Pamela Garvey

First Date

My favorite shape? The crater, not the cube.
My favorite secret: whispers about incest.
(I love taboo stories—the most lurid, the best.)
My favorite soundbites: radicals on YouTube.

My favorite Greek tragedy? The Manson trial.
O, that bald chorus of women bowing to him.
They aren’t the only ones who lust for the gruesome.
The accused in manacles is my favorite spectacle.

My favorite mystery: why I am so cruel.
I stride past blood with absent eyes.
My favorite holiday? Any with disguises
so I look coy, imprisoned in maid’s tulle.

My favorite mistake: Halloween: bobbing
for apples. If only I’d known the story
that first in that bucket is first to marry.
My favorite years: those after I stopped sobbing,

the fuck-you-forties, the beginning of no
as in I know how to be dirty and shameless.
I blame no one. No one is blameless.
My favorite fetish? Tickling with the feathers of a crow.

My favorite Picasso? I forget the title.
It’s the one where all the women, barefoot and braless,
squeeze into the fading ellipsis.
Between the dots, they’re so little

you’ll never spot their bodies: glistening,
crooked, splayed and starved.
As if I, too, weren’t pried open and carved.
My favorite Stones’ song? Haven’t you been listening?

Adam’s Profile

Hair: Corporate beach boy look, buzz cut on the sides.

Eyes: Closed too often.

Health: Aneurysm ready.

Birthplace: The counterclockwise edge of the downdraft.

Permanent Residence: The haze that lingers after the storm.

Favorite Vacation Spots: Anywhere I’m naked and drunk.

Sign: A solar eclipse.

Pets: Bears, crocodiles, sharks. I’ve got scars down to the bones from muzzling them.

Favorite Color: Dirty sweat.

Favorite actress: Eve. When she donned fig leaves under leather in Hello, My Luscious.

Favorite word: I was born into a speech like gauze. I healed into names, and now you want me to choose a favorite?

Favorite Invention: Outside the garden, I’m lost without GPS.

Toys you still play with: Board games—Candy Land, Operation, Sorry.

Greatest Joy: The one thing God got right: joining my love each night, bobbing and treading waves that taste like sweat. We could easily mistake this for drowning.

Lost Wind

Somewhere on the ferry from Tarifa to Tangier 
the South African tried to pick me up. I never
even asked his name. Why didn’t I hitch a ride
with that surfer-biker-camper, dreaming
of building an organic farm outside Lisbon?

Was it the wind? It flew in off the Atlantic.
It lashed our words with my hair; it sliced
the accent off the ends of his. We needed
to stand so close to listen. We needed
the wind to lean on. We needed it to give

our hands excuses to grip the rails hard and let
our fingers brush against each other
moored side by side
in that first touch lovers make before
desire blows them together.

So what happened? The boat docked at the quay,
and in the port’s stagnant air, I disembarked
in the pedestrian line, he vehicles. I never even asked
his name. By Marrakesh I told myself he’s forgotten,
eclipsed by cobras draped around my shoulders

by peddlers posing tourists for photos.
Women’s shrieks magnified in that stale air.
Fear’s the opposite of wind. The way wind
flies into faces and arms; the way it brings on
a sudden shiver when it sprays us with its mist.

But I never even stuck out my hand, spoke
my name on the deck of that shadeless ship.
Under cloudless sky water shimmers so
you can barely see. When we docked,
dead clams that never opened lined the shore.


My son is pulling down Shakespeare’s pants 
while my husband abstracts the bard’s bending
of genres into a four hundred page book.
I make iambs in the kitchen, my spoon beats
rough meters in lines of boiling poet.

The doll is not really safe for my son;
He might eat William’s felt beard or bite off
a plastic eye. But my husband wrapped it
in a bright bag, and my son holds it as if
it were his father’s heart. My heart is boiled

peas, bedtime tales. I write poems my husband
would never write about—all once addressed
to him. No line good enough, he declares,
to be termed “tragedy.” But what else do
you call a child choking on a poet’s eye?

Brochure for Modern Exile

The best part of exile?  
Our lives are scripted.

Oh and the neighbors eavesdrop.
Everywhere cameras film me,
them, us.

Sure, I was naked, drunk and
shouting expletives. So what?

Here in exile, we stuff ourselves
with popcorn while watching
each other on wide screen TVs.

In my starring role I’m half
drunk, half hungover,

M16 slung over my shoulder
as I strap on the parachute,
tumble through cold air.

From such heights, everyone below is transformed
into specks of sand.

Call such perspective strategic arms.

Call it my two-way heart.

Guzzling fame, I’ll recite
any lines.

