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No Small Gift

November 21, 2019

A book of poems arrived in the mail last week. It was No Small Gift by Jennifer Franklin, from my friend Carrie, of Care’s Books and Pie. She also told me about Love’s Executive Order, where you can find a weekly poem on the state of the nation under the current president. Franklin’s prose poem “May” was featured there earlier this year. “May” is not from No Small Gift, although its poems are not without political implications.

The beginning of the poem entitled “Days When We Fear the Meaninglessness of Existence” is a little bit necromancy-adjacent:

When you told me that you do not feel
the dead, I did not believe you. They

are here, ringing in the new year, dancing
with the children and the drunks, holding

up the walls. I hear their voices and know
what they would say. This is not a comfort.

My favorite poem from this volume is very short. Entitled “New Parents Over A Stroller,” it’s about that feeling that causes parents to say “enjoy it; it goes so fast” to the exhausted parents of newborns:

I want to tell them to memorize
not just the shape of their baby’s
sleeping face but the feeling

they hold, now, for each other.
They believe this is just
the beginning of happiness.

I force myself to walk past
wondering if God feels this sad
looking down at the world.

The advice in my other favorite poem from this volume, “How To Ride the Subway Without Getting Hurt,” seems to me to apply in almost any situation when a person is out in public:

Don’t get into the first or last car on the off chance there’s a crash.
Snag a seat.
Don’t look at mothers holding babies.
While standing, hold the pole.
Don’t stare at fathers who wear their babies in Bjorns,
tenderly patting their backs.
Don’t eavesdrop.
Look at your boots, your phone, your watch, your short nails.
Don’t make eye contact.
Stop loving everyone as Whitman did.
Stop thinking of all the men you tried to save.
Don’t list what every child can do that your daughter will never master.
Master yourself.
Don’t imagine back-stories for your fellow passengers that led them to
this city.
Or recite Cavafy’s “The City,” even to yourself.
When you eavesdrop, don’t ingratiate yourself to strangers.
Or flash videos of cats to the boy next to you to distract him
from his angry father.
Don’t drop anything and if you do, don’t pick it up. Consider it a gift to
the universe.
Don’t look at the blank faces of the passengers who ignore the woman
sleeping under the bench.
Don’t think of your college course when you read Nietzsche and had hope.
Never think of college.
Don’t believe ads for quick divorces, online degrees, cheap medical care.
Or doctors when they say there’s nothing wrong.
Don’t read the news or sing under your breath.
Avoid eye contact.
Hope nothing incites the police.
Avoid headlines.
Forbid yourself to think about the way you felt the last time you were kissed.
Don’t think about what you’re doing.
Don’t think.
Mind the gap.
Pretend you can forget about the rats scavenging beneath you.
Pretend you can forget.

Don’t you like the warning to not do something, and then the advice about how to act when you inevitably do that thing anyway? I especially love the admonitions to “stop loving everyone as Whitman did” and “master yourself.” That seems particularly good advice for the world we live in, with longing for human connection just something else for a scam artist to take advantage of.

On the other hand, my friends sometimes send me books of poetry in the mail, and isn’t that lovely?


10 Comments leave one →
  1. November 21, 2019 8:09 am

    Yes! The feeling that accompanies the sending books of poetry is just as lovely. I very much enjoyed this collection and I’m glad you did, too.

    • November 21, 2019 8:10 am

      I think my favorite or the one that most memorable was the one about the little girl at the hospital who was kind to her daughter. I still get the tears in my eyes when think about it.

      • November 21, 2019 8:35 am

        Yes, the poem entitled “Gift.” I loved the line about the 8-year-old chemo patient asking “why/there was no medicine of any kind/In the whole hospital that could/cure you.”

  2. November 21, 2019 2:31 pm

    How lovely! I really enjoyed this, thanks for sharing Jeanne.

  3. November 21, 2019 4:18 pm

    Getting a book of poetry in the mail from a friend is a marvelous thing! And these are good poems. As a public transit user, I very much enjoyed the last poem you shared. “Don;t drop anything” nearly made me laugh out loud 😀

    • November 23, 2019 2:21 pm

      It is a marvelous thing. And she’s an imaginary friend, which is what I call friends (like you also) who I’ve talked to for years but haven’t met in person.
      If I rode on public transit more (not much of that out here in the rural), I’d probably know why “don’t drop anything” is funny. I mean, I think I get it–it’s annoying when people fumble and everyone tries to help them gather what they’ve dropped, but does it happen a lot or is it kind of like a prison soap joke or ?

      • November 25, 2019 3:52 pm

        In the Twin Cities it’s more like the floors are filthy and anything that lands on them will also be filthy as a result. Also, if it is really crowded, bending over to pick up something you dropped is impossible.

        • November 25, 2019 4:23 pm

          ah! I really am a rural hick after this many years here.

  4. November 24, 2019 12:07 pm

    Ordered based on the samples and your review.

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