Pick-a-Poem: “Thick Description”


Welcome, blog readers, to another installment of our Pick-a-Poem feature! The rules are very simple — each Wednesday, we pick a poem to showcase on the blog. Hopefully, through these posts, you find something new to read and enjoy. These poems come from Poetry Daily, which is a great resource for finding new poetry. This week we’re featuring Thick Description by Eleanor Chai.

According to her bio page, Eleanor Chai is a new poet, whose first poetry collection — Standing Water — was publishing through Farrar, Straus and Giroux this year. She also co-edited the forthcoming Efforts of Affection: The Complete Correspondence of Elizabeth Bishop and Marianne Moore. She lives and works in Westport, Connecticut.

Thick Description by Eleanor Chai

I cut lines of ink as I read through the night.
I imagine the margins on pages are slim wings
between plankton and stars. I find what I need
in far sources. I make them intimate,

I make them mine with the speed of light.

He was seventeen, just a man, still a boy and ready to die.
A true sacrifice, a living encounter—
This father has paid
the sum of a daughter’s dowry for his son to be consecrated
with a rod through his cheeks and tongue. The boy’s face,
his mouth pierced and gaping, hangs on the page, helpless.

His clove-jelly eyes float and metamorphose into my mother’s
eyes, eyes I can’t possibly remember without images like his—
images forbidden, seized and smuggled into my life.
I can make anything mean what I need to find.

The stolen scrap, the plosive glance saturated in
longing is not looking at me: I am looking at it.
Every description is thick with a will to revivify—
reclaim, renounce, rename what is sought.

Blind hunger drives when I read. A scream, the echo of
a scream, hangs over that Nova Scotian village
… and bit
by bit a village I’ve never seen swells into me. The ovoid
mouth of my mother’s life, its slivering silence exists

in that scream—unheard, in memory. She came alive
forever—not loud, just alive forever redeemed from her never
with no speech. A noun transformed to modify
action revived her, returned her to me.

The words as they lay may refuse to say what you need.
Drop to your knees. Crawl beneath the overhanging,
the dangling down. Stroke the described,
from underneath. It reeks of the atavistic

to live. It survives by swallowing.

I hope you enjoyed this week’s poem! If you’re looking  for more poetry posts, click here.

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan

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