Sunday, April 22, 2007

My Hot Little Tomato

Colleen McKee's chapbook, My Hot Little Tomato, is ... hot off the press! This one is a delight to hold -- the cover artwork image is lusciously detailed with the texture of cloth, and the inner flyleaf is a two-layered combination of black netting and red tissue paper.

Colleen's poems are about food and love, nerve, rebellion, and passion. The introductory prose piece is a riff on ketchup, using the music of language, down to its etymological roots, and cultural history to establish a personal history: "If it were not for ketchup," she begins, "I would not be alive." And from there she follows ketchup through its origins (a meandering path involving fish brine and China) to her own origins.

Many of her poems begin in places equally mundane as the exploration of ketchup. She's at a desk, on a bus, doing something totally ordinary, and then the poem unhinges and transforms the world. Here is Blue Like An Orange:

I dream I am riding the bus
with a pumpkin on my lap—no pass
or pocketbook, no notebook, map
or keys. I only hold the pumpkin,
a perfect size, not so large
I have to stretch my arms
to keep it in its place, but not so small
that it could roll or bounce beneath the seats.
I wear a dress the color of lettuce, iceberg
to be exact. I like that it is scalloped
like leaves around the hem. I have no plans
for my spherical squash,
no thoughts of pie or lanterns,
salted seeds or soup. No, no plans at all.
I look out the window with something like interest
though there is nothing to see, no foliage,
no fences, no birds or bustling men,
only a sky with that light
peculiar to October,
light like a golden ball
sunk in a deep blue pond,
this gold so blue so bright it wavers,
common, strange, unasked for grace.
Little kids behind me
sling their bodies across my seat to Ooh,
you’ve got a pumpkin! Oh, can I
pet your pumpkin?
Of course,
I say. Of course. I continue to stare
at the sky as these children—strangers to me—
touch for the sake of touch. Somehow I know
the bus has turned yellow, that yellow
only buses can be. I sit
with the sun in my lap. My soul
laps up the sun.
Here's another of my favorites:
Surveying This Sunday Morning

At breakfast, I biograph
my body: bone-colored silk
slip on my breasts, rain-cooled air
on the back of my neck, the certainty
of coveted affection. I catalog
my curves, dreams
spread out like cards.

A cup of cold tea.
A half-eaten peach
on a baby-blue plate. Nails
polished Chinese red.
More a painting than a poem,
more a still life
than a scene.

The rain is a simmering pan
after the flame’s turned off
and the jumping water
returns to itself.

Out past the sunrooms’
wide-open windows,
a sad eroded prairie
of a vacant lot,
patches of mud
like shapes on a map—peninsula,
province, cluster
of islets
—I pull on my boots
and see where they go.

The love poems are tender, wry -- always aware of the hard edges but never letting go of the soft moments of optimism.
From Moving on the 4th of July:

The embroidered sheets have gone blank.
All of yesterday’s mail is marked resident.
Without you, I fold papers and blankets

As if meaning is always in order. . . .

and then, finally --

Let us turn from love instead to lightning bugs.

Look how they spin semaphores of desire, green
As new leaves, reel in our faces
In the midsummer night.

They don’t have to make decisions. Their bodies
Have made them all for them.
All they have to do now

Is to hang like stars in the gauzy air,
Wait on more light, wait for love,
Or something like love, wait
Just to see what comes next.

Colleen McKee's My Hot Little Tomato (ISBN 978-0-9748468-5-9) is available locally in St. Louis at Left Bank Books, or send an email requesting an order form to

Click here to view a flyer and order form for My Hot Little Tomato. Click here to view the press release.

Colleen McKee earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Missouri-St. Louis, where she currently teaches English, and Women and Gender Studies. Her essays, fiction, and poetry have appeared in many publications including Poetry Daily, Flyway, and Bellevue Literary Review. She is co-editor of Are We Feeling Better Yet? Women's Encounters with Health Care in America.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good post.