Chewing the Train
A metaphor is a freight train
that gets us within 30 miles
of our final destination,
but we still have to catch a taxi to get all the way there.
And a simile is just a metaphor whose brakes have failed.
If we know that peanut butter
is like a circus on a tired tongue,
does it bring us any closer to the smell of peanut butter?
Elephants and sawdust
and sequined camisoles flavored
with the sweat of 100 performances?
Is that what peanut butter smells like?
Does it taste like candy apples
and too-bitter mustard
on stale buns
and hot dogs turned too long
upon the rollers of their grill?
Does peanut butter feel
like the unoiled bump of the Ferris wheel?
Does it sound like a calliope
or look like an ice cream cone?
Peanut butter is peanut butter.
I rest my case.
So how am I going to write a poem
without metaphors and similes?
How can I write verse
while telling the pure unadulterated truth?
How can I make you taste a poem
that is only itself?
How can I be Janis Joplin
when I’ve been taught to be Joni Mitchell?
A Rose is a Rose is a Rose,
said Gertrude Stein,
predating my insight
by a generation or two.
But this isn’t Paris,
and folks in Mexico
want a dollop of figurative language
in their poetry.
So let me say
that my mind is a busy beaver,
trying to fulfill this impossible task
of twenty little things.
I’m expected to imagine
how peanut butter sounds.
The sucking gumbo sound
of South Dakota mud
or thick mucus of a cold?
Anything but appetizing.
Ay, Caramba! you might say,
but if you were Australian,
you would say, “Don’t come the raw prawn on me, mate,”
and you would mean
“Don’t try to pull the wool over my eyes,”
or “Don’t try to con me, man.”
So let me just say that peanut butter is made
by grinding peanuts so finely
that all the oil comes out
and it acquires the consistency of butter.
It isn’t like butter
nor is it butter.
It acquires the consistency of butter.
This is literal fact.
But to know the taste of peanut butter,
you will need to spread a bit upon a cracker
and have a taste, or grab a finger full.
What you will taste will be peanut butter.
The truth of it. Its reality.
And only then will I tell you
that literal truth doesn’t always tell
the whole truth.
My friend says
it is the peyote leached into the soil
the corn grows from
that gives Mexicans
such a remarkable sense of color.
The bright pigments of imagination
flood his canvasses.
His peyote dreams leak out into the real world
and wed it to create one world.
“Peyote dream” becomes its opposite—
a freight train taking us into the universal truth.
A larger reality.
This stalk of corn, this deer,
this head of amaranth,
all beckon, “Climb aboard.”
So when you bite into a taco
or tamale, when the round taste of corn
meets your tongue, and pleasure tries to flow
like a lumpy river down your throat,
look up at the poet standing in the shadows.
She’ll call herself by my name if you ask,
but do not ask. Instead, look deeper
into the shadows she wears around her like a cloak
and see that it is light that creates shadow.
See the many colors that create the black.
Follow where the corn beckons you to go––
into the other world of poetry and paint
and dance and music. Hot jazz with a mariachi beat.
Chew that train that takes you deeper. Hop aboard
the tamale express and you will ride into your
new life. It will be like your old life magnified
and lit by multicolored lights and the songs of merry-go-rounds
and when you bite into your taco, it will taste
like cotton candy and a snow cone
and your whole life afterwards will be a train that takes you nowhere
except back into yourself—a Ferris wheel
spinning you up to your heights and down again, with every turn,
the gears creaking “Que le vaya bien.”
I hope it goes well with you
and that you see the light
within the shadow
and the colors
in the corn.
Here is the NaPoWriMo prompt from 2014 that prompted this poem:
Today’s prompt is called the “Twenty Little Poetry Projects,” and was originally developed by Jim Simmerman. Here are the twenty little projects themselves — the challenge is to use them all in one poem:
1. Begin the poem with a metaphor.
2. Say something specific but utterly preposterous.
3. Use at least one image for each of the five senses, either in succession or scattered randomly throughout the poem.
4. Use one example of synesthesia (mixing the senses).
5. Use the proper name of a person and the proper name of a place.
6. Contradict something you said earlier in the poem.
7. Change direction or digress from the last thing you said.
8. Use a word (slang?) you’ve never seen in a poem.
9. Use an example of false cause-effect logic.
10. Use a piece of talk you’ve actually heard (preferably in dialect and/or which you don’t understand).
11. Create a metaphor using the following construction: “The (adjective) (concrete noun) of (abstract noun) . . .”
12. Use an image in such a way as to reverse its usual associative qualities.
13. Make the persona or character in the poem do something he or she could not do in “real life.”
14. Refer to yourself by nickname and in the third person.
15. Write in the future tense, such that part of the poem seems to be a prediction.
16. Modify a noun with an unlikely adjective.
17. Make a declarative assertion that sounds convincing but that finally makes no sense.
18. Use a phrase from a language other than English.
19. Make a non-human object say or do something human (personification).
20. Close the poem with a vivid image that makes no statement, but that “echoes” an image from earlier in the poem.
i have done the NaPoWriMo Challenge every year since 2013. I found this poem I posted in 2014, and since it was at the beginning of my daily blogging, only three people read it, so just for fun, since it meets today’s challenge to write a poem chock full of similes, I’m going to blog it again, eight years later, again for NaPoWriMo.
The sterling silver brooch and earrings shown at the beginning of the blog were my first cast objects created for a silversmithing class in 1988. I hand formed each of the pieces out of wax, then cast them in silver using a centrifugal force method. The letters were also hand cut out of wax. The metaphor is one I gave as an example to my cousin Pam in college, when she needed a metaphor for an assignment. She always laughed that it was the only “A” she ever got in her English class. I stole it back for an assignment in my silversmithing class and now again, for a second time for NaPoWriMo.