Artistic Statement

Denise Duhamel - 1961-

My body of work is very similar to my corporal body. I often employ traditional forms (Spanx/dieting) but just as often revert to a more copious mode (cake/lazy afternoons). In that I wear little makeup (sensitive skin/feminist stance) I use few purely poetic flourishes except for rhyme—both internal and end line (lipstick/nail polish) conceding to self-conscious artifice. Perhaps because I grew up Catholic, I am drawn to acrostics (crosses) and punitive syllable counting (the rosary). I am interested in bodies seen and not seen (bikinis, muumuus, the dead and not-yet-born), poems written and yet-to-be-written. Holy ghost poems that cannot be read but only felt.  

More by Denise Duhamel

Buying Stock

"...The use of condoms offers substantial protection, but does not guarantee total protection and that while there is no evidence that deep kissing has resulted in transfer of the virus, no one can say that such transmission would be absolutely impossible." --The Surgeon General, 1987

I know you won't mind if I ask you to put this on.
It's for your protection as well as mine--Wait.
Wait.  Here, before we rush into anything
I've bought a condom for each one of your fingers. And here--
just a minute--Open up.
I'll help you put this one on, over your tongue.
I was thinking:
If we leave these two rolled, you can wear them
as patches over your eyes. Partners have been known to cry,
shed tears, bodily fluids, at all this trust, at even the thought
of this closeness.

Sex with a Famous Poet

I had sex with a famous poet last night 
and when I rolled over and found myself beside him I shuddered 
because I was married to someone else, 
because I wasn't supposed to have been drinking,
because I was in fancy hotel room
I didn't recognize. I would have told you 
right off this was a dream, but recently 
a friend told me, write about a dream, 
lose a reader and I didn't want to lose you
right away. I wanted you to hear
that I didn't even like the poet in the dream, that he has 
four kids, the youngest one my age, and I find him 
rather unattractive, that I only met him once,
that is, in real life, and that was in a large group 
in which I barely spoke up. He disgusted me 
with his disparaging remarks about women.
He even used the word "Jap"
which I took as a direct insult to my husband who's Asian. 
When we were first dating, I told him
"You were talking in your sleep last night
and I listened, just to make sure you didn't 
call out anyone else's name." My future-husband said
that he couldn't be held responsible for his subconscious, 
which worried me, which made me think his dreams
were full of blond vixens in rabbit-fur bikinis.
but he said no, he dreamt mostly about boulders 
and the ocean and volcanoes, dangerous weather 
he witnessed but could do nothing to stop. 
And I said, "I dream only of you,"
which was romantic and silly and untrue. 
But I never thought I'd dream of another man--
my husband and I hadn't even had a fight,
my head tucked sweetly in his armpit, my arm 
around his belly, which lifted up and down
all night, gently like water in a lake.
If I passed that famous poet on the street,
he would walk by, famous in his sunglasses 
and blazer with the suede patches at the elbows, 
without so much as a glance in my direction.
I know you're probably curious about who the poet is, 
so I should tell you the clues I've left aren't 
accurate, that I've disguised his identity, 
that you shouldn't guess I bet it's him...
because you'll never guess correctly
and even if you do, I won't tell you that you have. 
I wouldn't want to embarrass a stranger 
who is, after all, probably a nice person, 
who was probably just having a bad day when I met him, 
who is probably growing a little tired of his fame--
which my husband and I perceive as enormous, 
but how much fame can an American poet 
really have, let's say, compared to a rock star 
or film director of equal talent? Not that much,
and the famous poet knows it, knows that he's not 
truly given his due. Knows that many 
of these young poets tugging on his sleeve 
are only pretending to have read all his books.
But he smiles anyway, tries to be helpful. 
I mean, this poet has to have some redeeming qualities, right? 
For instance, he writes a mean iambic. 
Otherwise, what was I doing in his arms.

