Surprise Among the Ordinary

November 13, 2017

Contributor’s Marginalia: Dilruba Ahmed on a poem by Lance Larsen

Part of what I love about Lance Larsen’s “Curating a Mostly Forgettable Saturday in June” is its powerful sensation of surprise among the seemingly ordinary. By depicting one version of reality and then replacing it with another, Larsen creates a complex and multilayered sense of perception, one that reminds us that we must sometimes taste dirt in order to understand sweetness. Consider the following sentences.

“Not the broccoli frittata at Rita’s Café, but the freckled apricot straight off the ground.”

“And not the parade downtown but the homeless woman strollering her baby through the crowds after.”

“And not the limp flag at half mast, someone famous dying at flagpoles all over town, but the Barbie leg I found at the park hidden under a picnic table.”

Larsen’s speaker favors the unexpected and the strange over the conventional: not the prepared meal at a restaurant, but the dusty, ant-covered apricot that simultaneously conjures both life and the end of life. Not the spectacle of the planned public celebration, but the surprise of what turns out to be a doll nestled among aluminum cans in a stroller, and a small glimpse, perhaps, of tenderness. And—most astonishing of all—a perfectly intact Barbie leg found hidden away like a buried treasure, an object that pulls the speaker’s attention away from the constant reminders of mortality, the all-too-familiar and “limp” flag at half mast.

With this peculiar found item, the speaker enacts his most dramatic move in the poem, planting the leg “toes up, so it could talk straight to the sky without shadows trying to run the show.” By the poem’s closing sentence, Larsen has already depicted a scene wondrous and varied enough to give way to plastic toes serving as a direct conduit to whatever divine powers govern such an unpredictable world. And we see, too, how well Larsen has prepared us for understanding the “shadows” that try to “run the show,” from the “bruised, leftover” taste of the found apricot from the widower’s tree, and the ants covering it; to the recognition of the homeless woman who strolls a plastic doll along downtown streets in the quiet and lonelier moments after the fanfare of a public celebration; and finally, to the flags lowered “all over town” in observation of some loss or tragedy.

Larsen skillfully modulates the poem’s movement toward both darkness and hope, at times striking a wry tone, as with the “misfired text: Hey Paco, where do you think you’re going with that parachute?” Even while the speaker, as the result of this miscommunication, dryly wishes someone would call him Paco “every weekend,” the envisioned parachute gestures toward a desire for a soft landing of sorts, or perhaps toward freedom or escape. This attempt at communication gone awry casts the poem’s closing gesture, the desire to “talk straight to the sky,” in both a forlorn and expectant light.

Dilruba Ahmed’s debut book, Dhaka Dust (Graywolf Press, 2011), won the Bakeless Prize.  Her poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, New England Review, and Poetry.  New work is recent or forthcoming in Agni, Kenyon Review, Boulevard, Copper Nickel, Aquifer, Ploughshares, and Smartish Pace.  Her poems have also been anthologized in Literature: The Human Experience (Bedford/St. Martin’s), Indivisible: An Anthology of Contemporary South Asian American Poetry (University of Arkansas), and elsewhere.  Ahmed is the recipient of The Florida Review’s Editors’ Award, a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Memorial Prize, and a Katharine Bakeless Nason Fellowship from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.  She holds BPhil and MAT degrees from the University of Pittsburgh, and is a graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.

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