Ode to Clichés
Praise for what's not original, for clichés:your grandmother's hands, sunsets / rises, a rose(especially red), your dog's brown eyes, wet nose,spring's first crocus, and on and on. All praise.Clichés are dull knives, used past usefulness,while the glittering image I value mostmay be the egg-slice that jams the drawer, much lessuse than the bluntest stub that butters toast.We're language's spoiled brats, raised on abundance. Howwe scorned the handmade, homegrown, how we hatedthe fruit our grandmothers' hands strung in their youthfrom attic rafters, diminished, wrinkled now,oversweet from what's evaporated,dense and crunchy with small seeds of truth. [End Page 423]
Things Nick Told Me
Mango and lacquer and poison ivy sharethe same chemical, urushiol; eucalyptusleaves contain napalm; most medicinal leeches
are bred at our local universityand will only feed attached to skin.The crunchy bit in the middle of your fig
is the body of a female wasp.No matter what Miles Davis said, there isone mistake in jazz and Davis made it.
Sometimes Nick supplies the next step for me,conclusions, consequences. Californiahad firestorms in 1991
when eucalyptus groves exploded. Yes,sometimes the sensitive get "mango mouth,"and while urushiol breaks down in sunlight,
the archaeologist who chose to siton the newly exhumed Japanese thronelearned something about the Toxicodendron genus.
There are lambskin condoms, and lab assistantsfill them with blood and lower them to the leeches.A fourth on a one-chord is unforgivable.
But Nick admits he learned a vital lessonfrom Miles Davis: If you make a mistake,don't flinch, don't fudge, don't try to cover up.Make the same mistake again on purpose.Do it a third time. Then, finally, play it right. [End Page 424]
Susan Blackwell Ramsey's book, A Mind Like This, won the 2011 Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry and was published last year.