Friday, July 10, 2009

On the Pungent Decay of Wild Grapes by Elizabeth Cleary

On the Pungent Decay of Wild Grapes

Walking through oaky wood, pungent
with the decay of wild grapes, at dusk,
her body remembers everything,
waters for every man she held,
ignores hunger from want that would
empty her.

As she moves through the vines,
she breathes deep and memory
is finessed by extracts;
powerful hands sweep
across the small of her back.
She sips the richness of his gaze,
his bright eyes, the sweet warmth
of his lips, ample ones that slid across
her breast, complex ones she rolled
across her tongue.

Absorbed, she conjures one man
offered in glimpses of light
falling a lá carte
through September leaves
one man, maybe wandering here
in this wood, recollecting her.

© 2008 Elizabeth Cleary
Previously published in Undone - Poems by Shijin: a poetry performance troupe (Hanover Press 2008)

1) What first sparked this poem?

I was running one evening. It was hot and I was tired. As I approached an underpass to Route 15 about a mile from my house, I was overwhelmed by the smell of grapes in the trees along the border of the bridge and up the embankment. It was an ugly looking area but a wonderful smell. I was so thirsty; my mouth watered for grape juice. My run was shot but the word association that ensued sparked the poem.

2) Tell us about this poem's life.

This was one of those rare pieces which is "almost there" before you actually write it down. The long walk home led to that. But two things happened in the editing process. I began to read it differently easing up on the emphasis I placed on certain words. This was based on group feedback from a group of trusted peers in an editing group I work with. With that change in my inflection, I began to edit certain words and then the order of the lines. I changed which line was the first line a few times. I needed input from others to settle that decision down. I stuck to my guns on any edits around the word "recollecting" --- Not only does it mean "recall to mind" but it also means "assemble" which is what the main character has done with her memory, selective as it may be.

3) How long did it take to go from inspiration to published?

The poem sat for a while after that first round. I like to let poems rest. Then I revisit them and see if any additional edits seem more obvious. It was a few months later that the performance group I work with got together to design our next set. It just so happened the set evolved into one about love and loss. This poem was in my portfolio and it fit, so it ended up part of the set and in the chapbook after a few final edits.

4) Are you satisfied with the poem?

Yes. It's tight and true to its inspiration but has layers which are meaningful. The fact it was a perfect fit for the performance was a bonus. I'm glad I had it to contribute to the group.

5) What in particular do you, the poet, like about this poem and why?

I like the story line. I don't usually write this type of fictional narrative but I think this one is interesting for it's almost fable-like quality. I am hopeful lines like "glimpses of light falling a la carte through September leaves" are tangible enough to evoke the actual visual image for the reader.

Elizabeth Cleary has been published in the Bent Pin, Connecticut River Review, A Little Poetry, Caduceus and more. Eli is a member of Shijin a poetry performance troupe. She is co-host of the Word of Mouth Poetry Series in New Haven Connecticut and Founder of the Sleeping Giant Poets Guild. Her blog is currently located at

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