Eating Poetry* (X)

Shopping for Pomegranates at Wal-Mart on New Year’s Day

by Campbell McGrath

Beneath a ten-foot-tall apparition of Frosty the Snowman

with his corncob pipe and jovial, over-eager, button-black eyes,

holding, in my palm, the leathery, wine-colored purse

of a pomegranate, I realize, yet again, that America is a country

about which I understand everything and nothing at all,

that this is life, this ungovernable air

in which the trees rearrange their branches, season after season,

never certain which configuration will bear the optimal yield

of sunlight and water, the enabling balm of nutrients,

that so, too, do Wal-Mart’s ferocious sales managers

relentlessly analyze their end-cap placement, product mix,

and shopper demographics, that this is the culture

in all its earnestness and absurdity, that it never rests,

that each day is an eternity and every night is New Year’s Eve,

a cavalcade of B-list has-beens entirely unknown to me,

needy comedians and country singers in handsome Stetsons,

sitcom stars of every social trope and ethnic denomination,

pugilists and oligarchs, femmes fatales and anointed virgins

throat-slit in offering to the cannibal throng of Times Square.

Who are these people? I grow old. I lie unsleeping

as confetti falls, ash-girdled, robed in sweat and melancholy,

click-shifting from QVC to reality TV, strings of commercials

for breath freshener, debt reconsolidation, a new car

lacking any whisper of style or grace, like a final fetid gasp

from the lips of a dying Henry Ford, potato-faced actors

impersonating real people with real opinions

offered forth with idiot grins in the yellow, herniated studio light,

actual human beings, actual souls bought too cheaply.

That it never ends, O Lord, that it never ends!

That it is relentless, remorseless, and it is on right now.

That one sees it and sees it but sometimes it sees you, too,

cowering in a corner, transfixed by the crawler for the storm alert,

home videos of faces left dazed by the twister, the car bomb,

the war always beginning or already begun, always

the special report, the inside scoop, the hidden camera

revealing the mechanical lives of the sad, inarticulate people

we have come to know as “celebrities.”

Who assigns such value, who chose these craven avatars

if not the miraculous hand of the marketplace,

whose torn cuticles and gaudily painted fingernails resemble nothing

so much as our own? Where does the oracle reveal our truths

more vividly than upon that pixillated spirit glass

unless it is here, in this tabernacle of homely merchandise,

a Copernican model of a money-driven universe

revolving around its golden omphalos, each of us summed

and subtotalled, integers in an equation of need and consumption,

desire and consummation, because Hollywood had it right all along,

the years are a montage of calendar pages and autumn leaves,

sheet music for a nostalgic symphony of which our lives comprise

but single trumpet blasts, single notes in the hullabaloo,

or even less—we are but motes of dust in that atmosphere

shaken by the vibrations of time’s imperious crescendo.

That it never ends, O Lord. That it goes on,

without pause or cessation, without pity or remorse.

That we have willed it into existence, dreamed it into being.

That it is our divine monster, our factotum, our scourge.

That I can imagine nothing more beautiful

than to propitiate such a god upon the seeds of my own heart.

from The New Yorker, January 11, 2010

*Ink runs from the corners of my mouth
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

~Mark Strand, “Eating Poetry,” Reasons for Moving, 1968

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