uncut hair of graves, and by the time I return home
with the sun, bedraggled, not a single bag of produce left, my brother
will have cured himself with peaches, and all of our boys and girls
will drop their rifles and joysticks and smash every last fluorescent bulb.
To have places to keep things, to hold things, that’s how we survive. We need these places to keep the things that should be kept.
—Daniel Minter, “A Distant Holla,” Portland Museum of Art, 2018.
A Cry, A Shout, A Song
Each box not only contains
but is what hands know:
this one canvas, paint, glue
this one carved wood & rope hinges & a tiny metal door with a lock
(buried the key)
through materials / through dirt / through stone
this one has a hole where the door should be
(small brown body buried or growing there)
this one covered by a young man lit from inside
this one you can play like a two-string guitar
(sound hole where a man’s heart is)
Good morning captain rooster / I’ve come to borrow your wings / to fly across the ocean / to hear Miss Lucy sing
this one a rooster, a pipe, fishes, okra
and this one a lock made from a lock, the wood lacquered
(use it as an altar if you need to)
The tools you use use you—
hammer, ties, axe blade:
this man has a crystal in his chest
this mother protects the flock inside her
These tools held too much / too much placed in them over the years
this old woman’s made of blue
(and a peacock not to mess with)
this girl & her turtle never don’t see you
we are affected by what the hammer does / we are not the ones who are damaged
this man’s made of seed pods and roosters
(his far-off work-song)
this woman in a white dress by the river next to an egret
(who’s more elegant?)
these five shelves where we keep the canned goods
(ship storage: tiny brown bodies tucked inside).
back across the ocean / back to mothers
Count bent nails. Count all the eyes that watch.
Count the bejeweled brooms that clean, or jump
one to marry. They don’t have to whitewash.
Go ahead, kneel. All these altars. You can’t
not bend. Your personal our (im)personal
history. You’ve left the lowest box open:
inside a homemade cave lies
your gaze. All these gone faces. We can’t
know them and won’t forget their stare.
The weight is always there / You carry it
Image at top of page: Daniel Minter, “Resistance Faith”