Albert Goldbarth, from “Desire Song”

I want the glass of warm milk from my childhood / carried up to the crib by a living Grandma Nettie / with her hair still singed in odor / from the frightening tines of her old-fashioned curler, / yes, and I want the moon / in its entirety, the moon through the windshield / detailing Phyllis’s breast for me the first time / it was more than wish or a centerfold / peeked in private, yes, I want the moth of faint veins / holding her nipple, the coruscations it made / in stiffening, casting complicated shadows within itself / not unlike the moon, which I want, / and that ‘63 Chevy we parked in, which I want, / and the father who loaned it to me that night, / who I want waiting up for me, walking the planet / instead of being one more battery slipped inside it, / powering the rest of us, who are sweating our sheets / with our wanting.

I had a whole day of reading, writing, and talking about poems with a couple of friends this past weekend. Considering the sprint of my usual days, it felt decadent and wonderful. At one point, my friend Megan read the poem, Albert Goldbarth’s “Desire Song,” that contains this sentence.

I haven’t read much of his work other than the odd poem here or there, but this knocked me on my ass. To write about desire is not easy, and Goldbarth does it with surprise and heart. This sentence, this list of wants, is the engine of the poem, right in the middle, and its propulsive energy is what pushes the poem along its path.

It is the speaker’s repetition of “I want”–six times in one long sentence–that helps propel the sentence, but not only that. It is the surprise of these images. A glass of milk, a grandmother, a curler, the moon, a naked breast, a nipple, a Chevy, a father. The final image–a dead and buried father now “one more battery slipped inside it, / powering the rest of us”–is the most stunning in its surprise, in part b/c of its originality and in part b/c of how the image makes us feel the loss of the father.

I guess I’d better read more Goldbarth.

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