Undercurrents and Paper Towels (“Divorce a Possibility in Brooklyn, NYC”)


I was honored to be asked to host the “Poetics” prompt at dVerse Poets Pub today.  (Thanks to Sheila Moore, Claudia Schoenfeld, and Brian Miller.)

My prompt has to do with “undercurrents” in poetry.  The examination of the layers of a moment or experience is frankly something most poets do unprompted.  Nonetheless, I look forward to seeing what the wonderful poets at dVerse will do today, and urge you  to check out the prompt and the poets as well.   (And, of course, to write your own poem!)

Here’s mine:

Divorce a Possibility in Brooklyn, NYC

She wipes the counters for weeks
with an increasingly moldy
sponge.  Paper goods
have always been his job, the
so for a while w
hen she shops,
she just 
forgets, grocery store a blur
anyway, baby tied to her chest
like an amulet
against the leering heights
of canned corn, the precarious stacks
of tomato, all those old Italian ladies
in black coats (no matter the season),
the traffic
of criss-crossed carts. 

Till at last, gridlocked in
an aisle she’d intended to sidestep,
she’s faced
by the cellophane muscles
of a man who promises
to pick up everything.  She starts
to reach out to him–his
brand, his wrapper–but feels
suddenly certain
that if she even
touches those paper towels, it will be the end
of the life she has planned.  

She looks down
into her cart; its dull
metal grid reminds her now
of a cage, a poor
cage made of wire and gap,
perfect for some animal
that’s neither strong
nor clever.  

 PS – I’m sorry–overly scattered today–and have greatly edited this poem, changing back and forward again and again since first posting, adding and taking out a first verse (now out!)  Not sure that I made it better but not changing it anymore for now!
For a much much much lighter read, but also about NYC, check out my new comic novel, NOSE DIVE, on Amazon and Kindle.  (A lot of fun for just 99 cents!)
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33 Comments on “Undercurrents and Paper Towels (“Divorce a Possibility in Brooklyn, NYC”)”

  1. Sheila Says:

    Great story. Change is so very hard. Love the paper towel metaphor. But I hate that grocery cart grid lock as much as rush hour car traffic (smiles). So great to have you hosting the prompt. Thanks again.

  2. Shawna Says:

    Such an incredible undercurrent! I love this. You are so right about perspectives changing depending on what you’re exposed to, what images you see, comparisons you make, etc. It’s all a matter of thought control.

    “with an increasingly moldy sponge” … I hate when that happens; perfect visual. We’ve all been there. 🙂

    “baby tied to her chest like an amulet” … Love this! So true how we wear our children … and how the baby must be a good-luck charm, a form of protection from that muscled man blocking the aisle!

    “an aisle she’d intended to sidestep” … If only the hubby had done his job, you wouldn’t have been there in the first place. I think the italicized “his” made the whole poem.

    You are both strong and clever … at least in poetry. 🙂

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks much! The muscled guy is supposed to be the Brawny guy on the wrapper! I’m a bit worried that it’s not clear, but will check. Thanks for your kind comment. K.

      • zongrik Says:

        oh, wow, i didn’t even think the muscled guy is the Brawny guy. I thought it was some guy she thought was cute. i guess that’s just me, always looking for cute guys….

        but anyway, i loved it before understanding that part, and like it even better now.

        i liked the gridlock in the isle also, stupid people who don’t know how to position themselves and can’t keep one eye out to see their are an inconvenience.

      • Shawna Says:

        Oh no, it’s totally clear. It’s just a bit of double entendre to me.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks again–it’s so interesting to see comments, because things one thought were clear, are not always. Agh. This was a much longer poem, and better cut, but it’s always hard to cut.

  3. Laurie Kolp Says:

    Sometimes it’s easier to just go back, but moving forward is so much better. I love this… I have an idea what you want (I’ve read Brian and Claudia’s pieces)… can’t wait to see your prompt.

  4. Mama Zen Says:

    This is just so incredibly human. “As long as I don’t break and buy the towels myself, it’s not real.” Beautiful writing.

  5. claudia Says:

    dang..the moldy sponge..the cart as a cage…the paper towels metaphor…very vividly told story…could really see her in her loneliness and fight..

  6. wcg1670 Says:

    very cleverly done…and that Brawny hunk…offering escape perhaps…from the cart (cage)…..very clever


  7. Mary Says:

    I do like the ‘increasingly moldy sponge.’ That speaks reams. And the Brawny guy, I wasn’t SURE when I first read the poem, though I wonderd, so I was glad for your explanation. And I will never again look at a grocery cart in the same way!

  8. Fascinating poem– very very good! It shows your hard work– I interpreted her as coming face to face with a man in the aisle and drawn to him, describing him in terms of the paper towel roll, the “Brawny” or whatever it is– watch out for your ever-looming perfectionism and don’t cut anymore out of this. I think it was that you wrote “a” man– rather than something like “the image on the roll of paper towels or the cellophane-muscled image or something that makes it clearer– you might also ask yourself whether you have two narratives or more working here– the divorce, the taking over of the man’s work, replacing him with Self, or being caged or all of them as sub-themes– When I work on a poem i.e. giving it three or more revisions or so I often find it helpful to put it away; I simply won’t see it with fresh eyes until much later. As I commented on my blog I felt this was a hugely challenging prompt– I’ll be interested in your comments. xxxj

  9. This reminded me of my youngest sister in so many ways. Stuck in a marriage she was trapped in by a bully of a husband because she had 3 kids and was scared of what might happen if she tried to break free. Thankfully, after standing his bullying, jealous rages and other nonsense for 21 years and kids being grown, she decided enough was enough and is now divorcing. (I said a prayer of thanks to God)
    A lovely write, and, read.

