Janet McAdams is the author of the novel Red Weather and the poetry collections Feral and The Island of Lost Luggage, which won an American Book Award. Her chapbook of prose poems Seven Boxes for the Country After won the Wick Chapbook competition and was published in 2016. She teaches at Kenyon College, where she is the Robert P. Hubbard Chair in Poetry.
Welcome to The Beat, a poetry podcast produced by Knox County Public Library. Today’s poem is a meditation on death by the poet, novelist, and editor Janet McAdams. I love McAdam's use of specific details and imagery in this amazing poem. The boy we see in the beginning of the poem isn’t just a “small-town boy” but he’s “that older boy from school who bagged our bread and eggs/ late afternoons.” And then there’s the list of medical procedures to thwart attempts at suicide: “the forced-down emetic, the choked-upon tube, wrist/ staunched and stitched back together.” Here’s the poem “Thanatoptic” by Janet McAdams.
THANATOPTIC by Janet McAdams
Not for the wild girl who taught me French kissing.
Or other poets with their leaps and plastic bags and ovens.
The first, that older boy from school who bagged our bread and eggs
late afternoons. His brother, three desks back, kept his head down
two days running, until the teacher made him lift his face
to fractions and the Battle of Beacon Hill. It never seemed
that difficult for someone else to die.
They said that suicide was contagious and, after the hanging girl,
kept watch over us for days. But those sad deaths only served
to shore me up. Besides, my dread was the dread of getting there.
Like any traveler, I wanted least of all the journey interrupted—
the forced-down emetic, the choked-upon tube, wrist
staunched and stitched back together.
Then, I worried if the words were enough without it.
Now, childless and so often alone in the snowed-down
village, I want nothing to do with stones or services.
I want my books burned and the body, likewise,
wrought down to ashes or left in a copse of sycamores
to be taken back, cell after cell, by the ground—I want
never to have been here but I am.
That was “Thanatoptic” by Janet McAdams. McAdams is the author of the novel Red Weather and the poetry collections Feral and The Island of Lost Luggage, which won an American Book Award. Her chapbook of prose poems Seven Boxes for the Country After won the Wick Chapbook competition and was published in 2016. She teaches at Kenyon College, where she is the Robert P. Hubbard Chair in Poetry. You can find books by Janet McAdams in our online catalog or call us at the Reference Desk at Lawson McGhee Library. Also look for links in the show notes. Please join us next time for The Beat.
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