Thursday, January 22, 2009

Gift of Watermelon Pickle

When I was younger my father enjoyed the poem, "Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle Received from a Friend Called Felicity" by John Tobias. The title alone is so atypical of starchy English and early American poets that I found it immediately appealing.

This is not only the title of the poem but also the title of a poetry book in which the poem is contained. The verses included in this book are more modern poems which steer away from the usual themes of war and love and contain poems on less weighty although not necessarily less interesting subjects. "Apartment House" (Gerald Raftery), "The Toaster" (William Jay Smith), "The Garden Hose" (Beatrice Janosco), and "Steam Shovel" (Charles Malam) to name a few. This is one of my favorite poetry books.

Because the weather of this endless winter interfered with my spending Christmas with my extended family, I received Christmas gifts via UPS from my parents yesterday. My father, who often has a unique sense of sentimentality, included a jar of spiced watermelon pickle found at The Vermont Country Store. My dad was wise enough to include a copy of the poem with the preserve (although I immediately located the book). I know why he likes it and upon reading it after so many years of forgetting it, I am very touched by this present. Each child has extra special links with a parent, and I believe one link between my father and me is literature. I have many books that were gifts from him, and he always signed and dated them. While he did not technically gift the "Watermelon Pickle" book to me (I think I 'borrowed' it when I was teaching poetry and didn't return it), his name is stamped on the inside cover. While my father and I might not always understand each other, when reading the poem I felt a connection with him and an understanding that, much like the poem, I had forgotten. Thank you, Dad. I love you much!

Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle Received from a Friend Called Felicity

During that summer
When unicorns were still possible;
When the purpose of knees
Was to be skinned;
When shiny horse chestnuts
(Hollowed out
fitted with straws
Crammed with tobacco
Stolen from butts
In family ashtrays)
Were puffed in green lizard silence
While straddling thick branches
Far above and away
From the softening effects
Of civilization;

During that summer--
Which may never have been at all;
But which has become more real
That the one that was--
Watermelons ruled.

Thick imperial slices
Melting frigidly on sun-parched tongues
Dribbling from chins;
Leaving the best part,
The black bullet seeds,
To be spit out in rapid fire
Against the wall
Against the wind
Against each other;
And when the ammunition was spent,
There was always another bite;
It was a summer of limitless bites,
Of hungers quickly felt
And quickly forgotten
With the next careless gorging.

The bites are fewer now.
Each one is savored lingeringly,
Swallowed reluctantly.

But in a jar put up by Felicity,
The summer which maybe never was
Has been captured and preserved.
And when we unscrew the lid
And slice off a piece
And let it linger on our tongue:
Unicorns become possible again.

John Tobias

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