Wilson’s guest this month is Poet Katherine Gekker. He discuss the poetry in her new book In Search of Warm Breathing Things. He begins the program with Gekker’s poem “Bodrum Hamam” published in volume 11 of the Delmarva Review. Even though it does not appear in In Search of Warm Breathing Things it is part of the discussion and is beautifully reflective of the depth of her work. Almost hidden in her poetry are subtle iconic images that float below the surface and tease out the instinctive roots of our consciousness.
In her “Bodrum Hamam,” for example, Katherine Gekker takes us into a Turkish bath, where it is so wet that water streams down its blue and yellow walls and our red-checkered towels are soaking wet from the saturated air. Hot then tepid water is dipped from a pool in a ritual of self cleansing; a personal baptism of washing away the outer world. And then the narrative shifts from “we” to “I,” and “the other” enters. I lie down, she says. He folds my hands over my heart. He washes me with huge towel covered hands. This innocent washing is a delight and there is laughter amidst the flying of soapsuds. Then there is the washing of her face by the other. The intimacy of having her face touched by this stranger reminds her of her parents who were the only others who ever washed her face. In the touching, she remembers their death and the crossing of their arms as part of the preparation for their burial. Suddenly we realize that this entire poem, the self cleansing, the folded arms, the washing, is a prelude to the burial of the dead. When the bath has ended, photographs are taken outside the bath in the street, and even though she can smell the sea, everything has changed. In the photograph, she notices how sunken and hollow-cheeked she looks now as though everything has been sucked out of her.
And then there is “Sweet Chocolate.” This poem, in Gekker’s book, is a simple story of a woman bringing a few Hershey’s Kisses to her mother who can no longer eat and is dying in the hospital. Written in the first person she tells us,
I place one morsel in your
mouth. After a long
time your thin neck
swallows. Your last meal.
This subtle image of the chocolate melting on the tongue of the dying is a symbol that reaches back to the primitive roots of our consciousness. There is nothing of intellect here; the poem generates an emotion in which we are made to feel the capricious nature of life’s heart as well as the simple beauty it offers in our care for one another. The ancient roots of our consciousness are thus exposed.
As a bonus, two of Gekker’s poems have been put to music. Listen to her poem “Overnight Maples Turn into Pumpkins” set to music by Carson Cooman and his chamber music group. CLICK TO LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE.