Mary Karr on Poetry Daily

Delinquent Missive

Before David Ricardo stabbed his daddy
           sixteen times with a fork — Once
for every year of my fuckwad life
— he’d long
           showed signs of being bent.
In school, he got no valentine nor birthday
           cake embellished with his name.
On Halloween, a towel tied around his neck
           was all he had to be a hero with.
He spat in the punchbowl and smelled like a foot.
           His forehead was a ledge
he leered beneath. When I was sent to tutor him
           in geometry, so he might leave
(at last) ninth grade, he sat running pencil lead
           beneath his nails.
If radiance shone from those mudhole eyes,
           I missed it. Thanks, David
for your fine slang. You called my postulates
           post holes; your mom endured
ferocious of the liver. Plus you ignored —
           when I saw you wave at lunch —
my flinch. Maybe by now you’re ectoplasm,
           or the zillionth winner of the Texas
death penalty sweepstakes. Or you occupy
           a locked room with a small
round window held fast by rivets, through which
           you are watched. But I hope
some organism drew your care — orchid
           or cockroach even, some inmate
in a wheelchair whose steak you had to cut
           since he lacked hands.
In this way, the unbudgeable stone
           that plugged the tomb hole
in your chest could roll back, and in your sad
           slit eyes could blaze
that star adored by its maker.


This past Saturday, Leah and I got to listen to some of the readings at DC’s Bookfest, and we heard Mary Karr read some poetry from her book, Sinners Welcome. Two of her poems were featured on poetry daily a while ago, neither of which she read outloud, but what was featured in both venues showcases Karr’s narrative technique.

I really like Karr’s sense of humor and sarcastic quips (I would hate to land a spot on her bad side). There are some great sounds in this poem, like “the unbudgeable stone / that plugged the tomb hole,” and I think reading this poem outloud, to another person, is the only way of summing up the story of David Ricardo. This poem reminds me of how you can only recall a person from high school, one that you didn’t know too well, by way of saying “the kid who….”  and then when you’re done remembering, you make your predictions as to how they’re faring these days. For the line “you are watched. I hope” makes me think that since she only worked with him, but didn’t know him personally (and didn’t want to know him personally, as she ignored his waves) she feels she owes him at least a little concern on his whereabouts, but not necessarily a phone call. She at least gives him the benefit of the doubt, it seems.

I’d like to hear what anyone else thinks about the title “Delinquent Missive.” I’m interpreting it as a failing to send a message, that maybe she did indeed have some thoughts (and feelings?) for this person, at the time that she knew him, but was too young to express them.

One Response to “Mary Karr on Poetry Daily”

  1. Rick says:

    I like this because I wonder who was that kid, but mostly because I wonder who thinks I would have ended up like that kid. And sometimes messages just don’t go through and you can sense that dissapointment in the poem.