In Their Own Words
Kim Addonizio on “Penis Blues”
I miss the penis.
I feel like a word with no vowels;
no one wants to pronounce me.
Woke up this morning,
looked around for my penis.
J'ai été dévasté;
le zizi, Je ne pouvais pas le trouver.
I would like to order a penis, please,
with dressing on the side.
Also, this soup could use a dash of penis.
Señor Plátano: ¿dónde estás?
Mr. Defile Me, where you at?
There's something lacking in the décor:
an artfully placed penis.
There used to be one, right over there.
Reading the paper, using a drill gun,
leaving socks on the floor.
Now there's a hole in my heart,
penis-sized. Ohhhhh prostate
baby you up and gone.
Those ol' seminal vesicles done rambled on.
A penis has taken flight.
Probably gon' fly all night.
There's a flock of penises headed south.
Their cries recede over the distant car dealerships.
Over the darkened pleather interiors
and the stoned janitor, slopping his mop
in a bucket of dirty water.
All rights reserved. Reprinted with the permission of the author.
On "Penis Blues"
When I was young, the penis crop was plentiful. Every year, a bountiful harvest. Then came hot flashes, mood swings, sleeplessness, and a long—very long—penis famine. Thus the first two sentences, which floated into my head one day. I remember being immediately pleased with my simile. I've been involved with the blues since I started playing harmonica about ten years ago, and since this was a quintessential blues theme, I let that lead some of the language, and I aimed for some end-rhyme. When I revisited the poem to write this essay, I took it out of one long stanza (the version published in American Poetry Review) and split it into stanzas that felt blusier.
For quite a while I wrote poems by hand in lined notebooks, even after switching to the computer for prose (it could better keep up with my brain). Now I use the computer for both; I keep the poem up top, and subsequent pages show random ideas and experiments as I fool around with stupid, ridiculous, and occasionally interesting language that I'll then import into the draft. Here are some of the saved notes from my drafts:
Mr. Love Load, where you at?
An air conditioner playing a harmonica.
Well daddy those penis blues got hold a me
penis penis penis penis penis
I feel like a miniature spaceship
I feel like a lepton
I feel like a bicycle left outside
how to get the geese in there earlier?
They could be crows, starlings?
my dropped glove.
There's a goose roasting on the stove.
I need a little spam in my inbox.
There's a flock of geese headed south.
on the penis-free sheets.
the distant car dealerships.
WA, Wa, wa.
Penis, you is no more for my mouth.
WA, Wa, wa. Then silence.
The silence of the penises.
The wintry silence of the penises.
Somewhere, in a field,
Penises gather and honk.
Like a lake with the penises penised out.Like a desert
As when new snow has fallen,
Burying all the penises.
as when heavy snow has fallen
and the river is ice
beneath which no penises move.
I was stuck on the ending for about a year. I'd pull "Penis Blues" out of the folder, stare at it, fool around on the computer a little, and put it back. Because the readers of my work before it's published range from one to none, I have to rely on putting drafts away for long periods and trying to forget I wrote them. Then I hope I can be objective enough to see what they need. I work on what still interests me after the manic stage of blind, exalted love for the product of my genius wears off, and the prince has devolved to a slimey, bug-eyed amphibian.
Now I'm waiting out another protracted famine. It requires endurance, humor, and occasional murderous rage. The few good ones have been gobbled up already, and I steer clear of the blighted ones. Remember St. Anthony's Fire? Grain, infected with ergot. Horrible pain, gangrene, terrifying hallucinations. I'd rather starve. There's nothing to do right now but sing the blues. As the song promises, some day my penis will come.