Monday, March 19, 2007

Matthea Harvey

I've been reading and enjoying Matthea Harvey's Sad Little Breathing Machine (Graywolf 2004) over the last week. While I'm not that impressed by the rest of Harvey's work, I love her prose poems - they're whimsical and hilarious and altogether brilliant. A sample:

"Everyone was happier. But where did the sadness go? People wanted to know. They didn't want it collecting in their elbows or knees then popping up later. The girl who thought of the ponies made of lot of money. Now a month's supply of pills came in a hard blue case with a handle. You opened it & found the usual vial plus six tiny ponies of assorted shapes and sizes, softly breathing in the Styrofoam. Often they had to be pried out and would wobble a little when first put on the ground. In the beginning the children tried to play with them, but the sharp hooves nicked their fingers & the ponies refused to jump over pencil hurdles. The children stopped feeding them sugarwater & the ponies were left to break their legs on the gardens' gravel paths or drown in the gutters. On the first day of the month, rats gathered on the doorstep & spat out only the bitter manes. Many a pony's last sight was a bounding squirrel with its tail hovering over its head like a halo. Behind the movie theatre the hardier ponies gathered in packs amongst the cigarette butts, getting their hooves stuck in wads of gum. They lined the hills at funerals, huddled under folding chairs at weddings. It became a matter of pride if one of your ponies proved unusually sturdy. People would smile and say: "This would have been an awful month for me," pointing to the glossy palomino trotting energetically around their ankles. Eventually the ponies were no longer needed. People had learned to imagine their sadness trotting away. & when they wanted something more tangible, they could always go to the racetrack & study the larger horses' faces. Gloom, #341, with those big black eyes, was almost sure to win."
- Matthea Harvey, 'The Crowds Cheered as Gloom Galloped Away'


"Last year I made up a baby. I made her in the shape of a hatbox or a cake. I could have iced her & no one would have been the wiser. You know how trained elephants will step onto a little round platform, cramming all four feet together? That's her too, & the fez on the elephant's head. Applause all around. There was no denying I had made a good baby. I gave her a sweet face, a pair of pretty eyes, & a secret trait at her christening. I set her on my desk, face up, & waited. I watched her like a clock. I didn't coo at her though. She wasn't that kind of baby.

She never got any bigger, but she did learn to roll. Her little flat face went round & round. On her other side, her not-face rolled round & round too. She followed me everywhere. When I swam, she floated in the swimming pool, a platter for the sun. When I read, she was my peacefully blinking footstool. She fit so perfectly in the washing machine that perhaps I washed her more than necessary. But it was wonderful to watch her eyes slitted against the suds, a stray red sock swishing about her face like the tongue of some large animal.

When you make up a good baby, other people will want one too. Who's to say I'm the only one who deserves a dear little machine-washable ever-so-presentable baby. Not me. So I made a batch. But they weren't exactly like her - they were smaller & without any inborn dread. Sometimes I see one rolling past my window at sunset - quite unlike my baby, who like any good idea, eventually ended up dead."

- Matthea Harvey, 'Ideas go only so far'


Ramakrishnan said...

doesn't make much sense to my dumb brain. But interesting to read.

Revealed said...

Hmm haven't come across her actually! How many authors dya think are out there? I despair of ever reading even one gazillionth of them *sigh*

Anonymous said...

lemme say what many are itching to say..nowadays you are getting rather boring...