On first sipping

Susan Musgrave

      Paul McLaughlin

I'm standing in the poetry section
of the Chapters bookstore
on Whyte Ave. in Edmonton, sipping
coffee and poetry.
I savor the rich dark
of the Sumatran coffee,
but in the poems I find
nothing to entice, nothing
but vague bouquets
and bland flavors
that leave a bad taste
in my mind. Browsing along
the second shelf,
I come across Susan
Musgrave's Things that
Keep and Do Not Change

and recognize her
name and picture. I open
the book at random
and read

On New Year's Day my love went away
and left me with nothing
but the poems of Paul Durcan.
There are worse things a man can do
than leave a woman alone
with the poems of Paul Durcan.
Now, I don't know anything
about the poems;
of Paul Durcan, but sipping
Musgrave is like picking
up a crystal glass;
of chilled Chablis,
swirling the clear golden
liquid in the light
and tasting pure clarity.
No cloudiness
in six whole lines!
Can this be modern poetry?
I take another sip.
for Peter Gzowski

That got your attention,
didn't it. Or maybe you've lost interest
and moved on to another poem, one
about the ecstasy of a rousing foursome
of bridge, the Tropic of Capricorn as a hot
topic for literacy, or the cool seduction
of the golf course on a July day, plums
buzzing with bright wasps, young girls
making daisy chains in the grass, the scent
of vanilla bourbon on the breeze,

but I digress.

That certainly captures Peter
for me, and freezes him in amber
for all who remember
to remember.
Again I ask, can this
be modern poetry?
I understand every
word, and the sentence
structure actually
makes sense!
Again I raise a glass
of crystal Musgrave
to my lips.
When your left arm touched my right
as we both reached for the dessert
menu in the all-night diner, a spark
began smouldering in my sleeve, broke
a hole the size of a heart in the patched
elbow of your jacket.
I want to read poems
like this. I want 
to write poems like this.
I buy the book 
and later find, drinking 
by the fire late at night,
that Things that Keep is more 
than a young Chablis.
I find the bitterness of a cheap
Chilean red
killed slowly at an out-door café
in Santiago, the rawness of rot-gut bourbon
straight from the bottle
in the back seat of a car,
the camaraderie
of home-made beer 
with poets and loon stew,
the oblivion of heroin
and the mind-altering intoxication
of poetry
to help with the grief. In my vintage
Musgrave I also find
drowned children buried out
back, a violation,
lovers who leave and make
things worse by coming
back, a mother
burned alive, needle
tracks and a deadly sea,

but in that first taste
in the Chapters on Whyte Ave.
I sip nothing but pure crystalline
Musgrave Chablis.

January 2000

The quotes from Susan Musgrave's poems are
reproduced with the kind permission of the author.