Blue dress blue dress; or, Writing the Lived Experience

I’ve been reading Diane Seuss’s Frank: Sonnets, which has got me thinking about cracker sandwiches. She mentions them a couple of times in the poems. I have never had a cracker sandwich, but the idea really sent me into a deep recollection of peanut butter crackers. Saltines, of course. The way the peanut butter eases up through the holes like little brown worms.

I’m pretty sure it was my sister who showed me you could put jelly on there too. Jelly! The purple not easing but full-on squooching up through the holes. Plooping out the sides if you weren’t careful.

It was best to stuff the whole thing in the mouth at once. The dry cracker on the tongue, its salt, how it melted quickly on the tongue to merge with the peanut butter but for the edges that caught on the teeth, still brittle and crunchy to the bite down. The jelly, grape, sweet, soft, cool on the roof of the mouth.

You could also make little cheese sandwiches. With mustard! Mustard! Squinching up through the holes, a tiny bit acrid on the nose, a yellow polka dotted cracker. These you bit into and it would crumble around your hand a bit, slim shards of cracker like mica scattering to the ground. Because I associate these with eating outdoors, for some reason. Maybe the backyard. Or around the side in the driveway. Or sitting on the front steps. Cut grass. Dirt scent, like dust with a hint of dried mud. Always an acid/salt tinge of mustard on the corners of the mouth, yellow as pollen on a bloom.

And it occurs to me that I write because of visceral memories like these. What pleasure I get in trying to convey, with the comparatively pale power of words, the deep impressions of experiences on the body and mind.

We went to our first in-person concert since Covid — local folk club to see a renowned blues guitarist. His opening act was a nice guy, pleasant voice, very Springsteenesque, with a little Tom Waits thrown in. But his songs weren’t very good. He mentioned how much he admired John Prine, and that Prine’s songs were masterful in their focus on the little details of life, and admitted that his own were not like that. And he was exactly right. His songs were dull because his observations were general and unsurprising, the situations, if it was a narrative song, predictable, his chorus lines flaccid, and then he’d repeat them, the emotions intellectualized, pallid. I felt bad for the guy. He’d identified his own shortfall but had not understood how vital it was to address it.

Well, I mean, what do I know — the guy seems to have a career touring the world. I guess he thinks he doesn’t have a problem. But I checked my watch three times in his forty minute set. And I’ve already forgotten his name.

But I thank him for the lesson, sitting in that chair, hard on my bum, my head tilted back against the venerable wall, trying to look interested if he looked in my direction, even though I know the shine of those spotlights on the small stage prevent you from seeing much more than dark shapes out in the room, know, though, the audience exudes a spirit, somehow, with its stillnesses and shifts, its sighs and claps and scatter of laughs. It’s god and the devil there in the details. You want a bit of both in your song.

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