FALL 2011




Solidus Online

Jeff Friedman

Notes from a Love Life

I once made love
to a thousand women—
it was a wild month,
and I still owed my father rent.
I sowed my seed
night and day, begetting
Adam, Eva, Rachel, Muffy
Terence, Aliciabades, Bunny,
Midge, Rona, Sasquatch,
Cordell Dewberry, Candy Berger,
Michelle, Janey—in other words,
the whole state of Missouri,
including the boot heel.
And I invented the phrase
“I don’t believe it,” which later
became “Show me,”
because of all the little bastards
in the Ozarks demanding cash
and claiming to be the son
of the son of God.
So what if I fell asleep after
or called Ginny Jesse
or Sarah Sally? So what
if I had many live-ins
but no wives? And so what
if after, I treated all my lovers
like sisters, and all my sisters
were lovers?
Once I brought a woman
to four thousand three hundred
and sixty-two orgasms, which
shattered all previous records.
I marked each orgasm on the wall
with colored chalk. By the time
our lovemaking was over,
the room resembled the cave
in Lascaux, filled with paintings
of bulls goring their gourds
and priapic cave dwellers
saluting the red asses of their lovers.
She floated away on a river
of pleasure or so I thought.
Only later did I learn,
she didn’t like the way I kiss,
the taste of my skin,
or how my face contorts
with each triumphant thrust—
and not all orgasms are good.

Appeared in Working in Flour
published by Carnegie Mellon University Press in 2011


The War on Fat, Frontenac Plaza

At 90, my mother wobbles
on the cobbled walkway. “Look
at that one,” she declares.
She leans on me as she stares
at the heavy woman in a pink sundress
plodding toward us with a candy
bar and caramel corn.
“And she’s got food in both hands.”

I urge my mother forward,
though she’s frail. “Mom, not so loud,”
I answer, but she fixes on the family
breaking into a large red box
of Miss Fields’ cookies.
“No wonder they’re all fat.”

Is this the woman
who told her friend Ethel
to stop harassing her son
about being gay and be happy
someone else in this world loves him?

50 pounds overweight,
my father filled his plate
with brisket and potatoes while my mother
warned him not to get any fatter.
“What’ve you got against fat people?” he snapped.

For twenty years
she’s lived on cottage cheese,
fatty corned beef
and chocolate chip poundcake
and she’s still thin.

Sun pours through the glass wall.
Red and blue lights tint
the water spouting from the fountain.
She points at a man
squeezed into a metal deck chair,
“That one’s eating two scoops
when he should be the one walking.”

As we pass Sylvia’s Pet Shop,
the parrots perk up, waving
their black beaks and mocking us
in the window. Multicolored
balloons sail toward the rafters:
“It wouldn’t hurt you to take off
a few pounds either,” she says.
“Look at that one,” I answer.

Appeared in Working in Flour
published by Carnegie Mellon University Press in 2011


Bridge Street Café

We sat in the Bridge Street Café
where East meets West,
silent as always,
a dead fish on your plate
a dead fish on my plate.
Rain stitched the river.
A wild turkey stopped
traffic, sticking its long
neck into the white weeds.
The waiter, a goat
in a waistcoat, uncorked
a bottle of red and poured,
then backed away from us.
An old man with gout
snorted his snuff
and reclined in his ruffles.
Another year had gone by
like a tray of overpriced appetizers.
What did I remember?
We held hands once
under a big clock and kissed.
We strolled by the Black River
a day before it rose
over the banks and took out the bridge.
We studied a mock orange in the cemetery.
Your hair fell
over your shoulders.
Ducks lined up by the wading pool.
Someone was teeing off
from the green. Human bombs
went off in the streets.
The President declared peace.

Appeared in Working in Flour
published by Carnegie Mellon University Press in 2011


Jeff Friedman

When I’m writing a poem, I’m starting a fire and feeding that fire any fuel I can to keep it going

In grade school and high school, most of my teachers and classmates probably considered me some kind of clown. I think I reacted to that in my early efforts to distinguish myself as a poet, culling out any line or image that distracted from the seriousness of my endeavor, and keeping only the images which seemed to support the realism of my workplace poems, my political pieces and my elegies for my people from my past. However, around the time of my third book, I began opening my work to a broader range of tones and colors. As I read the new work in public venues, people would laugh at the funny parts of the poems. At first I thought this might be comic relief, a break from the darker poems, but then people started to tell me that the poems were really funny. Subsequently I would group six or seven of the comic pieces and read them first. This created a context for the humor and really gave the audience a chance to understand what I was doing in the poem—and laughter is infectious. By reading the pieces that way, the comic element built with each poem and provided a gateway to my other poems.

I think I’ve always had a comic vision of the world; I just suppressed it for a while, but as I’ve gotten older and experienced so much loss, it’s become even more important to me that my poems entertain and delight the reader before giving him/her a sharp jolt. For me, the comedy in my poems has to have an edge, something deeply serious underlying it, or the piece will be a failure. I don’t start out to write something funny. I start with whatever comes to me: a line, an image, a piece of dialogue or even a particular sound, and I try to build on it. For me each image and sound is a story itself, and my job as a poet is to blend the stories into a composition, but that doesn’t necessarily mean to tell a story. When I’m writing a poem, I’m starting a fire and feeding that fire any fuel I can to keep it going, at least in the first draft, which is usually much longer than the final version. My next step is to cut away all the in-between lines and extra phrases that impede the rhythm. I’m interested in the pauses and silences that not only create mystery, but also comedy.

Jeff Friedman’s fifth collection of poetry, Working in Flour, has recently been published by Carnegie Mellon University Press. His poems, mini stories, and translations have appeared in many literary magazines, including American Poetry Review, Poetry, 5 AM, Agni Online, Poetry International, Prairie Schooner, Antioch Review, Quick Fiction, Nighttrain, The 2River View, North American Review, Boulevard, and The New Republic.