  10. nickrolynd Says:

    Wow, I wrote a poem about divorce, too. Go figure. But it’s nothing like this. I love all the imagery! It ties the emotion in so well. You really pulled on the kind of conflict that goes on inside a person when something like divorce happens.

    Thanks for the read.

  11. kez Says:

    cool very real and touching …thank you x

  12. You give a vivid portrayal of what marriage can be like…how many times does a woman want to change paper towels…very clever!

  13. Glenn Buttkus Says:

    As a husband I have to protest, just
    a little; but found your poetics both
    fun, edgy, and tinged with the kind
    of truth that requires maximum
    accommodation; just remember it is
    all reciprocal; love to read your
    husband’s perspective on my
    “assigned duties”.

  14. Brendan Says:

    Interesting how the undercurrents run at varied fathoms — here they eddy round the feet of the woman in the grocery store; the topside action is dominant, carrying in the edges an inside action that, though faint, overwhelms the woman’s passage through the store. Fine balancing act, great poem. – Brendan

  15. hedgewitch Says:

    You really capture that sense of frantic mania that comes over us when it seems like everything is falling apart around us–trying to be so normal, while even the simplest thing is slipping out of our control. I especially liked the end–hammer blow–and the paper towel image (I instantly saw Brawny, before reading the comments) who is both alluring and menacing. Excellent stuff, Karin.

  16. kaykuala Says:

    It’s sad when things come to a head. It’s a pity that woman is made to suffer being perceived as weaker The despondent capture of an impending break of relationship is vividly portrayed. The metal grid of the cart gives a poignant picture of what the future holds if things are not handled well. Fantastic verse!

    P/S Thanks for hosting this time

  17. oceangirl Says:

    Marriage can have such an undercurrent.

    I edit and re-edit all my posts, PUBLISH can sometimes be a scary button for me.

  18. Margaret Says:

    I find this extremely moving and this would be me! My husband’s chore is to purchase the paper products for our family. For the past 20 years, I have not bough much TP or PT. Fantastic example of an undercurrent poem!

    baby tied to her chest
    like an amulet

    that is just a great description. I hope I can do this type of poem… I’ll give it a whirl and thanks for hosting.

  19. Chazzy Chazz Says:

    I like the gritty detail of this and the precise eye for the perfect point that tells it for what it is. You’ve got a very strong undercurrent here of life breaking thru the steroetypes and drabness of consumerism. Drew me on and didn’t let me go until the last drop was drunk!

  20. brian Says:

    ugh…the hardest image for me is that of the cage…illusion or otherwise it is felt…and it becomes real in that instance…some really nice word pairings cellophane muscles…nice….and it def feels like there needs to be some communication here between the man and woman in the relationship before some thing breaks…if it is not already too late…

  21. David King Says:

    This I really love. Seems wholly appropriate, you going back and forth to mop up! Truly though, this ticks so many boxes for me.

    she’s faced
    by the cellophane muscles
    of a man who promises
    to pick up everything.

    has everything one could wish for it.

  22. Grace Says:

    Any woman (or man) who manages the family and obligations can relate to the grocery store and mopping up the sponge images.

    Great work of tackling this sensitive and messy topic without being overly sentimental ~

  23. Other Mary Says:

    Not sure how it started but I think it’s amazing now. Great symbolism of the Brawny man, husband linked with disposable things, etc. and the obvious end of a marriage/relationship. I love the phrase, ‘, baby tied to her chest/ like an amulet’ and the comparison of the shopping cart to a cage of ‘wire and gap’

  24. Brian Carlin Says:

    Your Brawny boy is fine, the cellophane of the muscles makes it read clear, even for someone here in Scotland who doesn’t know the brand. I’m drawn to the last stanza…the wire and gap… and the unavoidably perfect ending…fine,fine stuff.

  25. My favorites were the baby amulet and the the Brawny man. I think you captured well the newly divorced woman and those pesky little failures: moldy sponges, empty toilet paper rolls, missing switch plate covers…

  26. yoga-adan Says:

    loved, “baby tied to her chest
    like an amulet
    against the leering” –

    will have to check out that humor novel, should be an interesting contrast in mood, but hope the imagery-magic’s there too 😉

    best wishes, thanks for the great prompt-writeup 😉

  27. Zoe Says:

    There is some powerful imagery here;
    baby tied to her chest
    like an amulet
    against the leering heights
    of canned corn,
    That had me nodding and smiling with that thrill of something that just hits right.

    But your final stanza:
    She looks down
    into her cart; its dull
    metal grid reminds her now
    of a cage, a poor
    cage made of wire and gap,
    perfect for some animal
    that’s neither strong
    nor clever.

    Now that cut me to the bone. Brilliant, horrid and terrifying all at the same time.

  28. Bianca Says:

    I love this, its a very crazy situation to be in. Its a topic that so many people are faced with these days. I really liked the image of being gridlocked by the man and the baby tied to her chest like an amulet.

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