Poet of the Day – Jacquelyn Shah

National Poetry Month April 23, 2020

Jacquelyn Shah

Dear Charlie,
I write to you from Flux, the sea of a sea-
blue funk that flows through middle ages. I float
like Quetzlcoatl on a raft of snakes and flaunt
my malice and pique that rain on your jamboree.
I’m on my way, I’m on my way, I’m K.
Yet castles seem to fade to a check-point, Charlie––
your boot, your bluff, your global hurly-burly.
This floating’s a helluva job, and what does it pay?
The Bald, the Bad, the Bold, the Fat and the Simple!
Sometimes a Wise, a Well-beloved, or a Great,
but I can’t remember the deeds, the conquests, the fate
of a single Charles. Or if anyone had a dimple.
But they all came to my bedroom, every one.
I fêted them in all their coronations,
jollied myself through so many mutilations,
took every bloody kiss as sine qua non.
Great pretender, pumping iron on the throne,
you’re a little tramp, Charlie, full of holes.
Charlie, you’re vile, you stink of fleurs du mal,
and what could you know of real murder, my Chan?
You’re a snake in Brown’s clothing, egghead charm
the best disarming tactic. But I’ll survive.
That kind of ruse can only feed my drive
to be among the fittest, dear old Charles.
I could modulate to a Larry, Moe, Curley,
but I’ll sail to the true eye of this letter: life
(we used to sing back home in Cincinnati)
is just a bowl of Charlies––
                                            signed, your wife.
Published 1993 in South Coast Poetry Journal––Fullerton, Calif. : Dept. of English, California State University, c1986-c1995

1.     What inspired you to write this poem? 

When I was a pre-teen my father created a game from an old song, “Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries,” substituting “Charlies” for the fruit. We all––he and I and neighborhood kids––sang songs in which we replaced key words with “Charlies.” Remembering the fun we had, I started writing the poem, which has reverberations of the many Charles’s I could think of, including past kings of France (The Bald, The Bold, The Fat, etc.), et al.

2.     What do you like about this poem?

It was an early publication of mine that I had worked hard at, finding a form that both underscored humor and accomodated a somewhat-critique of male domination. In a contest the journal held, which drew about 1465 entries and bestowed 3 prizes and three honorable mentions, my poem received one of the honorable mentions. Judge James Dickey.

3.     What would you change about this poem?

This is one that satisfies me in its final form and I wouldn’t change anything.

4.     Where, when, and how often do you write?

I write almost every single day either at home or at a coffee shop or teahouse. I write early morning––anywhere from 6 to 8 am––to early afternoon, about 1 or 2 pm.

5.     What poetry books are you reading right now?

Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology, Ed. Paul Hoover (2nd edition, 2013) . . . plus many others from my personal shelves!

Picture of Jacquelyn Shah