I’ve done an occasional Poetry Post-Mortem on my own poetry, and I enjoyed it so much that I’ve invited some of my favorite poets to send me their own. This Poetry Post-Mortem comes from Holly Lyn Walrath. I saw her work in some of my favorite magazines and journals, including Kaleidotrope, Eye to the Telescope, ​Dreams & Nightmares, and a bunch more. Her poem “Dear John Cusack” was probably what hooked me, but it’s hard to pick just one. 

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“Two Hundred Fifty-Seven” appears in my chapbook, Glimmerglass Girl (Finishing Line Press, 2018).

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The main inspiration for this poem is the sunflower seeds. When I used to work a full-time non-writing job, I worked in finance. Suffice it to say, it was a stressful job. At some point, one of the other women in the office got addicted to sunflower seeds and ordered a giant box. Of course, I began to eat them too. There’s something terribly satisfying about the feeling of cracking a sunflower shell between your two teeth and then eating the seed. I’ve since kicked my seed habit, but at one point I’d find the shells everywhere—in my jeans pocket, under my desk, on the kitchen counter, even in my bra. I’m not even vaguely ashamed by that last detail. It’s funny to think about my klutziness, but I also think about the artist Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds exhibition. What seems innocuous can actually have many levels of meaning. I think this is what poetry does so successfully: It takes the innocent and gives it layers of power. This is the conversation between reader and poet. We cross a deep divide to find each other in small details.

This poem is a bit of an ars poetica as well. It talks about the feeling of writing a story and the character wandering away with the plot. I guess when people ask me, “What is a day in your writing life like?” I could just point to this poem, ha.

 

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Two Hundred Fifty-Seven
by Holly Lyn Walrath

 

I have eaten 142 sunflower seeds today
(roasted, unsalted, in-shell) and written
257 words across a blank piece of paper, today
I told the character in the science fiction novel
he will die, and he responded with the casual
and unbroken flick of a middle finger
between his top and bottom teeth, today
I imagined several haikus that could
not really be defined as such but
at least they looked pretty, in a nice
little block shape like literary wood
engravings on sheepskin or the desperate
secret note of a fugitive, squeezed
onto the back of a postage stamp, today
I revisited the scene in the back
of the black pickup with the blood
on the floorboards, concealed by the
litter of cigarette butts, coins and receipts
and reckless cell phones that will
not stop ringing hip hop ringtones, today
the pregnant girl, wooed by the stack
of gold rings upon the older man’s
fingers, will not escape into the thick
crowd of New York bodies and mist
that lies at their feet like death’s
odor, she will not deface her
rapist, branding him for the bastard
he is with the hush of a gun, today
I could not solve the world’s
problems so instead of beginning anew
I made honey lemon herbal tea, which
was so hot that I had to drop a tiny
ice cube onto its surface, which refused
to melt away anyway, but at least today
I managed to recreate the sound
between my teeth when my pursed lips
hit my tongue and the cat comes running
besides which the noise of perfect
silence.

Holly Lyn Walrath’s poetry and short fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Fireside Fiction, Daily Science Fiction, Luna Station Quarterly, Liminality, and elsewhere. She is the author of Glimmerglass Girl (Finishing Line Press, 2018). She holds a B.A. in English from The University of Texas and a Master’s in Creative Writing from the University of Denver. She is a freelance editor and host of The Weird Circular, an e-newsletter for writers containing submission calls and writing prompts. Find her on Twitter @HollyLynWalrath or at her website: www.hlwalrath.com.