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Jeremy Benson on Matthew Lippman

American Chew by Matthew Lippman
Burnside Review Books, 2013

 

Dear Matthew Lippman,

Who did that old stand-up bit about the subdivisions being named for the plants and animals that used to be there? American Chew reminded me of that. The book is all pastorals—but after the fact. You’re praising the land, the animals, the shepherds, but one can’t see the forest for the concrete. (“That’s the kind of man I want to be, / one who…makes a forest / where there was once / a forest.”)

Do you remember, when I reviewed Monkey Bars for Newpages, I wrote to you, saying that book made me want to have children?

I have not had any children. Instead I have moved west: to write, to get splinters from 2x4s and plywood, to sink my fingers into soil, and to drop rocks on tiny, pink, blind bunnies, born in entirely the wrong spot.

I like American Chew. I love “Farm Poem”: “You can come down to my farm and pick my strawberries.”

Matthew, you should. You should “Come down to this farm. We can pick ragweed and pretend to make wine.” Only we won’t pretend. We—you, me, your wife and children—will pick the grapes across from my front door: cabernet, merlot, petit verdot, and we’ll smash them between our toes and we’ll let that yeast grow.

There was a time—even before your poems made me want children—when I wanted to move to New York City, and be an intern at Saturday Night Live or an assistant for some artist. I wanted to ride the subways and write poems in dank bars. I didn’t go, and I found out later my poetry professor had told a friend that NYC would have killed me.

I dunno, would it have? Maybe not. But I’ll tell you, hell, I love wearing a big ass hat under a fucking blue sky, staining my hands with tomato gunk, already sticky with honey, honey from the bees we keep behind the chicken pasture.

You write,

The Whole Foods destroys my manhood or any desire I might have ever had
to be that kind of butcher, that baker, that sweet dick willy wagoneer.
It cuts me off at the stomach, opens me up and pours in
the fair trade organic,
the macrobiotic basmati,
the grass fed rib eye that I should have slaughtered myself
if I only had the muscle and wasn’t so goddamn scared.

Matthew, come shop in the aisles of my garden. Come in August or September, when the sun is high at 8AM, and you can scratch your forearms in zucchini bushes. We can turn our snot black from the dust we breath as we dig for potatoes. We’ll roast eggplant over coals; we’ll eat corn straight from the stalk. I don’t do cattle, myself, but believe you me: I know a guy.

There was a time, at parties, when I’d say my spirit animal was a frog. But now I say the coyote. The coyote’s the only wild canine that has adapted to urban life—scouring your neighbor’s pizza boxes for pepperoni, snatching shih tzus out beneath fences.

Come out to my farm. Work yourself to exhaustion and fall asleep to the carousing, the howling of coyotes catching jack rabbits in the vineyard, the way we were meant to live.

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