Jan 22, 2013
Pouncey’s is a Mom & Pop in Perry, a fairly remote town in northwest Florida. We chose it because the parking lot was full, and 80% of the vehicles were pickups. I tried fried ribs, which I’d never heard of. They were pretty tough, and ribs have enough flavor prepared the traditional ways. I’ll stick to chicken hereafter. The cabbage casserole and black-eyed peas were only OK, but the ambience was a solid A—all locals, it seemed, greeting each other and saying a fair amount of not much, as we all do when we’re locals.
I wondered about the 100% Caucasian clientele when 40% of Perry’s population is black and 2% Hispanic. Are southern Mom & Pops, like our churches, America’s most segregated places? Maybe it has nothing to do with the South.
From the next table, an elderly-but-not-ancient couple struck up a conversation. They’ve retired from Perry to 160 acres with three fish ponds in 35 miles north. He speaks with pride of his children’s outcomes (his son runs a business in Perry).
The Mrs. is trim, with short, slightly wavy, senior citizen hair, and a classic church lady manner. Her smile seems genuine, but I’d swear there was a hint of ferocity below her surface.
Only when they’re about to leave does it become clear that he’s on a walker. She takes it from the wall where it was leaning and pulls it over to their table. Then she positions herself behind him, grabs his pants and belt in the middle of his lower back, and with one hand, hoists him into the walker, as a mother might do with a misbehaving four-year-old.
I’m not sure you'll see a tight connection between that little sketch and Stephen Dobyns’ poem, “Tenderly,” but here goes.
I’d also like to know how much you like and respect the poem. At first I gave it less than a grade of A because it seemed to be so completely a story in prose—broken arbitrarily into lines of wannabe poetry.
However, the thing has stuck with me for a few days now, and I’m beginning to reevaluate. Like many of the best poems of the “School of Accessibility,” there’s a powerful whole here that might overcome rather ordinary language. I will not soon forget the central image of the man on the table, plus some of the details about the other diners and Dobyns’ implied theme(s). What is it that does or does not draw us together? What are the best images of despair? Is it ever acceptable for us to know only the final result, the despair, without knowing the events that led up to it? Sometimes the answers are bizarre. Maybe.
I also wonder about the way we respond to explicit sexuality in poetry—it’s not all that common, after all. Is Dobyns playing unfairly by appealing to our baser interests—not just sexuality, but a weird take on it? Or are the rest of us too reluctant to accept sexuality as an important human experience and therefore very much the property of poetry?