You can tell by the way he slices the cantaloupe

By D. H. Tracy
he is harmless, camera’d
in a muffled parliament of cantaloupe-motions.
For every doubt a speech.

He plans to quarter it and quarter the quarters.
The knife first rehearses
a meridian, then the equator,

then mid-cut tilts
and leaves a tatter on one half’s rim.
You can tell he thinks about

what thought is bad at. You can see
that by comparison a chimp would appear,
within its limitations, deft, while the man

with no limitations with respect to principles of melon-slicing
does not. You can tell
he withholds himself from cantaloupe,

as if frightened they will go extinct and take
costs sunk in the skill of slicing them, and further tell
it will be the same next time, him approaching

the fruit as though newly, wondering if it had
a stone in it, or pith and segments,
or required coring, or stank when punctured,

or would show pleasing shapes in section.
He switches grip,
placing his palm over the fat edge of the blade

because a sock puppet has squeaked,
Safety first.
The rinds parted from the sixteenths

are more or less a waste of flesh, according as thrift
argued with intemperance. You can tell
the impending chunks will be publicly homely, not those

of the cruise ship buffet where the night-shift Neopolitan
surpasses himself with flutes and scallops.
You can tell right off a mind unquiet

and at once absent, now remembering
J. at seventeen,
something out of a Kenyan Vermeer,

smiling elfinly as she sliced the cantaloupe.
You could tell by the way she sliced the cantaloupe

the way one slices a cantaloupe would tell a lot.
He draws the knife
along each inside edge to shave the pulp and seedmatter,

varying pressure, speed, and angle of attack
like a deaf man bowing a cello.
Stutters mark the inner faces. He slices

the slices radially into chunks, and varies
the spacing between the cuts from equal angles,
which makes the pieces too big at the center,

to equal volumes, which makes them too long at the poles.
You can tell, as he squeezes a lime-half over the pile
and steps back to admire his freehanded

benighted by-committee cantaloupe-justice,
he cannot be the children’s hockey coach
or run for office, the erratic hexes him, he

circulates sometimes fogged and twitching in his house,
not wishing you could not tell,
exactly, but wanting out.

Source: Poetry (May 2010).

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This poem originally appeared in the May 2010 issue of Poetry magazine

May 2010

Biography

D.H. Tracy's poetry and criticism appear widely. He lives in Illinois.

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Disappointment & Failure, Social Commentaries, Life Choices

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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