Poet of the Day – Mary Ellen Talley

National Poetry Month April 14, 2020

Mary Ellen Talley

 Armchair Travel
            for Aimee Nezhukumatathil
It began with a search for linalool
while I was reading a poem,
The Pepper Kingdom - Kerala
by Aimee with the challenging last name
who said on stage her six syllables were butchered
in the classroom. Poor girl! Head down!
I digress. Google led me to a link
that explains linalool, which means not at all
what I’d imagined, but usually smells pleasant,
naturally occurs in many flowers and spice plants.
C10 H18 O. I learn the molecules are stereoisomers
that are chiral, which then led me to watch
professordaveexplains.com illustrate organic chemistry.
I get it. Chiral means mirror images like my hands.
But are these molecules exact when overlapping?
The poet, Aimee, who is a demon reader,
would know that black pepper is a pungent
bioactive isomer. Satisfied with that, I googled more,
Kerala, India, to find black peppercorns,
clusters of young berries picked and dried
upon lush Ghat mountain hillsides. I think
of ancient pepper, the spice of the poet’s poetry.
Which meaning of ghat? I was lulled into reading
of wide steps to the Ganges, then of milky waterfalls,
extensive plantations of rubber, cardamom
and spices on India’s Western slopes, there in one of the earth’s
hotspots of biodiversity. In person, Aimee said
people express surprise she’s never seen the Taj Mahal.
She explained, would you expect everyone in the USA
to visit Key West? Mt. Rushmore? The Vegas Strip?
I start to google vacation hotspots,
back up and discover there’s linalool
in Lavandula angustifolia, lush lavender
in my back yard, though not in my favorite scented
syringa vulgaris, those lilacs nearly blossomed
at my front porch. Damn! Damn!
Close the laptop! Stop googling!
Explore each link in my own garden!

1.     What inspired you to write this poem?

I had just attended a 2018 Seattle Arts and Lectures event featuring Aimee Nezhukumatathil. I bought her book and decided to google a few words to add to my understanding and appreciation of the poem. Oh dear! The poem documents my journey. I learned a lot in the process so I didn’t feel that it was a waste of time. I appreciated having the time to spend and the time/inspiration to write a poem about it.

2.     What do you like about this poem?

I find it a challenge to include humor in my poems and I think I managed it. I like to document fun experiences in poetry and use some of my poems as remembrance. I think I captured the discovery of the moment and the sound play. I like the poem because it was so much fun to write.

3.     What would you change about this poem?

I keep revising. Even when I copied the poem to submit, I added a couple words for clarity. I would worry that the poet might be miffed at the humor, but I felt okay about it because she mentioned how people mangled her name when she was is school.

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

I write daily, but have about three days a week that are devoted to revising poetry, writing reviews, and submitting. I write whenever a good idea or prompt are gifted to me.

5.     What poetry books are you reading right now?

I just finished Crush by Richard Siken and Mostly Luck by Lorraine Healy. I just began reading How We Became Human by Joy Harjo.