Yes

According to Culture Shock:
A Guide to Customs and Etiquette 
of Filipinos, when my husband says yes,
he could also mean one of the following:
a.) I don't know.
b.) If you say so.
c.) If it will please you.
d.) I hope I have said yes unenthusiastically enough
for you to realize I mean no.
You can imagine the confusion 
surrounding our movie dates, the laundry,
who will take out the garbage
and when. I remind him 
I'm an American, that all his yeses sound alike to me.        
I tell him here in America we have shrinks 
who can help him to be less of a people-pleaser. 
We have two-year-olds who love to scream "No!" 
when they don't get their way. I tell him, 
in America we have a popular book,
When I Say No I Feel Guilty.
"Should I get you a copy?" I ask.
He says yes, but I think he means
"If it will please you," i.e. "I won't read it."
"I'm trying," I tell him, "but you have to try too."
"Yes," he says, then makes tampo,
a sulking that the book Culture Shock describes as
"subliminal hostility . . . withdrawal of customary cheerfulness
in the presence of the one who has displeased" him.
The book says it's up to me to make things all right,
"to restore goodwill, not by talking the problem out,
but by showing concern about the wounded person's
well-being." Forget it, I think, even though I know
if I'm not nice, tampo can quickly escalate into nagdadabog--
foot stomping, grumbling, the slamming
of doors. Instead of talking to my husband, I storm off
to talk to my porcelain Kwan Yin,
the Chinese goddess of mercy
that I bought on Canal Street years before
my husband and I started dating.
"The real Kwan Yin is in Manila,"
he tells me. "She's called Nuestra Señora de Guia.
Her Asian features prove Christianity
was in the Philippines before the Spanish arrived."
My husband's telling me this
tells me he's sorry. Kwan Yin seems to wink,
congratulating me--my short prayer worked.
"Will you love me forever?" I ask,
then study his lips, wondering if I'll be able to decipher
what he means by his yes.

Related Poems

B-Sides from my Idol Tryouts

1. Just like in true life

The wild geese approaching treason, now federated along one keep

May we find a rafter


2. I like the way you don't
go into the cabin
That is how I like it: methodically, mythically, my accidents are protests,
are my only protests, they are never accidents


3. We even misprism the past
Turn our waltz on the face of another
To turn on
To turn against
Opposite statements that express the same, sometimes, or binary like the lines:
Man is something to be overcome, what you you done to overcome him
or
Just how far can you push the heroic guy to being evil
and how far can you push the villain to being somebody you can
care about

or
Floodtide beneath you, I see you face to face

4. Check out your mind
Masquerading with dawn
It was invented by the press
Press harder (press not push)
The bell, the liquor, the deck of card crisp hardships surfacing as clovers and nights at his club getting low, if they ask you to sell them, don't
On the Corner, (side 1) try
Thinking of one thing and doing another


4. Repeat: But we are
Only getting rich in order to repeat these trips

 

5. But we are getting rich in order...
So neither group can be understood except in relation to the other
as in/
as out/
as excuses for true stories—

It's just that his passion costumes his thoughts,
not just his past
Not just a fat vacation Sunday
Also an emaciated smoke break
Also broken into images of smoke,

the way smoke moves
From tobacco
or factory chimney
your mouth
your vandalised memory
in order
to get rich
Someone has to work there and believe it into disappearance

 

6. Wealth: I am farmers/I am a thief.
Fame money/anonymous fame/factory farmed/black thief/by black I mean/
Buy black I mean
We are what sells
Thinking to ourselves:
Something in me wishes this wasn't my poem—
That emotion is glory or—
still?

7. Compliments: The only one I want is (the) speechless/
ness, (he) nestled in me bold and hip like a broken risk


8. Peaty Greene, Casius X (who's that) Jack Johnson, Blind Tom Wiggans, Bama the Village Poet, Gregor Samson, Fred Hampton, Josephine Baker, Lester Young, will you give up your death for me? Teach me why I am a destiny

9. If you think about me, and you ain't gonna do no revolutionary act, forget about me, I don't want myself on your mind

10. Anyway, innocence. Man is something to be overcome, what have you done to overcome him. Digitally pacing the stage as his future and his past, a full body holograph of Tupac Shakur. But then when he got shot no bitches came out, no music, nothin'. Just some critics' unphased mumblings: man you were marvelous but your co-star the gun was a bit over the top

11. Rehearsal for God Bless the Child.
I wanna get it right
Let's start with 'rich relations'

Green sides of goldsides
I immediately had to get a drum instructor a trumpet teacher and a sword twirling coach. Get your silence together. Hope is final

12. Super soul/supra soul/hip hop's egoless self-agrandisement is the next
toll/phase on the free/way, high/way, autoroute, or space between proof and privacy in loose weather

13.The man you love is walking home in Hollywood. 5 or 6 police cars come up, about 8 cops around. You fit the description, you always fit the description, you fit the description of a robbery in the area. A black guy, wearing jeans, 5'8," the whole thing


14. He had dreams of really hitting it big with his stereo store
He'd play samples of Caetano Veloso singing 9 out of ten movie stars make me cry, I'm alive!, or— One thing leads to another, but the kid is not my son or god bless the child that's got his own