Monday, February 21, 2011

Manhole on Memory Lane

Hubbub dying down, the walking done, grocery shopping taken care of, Sunday afternoon and a glass of iced tea, a good time to look again at some of my favorite poems over the past month or so. The feeling this time was for something with a generous splash of humor and that I found soon enough in American poet, Jeffrey McDaniel. Publisher’s Weekly describes him as a recovering addict from working class streets, a poet with a rough-and-tumble persona, but with a softer side as well. He was born in Philadelphia in 1967 and apart from whatever other qualities are apparent in his poetry, the characteristic I most enjoy is his unpredictable use of metaphor and off the wall word choices that so humorously and vigorously paint his location or setting.

Mr McDaniel teaches creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. His collections include Alibi School (1995), The Forgiveness Parade (1998), The Splinter Factory (2002) and The Endarkenment (2008). Something he once said in an interview sticks with me: “The longer I keep stepping in the ring of emptiness known as the blank page, the more necessary it is to read. Also to stay alive.”

This first poem comes from his latest collection, The Endarkenment.


I’m sorry I was late.
I was pulled over by a cop
for driving blindfolded
with a raspberry-scented candle
flickering in my mouth.
I’m sorry I was late.
I was on my way
when I felt a plot
thickening in my arm.
I have a fear of heights.
Luckily the Earth
is on the second floor
of the universe.
I am not the egg man.
I am the owl
who just witnessed
another tree fall over
in the forest of your life.
I am your father
shaking his head
at the thought of you.
I am his words dissolving
in your mind like footprints
in a rainstorm.
I am a long-legged martini.
I am feeding olives
to the bull inside you.
I am decorating
your labyrinth,
tacking up snapshots
of all the people
who’ve gotten lost
in your corridors.

And from his earlier collection, The Forgiveness Parade


I strapped on an oxygen tank and dove

into the past, paddling back through the years,

emerging from a manhole on memory lane.

The boondocks were doing just fine without me.

The car dealerships. The trash heaps. The stream

of consciousness where I learned how to skinny-dip

had slowed down to a trickle of amnesia.

All the houses had been gutted, except mine,

where my family was still eating dinner. My parents

welcomed me with open elbows, my brother

looked up to me like a cave drawing on the ceiling.

The night hobbled by, rattling its beggar’s cup.

A pipe burst behind my eyes, which brought out

the plumber in everyone. At a loss for words

I placed a seashell on my tongue, and my relatives

wore bathing suits when they spoke to me.


  1. Wow!! I am blown away by this poet. I am going to get "The Endarkenment" and dive into this guy's dark and delightful persona.

  2. Good stuff. If all those old English teachers with their metaphorical wooden rulers of disdain had delved into some and showed us more accessible poetry many of us wouldn't have run from it in the early days like wild horses from a lariat.


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America