For years I didn't swear. For years, much to the amusement of longtime friends. Sure, as a non-religious soul I used "goddamn" pretty freely, but that was it. On the occasion of my 20th birthday, it was noted that I'd yet to have been observed using "the S-word," and I'd admitted to using "the F-word" only once--seconds before being hit by a car, while crossing a turnpike near my high school. (I figured if I was going to die a virgin at the age of 16, I should at least get a little sinning in before I departed this earth.)
But poetry changed all that. In "The Fish," a poem in Theories of Falling, I was trying to describe a certain variety of fornication where only a coarser word would do--an issue that came back with "In the Deep," in I Was the Jukebox. Up until that point, even during singalongs I would respond to profanity with an abrupt beat of silence. But I couldn't very well do that when reading my own poem. So I came around.
The truth is, fuck is a delightfully flexible, satisfyingly Saxonic word. Philip Larkin's "This Be the Verse" wouldn't be the same if it started with "They screw you up, your mum and dad." Which is why I felt comfortable belting out this song for the whole length of I-85 yesterday, en route to Atlanta:
Life is too short to mouth the words.
While passing through South Carolina, I stopped off at a roadside stand that had been tantalizing me, eight billboards in a row, with the promise of apple and peach products fresh from the orchard. I tried the free samples, but nothing was quite right. The chow-chow was too vinegared, the apple butter too sugary, the peach-pecan preserves lacking in identifiable pecan texture. There I was, feeling guilty with a half-dozen empty sample cups in hand, yet nothing I could get excited about buying.
Then I saw the sign: BOILED PEANUTS. I'd heard about them many times over the years, but usually in the context of "Ew." (And having seeing the swollen, bulbous goobers, boiled for 10 hours straight and bobbing in tubs for sale in various gas station Quick-E-Marts, I wasn't sure I could disagree.) But these were local peanuts, fresh cooked, the long drive ahead was an argument for protein, and they were only $2 for a pint bag. After having checked to confirm nothing had been added but salt, I figured What the hell?
They were good! In a sense, the perfect road food: the process of splitting the shell and scooping out the soft innards with one's teeth is just complex enough to distract you from monotonous highway driving, but there's no powder or sauce to be spilled all over your clothing if you drop a peanut. Mind you, I'd only eat them driving alone--I've never figured out how people romanticize that kind of messy, hands-on consumption. Henry Taylor has a poem that frames the whole artichoke as a sexy meal, but somehow my table manners didn't get the memo.
Upon arriving in Atlanta I remembered, with a rush of emotion, just how much I love this city. Some places you like to visit; some you know you could move to without a second thought. And I now have a favorite place to roost--The Highland Inn, a kind of Chelsea Hotel of the South, which sits between Emory University and the Little Five Points neighborhood. A tapas place to the right; a boutique/gallery to the left; a "Ballroom Lounge" club and recording studio underneath, with a bar that serves until 2 AM; and a pretty black cat roaming the hallways. Clean sheets, continental breakfast, and free WiFi, all for $80 a night. Take that, Holiday Inn Express.
For those who made it out to the reading, with Chad Davidson and Alka Roy, hosted by the amazing Bruce Covey, many thanks--we had a big, attentive crowd that spilled over into the various side-aisles of Emory's new Barnes & Noble. (Isn't it weird that somehow, along the way, B&N went from being "the bad guys," to "the lesser of two evils vs. Borders," to bankrolling some really good programs?) Beforehand the poets had dinner at Doc Chey's, a restaurant I remembered from previous visits for its generous portions and chill vibe. I had a divine spicy ginger/garlic stirfry of asian eggplant and chicken, with brown rice. (Following Thai in Greensboro and the peanut gamble, it's been a great trip for food.) We opened up a rather perverse set of fortune cookies--Bruce's warned him "You can't win them all"--and giddily resolved to incorporate the fortunes into the night's readings.
Afterwards we went to Manuel's, a dive that shows off one of Atlanta's odd fascinations, the blended beer (Pale Ale & Guinness, Cider & Guinness, Lager & Cider, etc.). It's odd, given the affection for house concoctions, that when Chad ordered a "hot toddy" for Alka she ended up with a mug of hot water, a teabag, a packet of honey, and a shot of Jameson's. Somehow the small group of us polished off a platter of french fries, sweet potato fries, onion rings and two platters of potato chips. Poetry works up an appetite. There was some hollering related to a football game (I think Atlanta pulled off a win over Baltimore), which we ignored. At the end of a long evening Bruce and I retired to the Ballroom Lounge for some serious talk of life and pages. Over the local Sweetwater brew for him and tumblers of Red Label for me, we closed the place down.
Good lord, I love Atlanta. But I love Oxford, too--so, onward. Six hours of driving ahead of me, some sweet memories behind me, and more to come.