Poem of the Week | December 07, 2020

This week’s Poem of the Week is “Date Night at a New Restaurant” by Kelly Caldwell.

Kelly Caldwell’s writing and art has appeared or is forthcoming in Crazyhorse, Denver Quarterly, Entropy, Fence, Mississippi Review, Phoebe, Seneca Review, MAKE Magazine, Slant, Pacific Standard Magazine, The Rumpus, VICE, and elsewhere. She was the winner of an Academy of American Poets University Prize and the 2019 Greg Grummer Prize, judged by Jos Charles. She was founding editor of The Spectacle, which she edited with her spouse, the writer Cassie Donish.

Kelly passed away in March 2020. To learn more about her life and work, please read The Spectacle’s memorial feature and visit her website.


Date Night at a New Restaurant

One time I had a new wife. I said, I do,
I do promise to strew our bed with carnations,
I do promise to flag down a waiter to box our leftovers.
At the restaurant my tall neighbor eyed me hungrily.
I winked at him in panic.
What happened next? Next? I lay a gelatinous heart
Beside my sleeping wife. Its valves shook and rattled.
The sheets stiffened after great sex. In the film version,
I had already left her, baptizing myself into a new woman,
And the sex was never great.
My father told me that when I was ten, I had anger issues.
When my leg went to sleep under me
I propped my hands on a pillow and prayed.
I have a sad and sincere wish to die.
My wife’s grief is that of a widow.
There is no real way to leave a city for the country.
They said that wolves mate for life, but now they think otherwise.
When I act like a woman it’s a time-specific need.
The weather turns bearded dragons from male to female.
The weather around here has been bad lately.
They say I is an Other. Or Rimbaud said I is an Other.
Is it gauche to take metaphor seriously?
Analytic philosophers busy idle hands
Identifying which sentences are empty of meaning.
My older brother told me a story of a fox
Caught in a trap gnawing off its own leg.
The philosophers all became Buddhist monks
In order to preserve their own legs.
A good sentence stings like a vicious thistle.
I steep an argument in a bag of nettle tea.
In the tea leaves, I can see the course of history has changed.
You are not the world I imagined.
I would love tender, lovingly tender, love thee in so many ways
But the cab is here and so is the end of days
And one of us has to pay the bill
Unless we just run out, while the waiter
Runs behind us and offers us a lemon
To suck on, because we’re all out of water.


Editor’s Statement

This week, we have the sad privilege of posthumously publishing a poem from Kelly Caldwell. I met Kelly in 2018 when her spouse, the poet Cassie Donish, moved to Columbia to begin their PhD. Kelly was still finishing her own PhD in St. Louis and would visit often, the next year moving to Columbia as well. We became friends. We talked about art and politics and music. We shared poems. We sang bad karaoke together in her living room. In March of this year, Kelly’s battle with bipolar disorder came to a heartbreaking end and there hasn’t been a day since that I don’t feel the gulf left behind in her absence. I think constantly of her joy and her wit, but also of her pain and her fight to exist in a world that doesn’t affirm queer lives, doesn’t work harder to understand the experience of neurodivergence, and treats reductively any life that has been forced into the margins.

Kelly was a marvel. Her poetry, too, is marvelous. When I read it, I feel Kelly’s sharp attention to the eccentricity of things, her powerful concern for what lies under the surface, her knack for making profound associative connections between one beat in life and the next. When I learned that I would be taking over as poetry editor for TMR, I also learned that Kelly’s poem had been accepted and was scheduled to be published in the coming months. That I am the one to type it up and press submit on our WordPress feels surreal. I hope that in reading this poem, you’re able to share in celebrating Kelly’s life and work with me. She is missed more than I can say, and the world is better for having had her and her poetry in it.

Jacob Griffin Hall
Poetry Editor