It was Chris at Stuff As Dreams are Made On who convinced me to find a volume of poetry entitled Atlas by Katrina Vandenberg because he recommended it so enthusiastically (and repeatedly). While I was reading it, I found out that John Green, the YA author (and alumnus of the college where I work) is also a fan and sometimes reads her poetry out loud.
Last night I was reading Atlas and came across a poem that struck me almost as a response to something that has been bothering me at a very low level. I have a cousin who is militantly vegetarian, and as she ages, she gets more and more militant about it. Yesterday she put a post on Facebook that said “You can’t love animals and eat them.” Nonsense, I thought. I love some of them on my pillow, purring in the middle of the night, and I love others roasted, fried, grilled, and stewed. I love peacocks, and yet there is no dish I haven’t tried that I long to try as much as breast of peacock (with apple pie).
Especially this time of year, I stand in line at the grocery store staring at the front pages of the periodicals and mentally correlating the number of articles about dieting with the number of articles about recipes on the cover of the same magazine. It seems so perverse, offering food with one hand and yanking it away with the other. Like the speaker of Vandenberg’s poem, I would like to see more naked desire, more
I’m not making this up. In Café Latte’s wine bar
one of the lovely coeds at the next table
touched John on the arm as if I wasn’t there
and said, Excuse me, sir, but what
is that naughty little dessert?
And I knew from the way he glanced
at the frothy neckline of her blouse,
then immediately cast his eyes on his plate
before giving a fatherly answer,
he would have given up dessert three months
for the chance to feed this one to her.
I was stunned; John was hopeful;
but the girl was hitting on his cake.
Though she told her friend until they left
she did not want any. I wish she wanted
something—my husband, his cake, both at once.
I wish she left insisting
upon the beauty of his hands, his curls,
the sublimeness of strawberries
and angel food. But she was precocious,
and I fear adulthood is the discipline
of being above desire, cultivated
after years of learning what you want
and where and how, after insisting
that you will one day have it. I don’t
ever want to stop noticing a man like the one
at the bar in his loosened tie, reading
the Star Tribune. I don’t want to eat my cake
with a baby spoon to force small bites,
as women’s magazines suggest. And you
don’t want to either, do you? You want a big piece
of this world. You would love to have the whole thing.
Don’t you love the way the poem turns out to an imaginary audience at the end, acknowledging boundaries even as it reveals the way our hunger could be unbounded? If you have the whole thing, what’s left for me?
I would like to say to my cousin, the one cousin I grew up with, the only cousin I’ve ever wanted to see during the holidays and still miss when she’s not there, that we all want a big piece–and maybe adulthood is the discipline of making sure that our desires don’t interfere too much with the desires of others.
And I would like to say thanks to Katrina Vandenberg for the line “the girl was hitting on his cake.”