I’ll let all the applause stifle cries
from the nursing home—quicksand
of obligation . . . mother, father . . .

I can’t waste time screening the senile
or crippled sleeping in their own piss.

Pay me with encores, and I’ll bow with assault-
rifles and bomb-
shells under arm.

Because I am the story
mass produced

like those fuzzy slipper socks
everyone had to wear.
Everywhere I turn: my face blown up

big enough to cover

I am the product.

Author’s Note

Writing, for me, begins with play and voice. A voice takes hold, and tinkering with something myopic and seemingly simple, such as rhyme, propels the poem. That propulsion intrigues me when it creates friction, such as the meter in “Choking,” an act that in its most literal is anything but metrical. While the poem refers to a metaphoric choking, the meter, less than consciously on my part, generates an unnerving, steady beat below the slow stranglehold in a domestic scene. While I cannot claim an intention to do anything other than write in meter, the end result strikes me as true: the daily suffocating rhythms into which we slip are often tragic. Such insight is what I hope to discover after composing multiple drafts of a poem.

While I often write (and bend) traditional form, I’ve been experimenting with and creating my own forms, as exemplified in “Adam’s Profile.” Recently I’ve returned to print formats of magazines I used to treasure and resurrected them in poetic form. I came of age in the 1980s when my friends and I practically memorized the now defunct CREEM Magazine, the authoritative rock’n’roll zine of the time. Each issue featured an artist who’d answer questions such as eye color, height, favorite color, favorite food, favorite song, etc. Extending the questions beyond the original template and applying them to mythical figures has led to a wild and fun mixture of multiple time periods.

While the impulse toward experimentation and traditional form seem contradictory, I find them wonderfully complementary. What makes a poem? Without practicing the masters’ traditions, I cannot successfully experiment, as I need the former both to discover something new and to restrain me from composing nothing but dissonance.

In the tension between the two, I discover my thematic links. In this group of poems, as in all that I’ve been writing since my last collection, an existential exile has dominated the poem regardless of subject or focal scene. This theme marks quite a departure from my 2017 collection, Seven Miles Deep (, which focuses on matriarchies (human and natural) and the maternal ties that bond, despite adversity. Perhaps now, as my mother approaches her 83 birthday and my son his 16th, my spirit needs to delve deeper into what isolates us.

These poems contemplate exile both in the traditional, Western biblical meaning: we are exiled from paradise, whatever that is. And also exile in the ways technology weaves us together, creating a wired, frenetic culture with millions suffering from loneliness, depression, anxiety and physical isolation.

That world forms the backdrop for these poems which meditate upon the failure to experience the intimacy we crave as humans. In “Choking” the family may live together, but they are spiritually exiled from one another. In “Lost Wind,” the speaker is on the precipice of sexual connection, only to lose it because of her own static. Wind strikes me as an apt metaphor for connection: invisible, powerful, unpredictable and fleeting. In that poem the speaker clearly yearns for intimacy she cannot attain. The speaker in “First Date,” on the other hand, is simultaneously too guarded and too open (the open-ness a way of repelling the date because she is too frank and outrageous); in that way she parodies our confessional-reality TV culture, which infiltrates my home thanks to the myriad devices of my teenage son.

“Brochure for Modern Exile,” zooms in on the ugly ways our culture seduces us with fame and consumerism predicated on false connection. Where materialism and ego wed—something we can witness all around us—how can we end up with anything but exile?

By modernizing Adam (and I have other poems that modernize Eve, Cain and Abel), my poems harken back to that first exile, from which we all supposedly suffer. We are searching for paradise, as if we would even recognize it, and in the process often deepening our own separation from one another. The final line of “Adam’s Profile,” epitomizes one of our human attempts at paradise, sexual ecstasy, much of the predominant subject matter in my newer poems. The image here is intentionally ambiguous: it is a connection, and it is a “drowning.”

Pamela Garvey is the author of the collection of poetry Seven Miles Deep (Five Oaks P, 2017). Her poetry, prose and book reviews have appeared in Esquire, Missouri Review, Margie, Spoon River Poetry Review, The North American Review and many other journals. Honors include being a semi-finalist for the “Discovery”/The Nation prize. She is the author of two poetry chapbooks, Things Impossible to Swallow (2River Press, 2013), and Fear (Finishing Line Press, 2008), a finalist for the New Women’s Voices Competition. Garvey is also a playwright. Most recently her full length play, The Piddlings, was performed at St. Louis Community College-Meramec Theater. She is currently working on a memoir entitled The Disease that Begins with I. She lives in the city of St. Louis with her teenage son, giant dog, and bearded dragon.