Originally published in Willow Springs 79
From the author
Notes on “Manatees”
I usually start a poem with a line: something I’ve heard, something I’ve read, or something that pops into my head unbidden. It doesn’t have to be “poetic;” in fact, I often prefer if it’s a little goofy. It’s more freeing that way. Then I follow that line wherever it needs to go. Often it goes nowhere. My notebooks are stuffed with stillborn poems. But every once in a while, the line pulls me forward, to a place I had no idea I was heading; a place that surprises me and feels, when I get to it, absolutely right. This was the case with “Manatees.”
I’ve been obsessed with manatees ever since I saw twelve in a row, swimming down a canal in Florida. They were exactly as I described them: ugly-cute, and so, so vulnerable, endangered not only by changes in the environment but by the propellers of speeding motorboats. And while I didn’t set out to write a vulnerable poem, that’s exactly what happened. I started thinking about how crazy it was that anyone could think of a manatee as good girlfriend material, and that led me to the loneliness and longing of those men who could think a thing like that, and that led me—well, to myself. I don’t think of myself as a particularly confessional poet—I actually am kind of shy—but there it was. There I was.
And why this poem took me there, I don’t know, and I don’t really want to find out. Just glad that sometimes I arrive someplace. And that I experience some thrills along the way.
Music, Food, Booze, Tattoos, Kittens, etc.
Listening: The best thing I’ve listened to recently is not a piece of music but a podcast: S-Town. If you’ve listened to it, you know why. And if you haven’t, what are you waiting for? Among other things, it is a radical act of empathy and a genuine work of art. I can’t stop thinking about it, and I don’t want to.
Eating: I’ve been living in the UK for ten years, first in Edinburgh, now in Bristol. (Nothing I planned—which is the way I seem to do things). Bristol’s a good place for a greedy person like me. You can get an ace cup of coffee at the Small Street Cafe and a superior loaf of sourdough at Hart’s Bakery. Plus, it has Chinese, Indian, Afro-Carribbean, Middle Eastern, and Polish groceries where I shop for spices and fruits and vegetables.
But there are some foods I miss, and every year, when I go back to New York, I stuff my face with them. Like real Jewish sour pickles. And a tart Winesap apple, bought at a farmer’s market. Its perfume. And a BLT on rye toast made with crispy bacon. And a slice of pizza bought at a pizzeria for a couple of bucks. Sit down at the formica table, soak up the extra oil with a paper napkin, sprinkle on some hot pepper…
I know you can buy pizza in Britain, but honestly? It’s not the same.
Purring: I used to have a cat named Frank, named after Frank Sinatra because he was slinky and sophisticated looking and liked to croon. When I moved from New York, I brought him with me, which was insanely expensive but the only thing to do. He died a few years ago, aged eighteen, and we brought his ashes back and buried them in a friend’s backyard in Brooklyn. I don’t have any pets now, but I do like animals. Looking at them. Thinking about them. Knowing they will never express an infuriating political opinion…
About Elizabeth Gold
I was born in New York City and after spending a few years in Montana I came back to New York, where I taught ESL and freshman English in different branches of City University. I also worked as a poet in the schools and had a brief, disastrous (but very fruitful) stint teaching high school. These days, I work as a freelance editor.
I write both poetry and prose. My poems and essays have been published in Field, The Gettysburg Review, Meridian, Guernica, and other journals, as well as on Poetry Daily. I’m also the author of Brief Intervals of Horrible Sanity (Tarcher/Penguin), a book inspired by that high school teaching job. It’s definitely not a heroic-teacher-walks-into-the-classroom-and-turns-those-troubled-kids around kind of book (I loathe those kinds of books), but a black comedy about human failure.
My husband is English. How we met is a long and romantic story. But how we ended up in the UK is a short one. He asked me if I wanted to live here for a while, and I thought, What the hell. I’ve never lived in the U.K. before. Never counted on Brexit though. Never counted on Trump either….
As for my internet presence, you can find a few poems of mine online:
I’m also involved in putting together an online magazine of arts and commentary called Dark Wood. I’m very excited about it. The first issue isn’t out yet—it will come out in the summer—but if you link to the website, about dark wood, you can get an idea of what it’s like, submit something and/ or sign up for our email list. You can also follow us on twitter or Facebook.