Steve Davenport's "Real Simple (1)"
I want to share a poem with you today that hit me hard. It’s called “Real Simple (1)” by Steve Davenport, Associate Director of the Creative Writing Program here at the University of Illinois. Steve comes from the American Bottom, southern Illinois floodplain land, across the Mississippi from St. Louis. The Bottom, as he calls it, is the territory of his imagination, and he writes about it in many of his poems.
“Real Simple (1)” comes from Steve’s collection Overpass, which he wrote in part as a response to his friend’s struggle with Stage 4 breast cancer. In the book, she is Overpass Girl. Many of Steve’s poems are formal—they follow a pre-determined form, like a sonnet or a sestina. Writing formal poems is a terrifically fun challenge—akin to solving a mathematical proof, or balancing a chemical equation, for you STEM-minded souls out there—and Steve does formal poetry beautifully. But this poem is, as its title claims, simple. The form feels more intuitive, less regimented, but still deliberately and tightly shaped. It’s an alliterative meditation on the letter P and some of its powerful progeny: words like prayer, plosive, portacath—a device through which doctors thread a catheter into a vein, to deliver medicine intravenously—pilgrimage. The final line just knocks me out.
Here it is, Steve Davenport’s “Real Simple (1)”:
Real Simple (1)
Prayer, the mind’s subcutaneous banquet,
letter P, hobo bundle, long-handled
net, tin cup; the body in paraphrase;
letter P, aspirated, plosive note
in a portacath, post-mastectomy;
letter P buried, a port like a coin,
a plea in a chemo tube, a prayer, Puh,
blown, Puh, into the subclavian vein;
Overpass Girl, mouth pursed, lips popping Puh,
hope’s pilgrimage, post-belief, pre-belief,
poor traveler, Please.