Literature 8-11-2008

What Light: This Week’s Poem: Ralph Burns

This week's poem, "Calling Grandma" by Ralph Burns, was selected by What Light coordinator Lightsey Darst


Calling Grandma

Funny how language falls apart in your lap
like a hamburger from Wendy’s. Lettuce
floats like a doll’s scarf, and when you say,
Excuse me, a crumb of wet bread falls from
where me begins to crumble so you scan
the depths of where you’ve been with your
free hand; and a slice of onion and tomato
slither free greased in mayonnaise
which sounds funny to say in a double room
with suspended TV torqued so loud you can’t hear
the voice on the other end wishing
happy birthday and asking about your syncopy
and how you picked your body up if blood
left the brain like Coke fleeing ice so small
birds get tricked into thinking it’s sunlight.


I guess part of the germ of this poem is that unfortunately my mother really does have Alzheimer’s, and that I got caught up in the musical travail of that long second sentence breaking across the lines. There was also something about the argument of the sonnet shape that appealed to me.


Ralph Burns has published six books of poems, most recently Ghost Notes, which won the FIELD Poetry Prize, and Swamp Candles, which won the Iowa Poetry Award. This poem “Calling Grandma” is part of a new manuscript titled You Don’t Have to Go, which includes a number of poems about the Blues, and some poems occasioned by places and events in Minnesota.