Sunday, January 19, 2020

Poem366: “Goodbye Toothless House” by Kelly Fordon

Goodbye Toothless House by Kelly Fordon

Goodbye Toothless House by Kelly Fordon, Somerville, Massachusetts: Kattywompus Press, 2019

The first time I had a chance to show my husband my hometown, I found myself focusing on the underside: where my dogs were buried; where a boy was struck by lightning; where a woman fell from a tower while trying to catch a bird. These parts just seemed like part of the important story the place had to tell—the other part being me.

Kelly Fordon’s Goodbye Toothless House offers its own tour of suburbia, and it’s clear we have something in common. Peppered throughout the book are poems about neighbors, and their titles end with an address, like “Housecoat: 19 Ballard Avenue” (listed merely as “Housecoat” in the table of contents). In this prose poem, a neighbor is described:

You in your cat housecoat, your pumpkin housecoat, your Santa Claus housecoat satnding sentry on your stoop across the street. No matter how you fixed your gaze, people never paused in passing.

But one person did, the poem reveals: the postman, and even he didn’t know this neighbor had cancer, until she was gone. It’s a sad indictment of the concept of neighbor, and so are others in this series, like “Beatrice: 11 Ballard Avenue,” about a woman who ran naked down the street with a kitchen knife, but then found herself friendless after the “medication took.” Or like “Gina II: 22 Ballard Avenue,” about a seemingly too-perfect neighbor whose kids are too polite and whose house is too put-together. “Every day, my face started to ooze off the bone like meat that has simmered too long in a crockpot,” Fordon writes, contrasting the speaker’s view of her life with Gina II’s idealized one.

Maybe Fordon and I can’t really grab hold of a neighborhood that is doused in slick perfection. We need the knobby and rotten bits to get a toehold. Some of the troubled consciousness at work in these poems (and let’s admit it, at work in my life) seems linked to aging. As the poem “M.A.P. (Middle aged problems)” advises,

Distance runners
know better than
to look up halfway
through, why
did you?

It’s a good question, but for me, and seemingly for Fordon, that’s where the poems show up.

At any rate, it’s good to have a little company in middle age, and Fordon offers it with perfect clarity in “The Girls in the Camper,” about Barbie, post-Ken:

Barbie left Ken about a year ago.
Now she spends her days playing
canasta with the girls in the camper.

That’s right she got the camper.

Ken scored the townhouse with its elevator, it turns out. Ken is 52 in this poem, and his stripper girlfriend is only 25. Muses Barbie in the poem, “Why did she think they would make it / through decrepitude and beyond?” And this reader can identify with that uncomfortable question—and so can the poet, who follows up immediately by confessing, “I’m putting thoughts in her mind.”

Misery, or at least perplexity, loves company, even if it doesn’t want to mix with the neighbors.

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