God, I love poetry. When you’re a poet you can be hungover, broke, deeper in debt, famished and lovesick—and still come up astral royalty to the groundhog. The whiskered catfish in his bloodwarm puddle admires you—you garnish his taco—mutual admiration flange pedals—you snort the species line. You can drift from chock-a-block diamond lanes in L.A. through smaze and the pampas of Muscovite satellites and antediluvian GE transponders into cuke space—where you flex a platinum body suit and spin in gearshafts of the hot air balloon minter & the grass machine. No other artist can do these things—only poets. I swear, even completely fluent free jazz musicians can’t do space like we can. Poets romp. This is what I mean: De Chirico can saw it in 2, and John Coltrane can make you see what isn’t there yet—but poets get to jump right in and swim in the heatwaves that Alice Coltrane presses in the book of the solar system. We are so free it can hurt and it can be off-putting to other people who aren’t poets and, indeed, even to those poets who would rather express their freedom with more circumspection. For instance, right now I want to fall out of this chair and slither along the garage floor, babbling and drooling—and I want to roll into the sun (it’s a cool sunny day) and rub fists full of grass on my cheeks, screw the grubs, and then—not sure about this part—lick the hubcaps of my parent’s Subaru. I want to run up the street pumping my fists in the air and screaming—“Heuh! Heuh!”—and evening would find me reciting “Tom o’ Bedlam’s Song” to the 92nd St. Y in a Mephistophelean twang. Kicking my Mephistos like Don DeLillo. Going out for dumplings with Galway Kinnell. And by now, maybe your embarrassment for me has tanked. Maybe your words, “Jesus—if that’s a poet, let me be anything else,” were a little hasty, admit it. Because now that I’m sitting at this magic candle table with Galway Kinnell, I don’t look so silly anymore—no matter how I feel inside. I might even have something vital to say to all human beings.

We’re talking, that’s all. I guess that’s how it starts. But I’m trying to enter into this whole thing with no expectations. It’s a bubbly spring night and the opera crowds are mingling with the crunkers on Columbus Circle. We see it all through the smoked glass window of this high-end dumpling house called Gravity. Galway brandishes his fork.

He halves one of the dimpled balls. Steam pours out. He lifts a piece to his mouth, then freezes.

“Scradged,” he says, almost to himself.

“Scradged,” I repeat. “You mean that little piece of dumpling skin dangling off your fork.”

I can’t read the signs—at least I know that much—until it’s too late. My last lover played me for a fool for so long that other fools started looking me up in the yellow pages. My suspicions grew when the sweet nothings she whispered in my ear began casting doubt on global warming. But by then—

“Scradged,” says Kinnell again, as if in a trance. The scrap of dumpling seems to be retracting around the tip of his fork.

“Don’t you like Gravity’s dumplings?”

“They’re delicious,” he says in a deep, slow voice. And then his open eyes go dark, like the eyes of a seer—and the steam from our bamboo basket of dumplings rises in front of his face. “Upon the black hole Cygnus X-1 that wobbles,” he says, “as if boffed by an invisible companion,” says Galway—or someone speaking through him— “upon a silk stocking the color of bees

rolling itself up down a leg, upon the soft dip
over the clavicles, which accept only tongued kisses,
upon the tongue that slowly drifts
into the other’s mouth and chats
there with her opposite number,
gravity exerts the precise force needed.

“Um. Wow. I know the dumplings are good, but damn. You should write some ad copy for this place, Galway.”

Kinnell is silent—seems replaced.

“I mean,” I persist, “I’ve never heard anyone describe the dumpling experience as a chat.”

And then the unexpected: the fork, still poised a foot or so from Galway’s mouth, inches toward his face. He sticks out his tongue—like the Rolling Stones tongue now—and deposits the piece of dumpling on it. Chewing:

In the wings of an Eskimo curlew
flapping through the thin air of the Andes,
in the sacral vertebrae of the widow
who stoops at the window to peer
behind the drawn blind, in the saggy skin
under the eyes of a woman
who is in love with a man incapable
of love, who lives in the heaviness
of emotional isolation, in the lavish
cascade of urine the rhino releases,
in the mouthwater of the child who waits
in shriek position for the dentist...

At this point in the monologue, which it’s slowly dawning on me is a poem, if not moved, I’m actually pretty impressed. This guy knows what he’s doing and I’m not surprised every poet in the English-speaking world has heard of him. As I mentioned, I’m a bit slow on the uptake when it comes to dinner dates; but I really saw that rhino. And the way Kinnell rips the rhino piss into the “mouthwater of the child” who’s sitting in the dentist chair, its cascade blocked from that mouth by nothing but a comma—I’ve been there ... that little sink with the gooseneck tap constantly streaming like a porcelain particle accelerator ... the piss-yellow mixture of blood, spit, fluoride ... as I wait “in shriek position for the dentist,

in the scradged skin dangling in shreds
from the children who lurched toward
the Nakashima River screaming, as if this were
the single aria they had ever rehearsed, gravity
shudders at its mathematical immensity.

One minute, though. What kind of poet would write something like that? What kind of wretched poet (wretched, as in exiled from the poem) would say that about kids burned alive by the nuclear bomb that the U.S. dropped on Nagasaki?—that they scream “as if this were the single aria they had ever rehearsed”? I mean, what poet—what poet breach-born between the legs of his mother tongue—would even think to make their screams figurative?

Can you imagine someone actually saying those words to you? You’ve come to the Met with a friend to see an exhibit of photographs on World War 2. Here’s one of a Japanese girl running towards the camera—horribly burned by the bomb blast. Screaming.

“My god,” murmurs your friend. “It’s as if this were the only aria she’s ever rehearsed.”

“More tea, sir?”

I glance from the fork in my hand to the waiter’s eyes—why does that hair-do look so familiar? And I realize that Galway is gone, as are the recessed lamps of the Gravity Dumpling House, and the tinted glass and planters of green bamboo running along the borders of hand-abraded metal walls artfully touched with rust. My elbows are planted on a fake wood table top under a humming staff of fluorescent tubes, the floor is streaked with mop grime, and my date’s chair is empty. In point of fact, Galway Kinnell has been transformed, flesh bone & blood, into the January 20, 2014 issue of The New Yorker, pages 58-59, where you can read his poem “Gravity” from top to bottom.

The magazine is lying open next to my finished plate of dumplings, the fortune cookie on top. I crack it open, crunch as I read,

(lucky numbers 25, 43, 4, 22, 2014)

and look up just as the waiter whisks past—scowling. Great Auk, it’s Gregory Corso!

Originally Published: April 23rd, 2014

Poet Julien Poirier grew up in the San Francisco Bay area and was educated at Columbia University. He has described his poems as a system or a conversation already in progress, aligning observed and spoken ephemera with sound echoes, tracing the movement of a restless mind across themes of politics,...