A portion of the days around here include an unavoidable wandering between staggered piles of books, an on-purpose arrangement that maintains a desired curiosity about what book is where. Nothing follows alphabet, subject or author. Books are stashed in random places that often end with a Mexican cookbook nestled up to Emily Dickinson. The way I want it, and a system that keeps daily browsing off-balance and unpredictable. The unpredictable on Wednesday was a poem from the usually astonishing ‘gathering’ of Garrison Keillor. I can only imagine that Keillor spends an hour or two each day perusing poetry collections with the aim of finding work that brings the genre another step closer to the average reader, searching for poems that make a daunting form more approachable. Mentioned once before perhaps, but surely deserving of a repeat: Treat yourself to a reading of the Introduction in Keillor’s Good Poems for Hard Times.
Ronald Wallace is the author of twelve books that include poetry collections, short stories and literary criticism. His latest is the 2008 poetry collection, For a Limited Time Only. He is the founder and co-director of the Program in Creative Writing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he is Felix Pollak Professor of Poetry and Halls-Bascom Professor of English. He lives on a 40-acre farm in Richland County, Wisconsin.
“Fat of the Land,” the poem below, is taken from Wallace’s 1991 book of poems, The Making of Happiness. It is also found in the Garrison Keillor anthology, Good Poems American Places. Wallace’s poem abounds with words that play off the American penchant for piled plates, large sizes and the effects of it all. From cornucopia to Velveeta to triple chins he paints a picture of ‘one big happy family’ living on the fat of the land and comfortable in their loving likeness and ‘love’s large company.’
THE FAT OF THE LAND
Gathered in the heavy heat of Indiana,
summer and 102°, we’ve come from
all over this great country,
one big happy family, back from
wherever we’ve spread ourselves to thin.
A cornucopia of cousins and uncles, grand-
parents and aunts, nieces and nephews, expanding.
All day we laze on the oily beach;
we eat all the smoke-filled evening:
shrimp dip and crackers,
Velveeta cheese and beer,
handfuls of junk food, vanishing.
We sit at card tables, examining
our pudgy hands, piling in
hot fudge and double chocolate
brownies, strawberry shortcake and cream,
as the lard-ball children
sluice from room to room.
O the loveliness of so much loved flesh,
the litany of split seams and puffed sleeves,
sack dresses and Sansabelt slacks,
dimpled knees and knuckles, the jiggle
of triple chins. O the gladness
that only a family understands,
our fat smiles dancing
as we play our cards right.
Our jovial conversation blooms and booms
in love’s large company, as our sweet
words ripen and split their skins:
mulberry, fabulous, flotation,
Let our large hearts attack us,
our blood run us off the scale.
We’re huge and whole on this simmering night,
battened against the small skinny
futures that must befall all of us,
the gray thin days and the noncaloric dark.