Poem of the Week | November 17, 2010

This week we are proud to feature “Do You Hear Me, Poison Ivy?” by Jason Koo. The poem is previously unpublished. Jason Koo is the author of Man on Extremely Small Island, winner of the 2008 De Novo Poetry Prize (C&R Press, 2009). His recent work has been published or is forthcoming in La Petite Zine, Diode, Vinyl Poetry, Jabberwock Review and The Owls. The winner of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Vermont Studio Center, he teaches at Lehman College, where he serves as Director of Graduate Studies in English. He lives in Brooklyn with his cat, Django.

Author’s Note: “I wrote this poem after spending a week inside my apartment battling poison ivy blisters at the start of the summer. This was my one week off between my spring semester of teaching and the summer session — a week I planned to spend relaxing, reading and writing. Well. I caught poison ivy clearing the jungle-like growth of weeds from my backyard in Brooklyn. This so my girlfriend and I could ‘enjoy’ that backyard. Instead I hid myself from the world and she took care of me. The poem is a tribute to her care; it’s also a kind of Eff You to poison ivy, proof that in spite of its best attempts to translate me into a grouchy monster, sweetness could sustain me and I could persist: in writing poems, taking pleasure in the world, etc. In fact because of the poison ivy I was able to see some of the sweetness I had been missing. So, thanks, poison ivy, but eff you.”

Do You Hear Me, Poison Ivy?

It is sweet to kiss the ear of your kitty
as he sleeps. Sweet to pull the hi-top sneakers

off your girlfriend’s feet as she sleeps.
Sweet to discover she is not completely asleep

by the way she lifts her second foot a little
to make the untying easier. Sweet to wake up

to the sound of her silence in the bathroom
as she readies herself for work, touching up her face

as gently as your kitty laps water from his bowl.
At these times you don’t question anything,

what is love, whether you’re working hard
enough, whether you’re not missing something

somewhere else. Life couldn’t be elsewhere.
She comes to kiss you goodbye and rests her head

on your chest for a moment, so sweet to pretend
you’re asleep through this, sweet to listen to her

walk out your door remembering to lock it,
sweet through the hall, sweet through the second

door, sweet through the gate, the sweet of the latch,
sweet imagining the singular sounds she makes

as she moves through the rest of her day.
So sweet you don’t ask how to reconcile all this

with what sweetness you feel alone after she leaves.