Monday, February 11, 2008

Pretentious Literary Form #294: The Lyric Essay

The concept of the "lyric essay" still eludes me, even after reading several essays that attempt or profess to define it. Perhaps it should be expected that writers writing about writing will do so in coy metaphor. Whatever.

In my senior creative writing seminar, we were assigned to write a two-page lyric essay using the conventions of one of these forms:

Flash Cards
Catalog Descriptions
Rorshak Tests

I decided to explore the duality and the associative power of the flash card. A single word and its intended definition, teamed together with the intention of being forever committed to memory. The workings of memory and free association are at the heart of my latest effort.

I should also add that this morning I found my love's t-shirt next to my bed, which was enough of an event to make me cry over my oatmeal. I hardly ever eat oatmeal. I'm not generally a big fan of mush. Unfortunately I fear that my first conscious attempt at lyric essay might possess that quality:

Three Spices Commonly Used to Disguise Sentimentality


The pod of a large, tropical tree, Tamarindus indica, of the legume family, containing seeds enclosed in a juicy acid pulp that is used in beverages and food.

Under creased blue tarps upheld by whitewashed two-by-fours we slip sideways through a sidewalk-wide market, past bulbous tubers and raw earthly monster fruits, and family-owned cardboard signs with tentative prices, your hand in mine as a necessity. This is not my city. To slip away would be the pinch in a muddled Hollywood comedy.

We will complete our mission at an Asian market that is held together by stapled parti-colored flyers and incidental grime. There is a bell, the woman at the counter does not understand us, and we cannot read the labels on the jars. While I pay for the pulp, my eyes gravitate toward the coy lips and navels of a hundred Bollywood women on bootleg clamshell cases, splayed beyond my reach. I want to ask if these films have subtitles. Can we sweat together in bed tonight to the garish trill of Mohammed Rafi and to the beaten sound of your mostly inadequate window air conditioning unit, and to the spices that squeeze persistently through our pores like delivery bicycles in curb lanes? But I assume that this sort of communication is futile. No bag, please. Alright, then. Plastic.


A plant, Foeniculum vulgare, of the parsley family, having feathery leaves and umbels of small, yellow flowers.

This one’s harder. My limbs have elongated, swollen and melting with the warmth of taste. The seed, the stalk, the heady climb up the stairs while the stomach still lingers at the dinner table. During the first set, my eyes are closed and his softer songs are punctuated with clattering silverware one wooden floor below. I forgive them, and weep in time with the percussive nature of the universe, each open-mouthed sob releasing the lingering vapors of thyme and some other spice that still eludes my palette.

On a different evening there are gossamer curtains falling around like fluttering scarves. The room is accentuated with copper and murmur. Everything is flickering. We have trouble with pronunciation for different reasons as the night surrenders to the subtly erotic grace of my elbow, bent with lusty intention towards the waning boddess of a stemless wine glass. Tonight I will give myself to you on a full stomach.


A tropical grass (Cymbopogon citratus) native to southern India and Sri Lanka, yielding an aromatic oil used as flavoring and in perfumery and medicine.

The flea market closed before we could make love between the leather bound encyclopedias and the unwittingly racist Americana antiquities, the way we’d buzzed about on especially complacent Saturday mornings. That one time, I let the taste of summer dissolve beneath my tongue, and plunged euphorically past you into stacks of must and warp and hairline cracks from amnesic use. Leaving without purchasing a single relic will be the easiest decision we will make.

Soon after it closes, the Chinese restaurant across the street follows. We have yet to find a new place. Mornings, bristles scrape across reluctant papillae, and we are made conscious of it all again. The taste, when mixed with toothpaste, is understandably unpleasant.