Saturday 10 April 2021

Michael Schmidt, "Talking to Stanley on the Telephone"


Michael Schmidt is the author of several books of poetry. His Selected Poems (Smith|Doorstop) was a PBS Special Commendation. He has written Lives of the Poets, The Ancient Poets and The Novel: A Biography, and he has produced notable canonical and introductory anthologies. He is Editorial Director and Publisher at Carcanet Press and General Editor of PN Review. His latest book is Talking to Stanley on the Telephone (Smith|Doorstop).

About Talking to Stanley on the Telephone

Talking to Stanley on the Telephone rummages through the desires, frustrations and waning faculties of old age. The stories it tells add up to a vivacious celebration of life-spans and the darkening comedy of growing old.

You can see more details about Talking to Stanley on the Telephone on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read two poems from the collection. 

From Talking to Stanley on the Telephone


          Texas, 1950

Yes, I could read.
                            No dogs
or Mexicans the large
round caps declared. ‘Papa,
we can’t go in.’ My new
red passport said as much.
‘They don’t mean us.’ He pushed
open the loud screen door
to a stale interior.

Little white serviettes
defined the seating plan.
Ketchup, French mustard. Our
bug-spattered Pontiac
with dust-dulled number plates
said ‘Mexico D.F.’
It shivered in the heat.

He was right. They didn’t
mean us. We fit, our skin
at home. The slow-bladed
ceiling fan made shadows
surge and plunge, like breathing.
They served us up the stuff
they’d eat themselves, unspiced,
prepared for the littlest
bear, neither too salty
nor sweet, not too hot or
too cold. We sipped, we smeared
bland red and yellow on
our burgers, overdone;

and grinning there, alert,
infernal black and brown,
a monster Doberman.

First and Last Things

There was, first off, the house we seemed to build
          Up in a tree, or under the floor, and lived
With all our creatures and with all we were –
          Pirate and doctor, sailor, angel, priest;
And then the first house made of mud or brick
          Furnished with whatever we could find
Of real stuff, like wood and parakeets
          And cushions, pottery and even framed
Pictures on the walls, they were real walls,
          Nails could be driven into them.
The pictures were of us as we grew older
          And they faded with us too as we grew older
The way pictures do or antique mirrors
          Discolour as the isinglass gets tired
Of showing what is there and turns instead
          Interpreter, an eschatologist
Who shows only what will be, which in the longer term
          Is, after all, what is, and ever shall be.

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