Category: Carver Cuts

Carver Cuts: Part Four

2016-08-06 21.50.46

The fourth poem in the Carver Cuts installment [1] [2] [3] is based on the story “Collectors”:



after Raymond Carver

I was listening to the rain when I heard someone
walk onto the porch, wait, then knock.  I lay still.
I knew it wasn’t the mailman.  I knew his steps.
You can’t be too careful if you’re out of work and
you get notices mailed or pushed under your door.
Another knock.  Who’s there? I have something for
Mrs. Slater.  She’s won something.  Is she home?
Mrs. Slater doesn’t live here, I said. Well, he said.
Are you Mr. Slater? I got off the sofa and opened
the door.  Water ran off his raincoat and onto this
big suitcase contraption he carried.  He put out his
hand.  Aubrey Bell, he said.  Mrs. Slater filled out
a card, he said.  Mrs. Slater is a winner.  Mrs. Slater
doesn’t live here, I said.  What’d she win?  I have
to show you, he said.  Mrs. Slater’s card was pulled
at random out of a basket of hundreds of cards,
he said.  She’s a winner.  No strings.  I’m here
to do your mattress.  You’ll be surprised at what
can collect over the years.  No way am I in the market
for a vacuum cleaner, I said.  He flopped his case
open.  He was on his knees, inserting the pipes into
the hose, grunting.  He attached some scoop
to the end.  I think you better pack your things
and go, I said, but he was looking around the room
for a plug-in.  He found one, and the machine
rattled as if there were something loose inside,
like a marble, then settled to a hum.  The scoop
tugged at the mattress, and the vacuum whirred
louder.  He made three passes over the mattress,
then switched off the machine and took out
the filter.  He pinched some of the dusty stuff
between his fingers, must have been a cup of it.
He had this look on his face.  I heard steps on
the porch, the mail slot opened and clinked shut.
We looked at each other.  You want coffee?
I said.  I put on water and by the time I’d fixed
two cups, he had everything back in the case.
He picked up the letter, read the name, and
folded it in half, put it in his hip pocket.
It’s for a Mr. Slater, he said.  I’ll see to it.
You’re sure that’s who the letters for? I said.
You want to see it? he said?  Don’t believe me?
Just seems strange, I said.  Well, I’d better be
off, he said.  But he kept standing there.

Carver Cuts: Part Three

The site has been live for over a year now!  Thanks to all the visitors and people who’ve shared.

Today I’m releasing the third installment of the Carver Cuts.  The first two can be found here: [1][2].

Today’s poem is called “The Dance,” and borrows everything from Raymond Carver’s story, “Why Don’t You Dance?

The Dance

after Raymond Carver

He poured another drink and looked
at the bedroom suite in his front yard.
That morning he’d cleared all the stuff
out of the house, run an extension cord,
so everything was connected.  Things
worked, no different.

This girl and boy were furnishing a little
apartment.  It must be a yard sale, she
said.  He pulled into the driveway and
stopped in front of the kitchen table.
They began to examine things; he sat
on the sofa, lit a cigarette, and she sat
on the bed, pushed off her shoes.  She
thought she could see a star.  Come here,
she said.  I feel funny, he said.  I’ll see
if anybody’s home.   Whatever they ask,
she said.  Offer ten dollars less.  They
must be desperate or something.

He came down the sidewalk with a sack
of sandwiches, beer, and whiskey.  He
saw the car and the girl on the bed,
the TV going.  You found the bed, he said
to the girl.  I was just trying it out, she said,
patting the bed.  How much do you want
for it?  I was thinking fifty, he said.  Would
you take forty? she asked.  He put down
the sack and took out the beer and whiskey.
The girl looked at the boy.  You kids, you’ll
want a drink, he said.  Glasses in that box,
he said, then sat on the sofa, leaned back
and stared at them.

The boy found two glasses and poured.
I want water in mine, she said.  The boy
came back from the spigot.  The man
gazed at the television, finished his drink,
started another, and looked at them as
they sat at the table, something nice,
something nasty in their faces, he couldn’t
tell.  He poured another.  Everything goes,
he said.  She held out her glass, and he
poured.  The boy was writing a check.
He put on a record.  Why don’t you
dance? he said.  I don’t think so, the boy
said.  Go ahead, he said.  It’s my yard.

Their bodies pressed together, the boy
and girl moved up and down the driveway,
dancing.  And when the record ended, they
did it again.  He turned the record over.
Dance with me, the girl said, and when he
stood up, she came to him.

They’re watching over there, she said.
It’s okay, he said.  It’s my place.  Let them
watch, she said.  That’s right, he said.
He felt her breath on his neck.  She closed
her eyes and pushed her face into his
shoulder.  You must be desperate
or something, she said.  There was more
to it; she was trying to get it talked out.

What I love most about this story is probably the occasion.  The  main character’s obviously going through some sort of crisis, having pulled all his furniture out on the lawn.  Some of you may be thinking: hey, wasn’t there a movie like this? And yes, yes there was.  Everything Must Go, starring Will Ferrell is based on this Carver story.  But there’s something almost magical about this man, at the end of his relationship with his wife, running into these two kids who seem to be newly in love.  He’s at the end of one cycle, and they’re just at the beginning, and so it makes sense for him so practically give away all his stuff (hell, he’s got it out on the lawn anyway) to these kids.  But the girl, there’s something both conniving and sweet about the way she wants to talk the guy down on all the prices but ultimately tries to understand his plight.

Plus the story ends with the image of this divorcee dancing on his front lawn with this total stranger while the neighbors all gawk and look on.  The design of the story unfolds so that this moment’s charged with sincerity, sexual tension, and perhaps most important: it simultaneously suggests the main character’s acceptance of his lot/position in life, while zooming in on him in a moment of defiance–or at least acting out of line with the suburbanite sense of propriety.  It’s got that undeniable magic of despair and hope all knotted up like a ball of rubber bands.  It’s sweet and desperate and somehow both steeped in sorrow yet hopeful.  It’s the kind of story the reveals human resilience and sweetness in the face of personal, financial, and familial collapse.  Astounding.

Thanks for reading!

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