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
complexity
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.
SEX AFTER SIXTY
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.

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