you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold.
This “found” poem, originally a note Williams stuck on the fridge for his wife–is both charmingly clear and provocatively ambiguous, much like Barack Obama on the stump.
On the surface, this poem is just a “Toots, don’t even bother looking for those plums, as they are coursing through my personal digestive plumbing this very minute” communique.
More intrepid readers might take their explication in the direction of sex–to the ripe sensuality of those cold plums that creates a desire to plumb through the juice and burrow right down to the pit. In fact, I’m pretty sure Jay-Z married Beyonce the other week just so he could devour the fruit jiggling around in her icebox without ever venturing off-site.
Perhaps equally interesting is the tack of looking at this poem as an apology, specifically as a pro forma apology. Pro-forma apologies go through the motions and creak out the right words, but, because they are rote expressions and lack genuine sentiment, they ring hollow. Famous examples of the pro-forma would be Don Imus’ forced public regret after demeaning the Rutgers’ women’s basketball team and a host of presidents, from Nixon to Reagan to Clinton to Current Guy, conceding “mistakes were made.”
Personally, I get a bang out of how unapologetic “This Is Just To Say” is. It’s pro forma beauty. Williams isn’t sincerely asking for his wife’s forgiveness; rather, he commands “Forgive me” as he wipes his chin with the napkin. He minimizes her excitement about eating the plums, chuffing that she was “probably” saving them for breakfast.
Now, WCW, I think you and your wife both remember how you stood idly by as she cut off her hair and sold it at a beauty parlor down the avenue, just to earn enough money to buy those plums. Then, when you took the car keys and wouldn’t drive her to the store to get the fruit, she walked five miles, each direction, to the Rainbow Foods. At the store, of course they were out of bags, so Wifey then had to trudge all those miles home with the plums stuffed into her arm pits, staving off coughs and sneezes and all fruit-bruising bodily contortions for the entire hour and a half it took her to get back. Naturally, once she arrived home and opened the icebox, she discovered the thing was stuffed with squirrel cadavers that you were “keeping cool” until your next taxidermy session down in the wood-paneled basement. No room for plums in there, you told her. But she was tenacious. That night, after you went to bed, she crept in to the kitchen and took out one, ONE, of your seventeen squirrels and put it in your beer cooler, just so she could tuck her gorgeous plums into the fridge for even a few hours. All she ever wanted was a cold plum for breakfast the next morning, a plum that would take her back to the summer of ’35, when she and her mother shared the perfect plum on a picnic blanket one afternoon at the zoo, three days before her mom suffered the aneurysm that cut her life short. These plums were closure, William Williams. There was no “probably” about them.
But then you cavorted into the kitchen that morning, your face freshly-shaven, knowing your wife was upstairs ironing your shirt and wouldn’t be down for ten more minutes…and you. et. her. hard-won. plums.
That measly note, you know, the one that stressed how delicious were the plums she would never taste, well it screamed past pro forma tacky and plummeted directly into Right Bastard.
You didn’t mean a word of apology, you power-tripping ogre.
Or maybe you’d bought the plums a week before, and they were about to go off, and since your wife had the flu and couldn’t keep any food down, you went ahead and ate them.
Whatever the circumstances behind its writing, the template of this poem and the dismissive logic of its undercut apology have become widely known and spoofed.
Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams
by Kenneth Koch
I chopped down the house that you had been saving to live in next summer.
I am sorry, but it was morning, and I had nothing to do
and its wooden beams were so inviting.
We laughed at the hollyhocks together
and then I sprayed them with lye.
Forgive me. I simply do not know what I am doing.
I gave away the money that you had been saving to live on for the next ten years.
The man who asked for it was shabby
and the firm March wind on the porch was so juicy and cold.
Last evening we went dancing and I broke your leg.
Forgive me. I was clumsy and
I wanted you here in the wards, where I am the doctor!
Sorry But it was Beautiful
by Andrew Vecchione (6th Grade)
Sorry I took your money and burned it
but it looked like the world falling
apart when it crackled and burned.
So I think it was worth it after all
you can’t see the world fall apart
OR, as someone monikered “Anonymous” wrote to J.K. Rowling:
This Is Just To Say
I have killed
who was in
and whose death
you were probably
for book seven
he had it coming
and so old
This is Just to Say
by Jason Nicholas
I have pulled the
Pin from that grenade
On the desk.
I thought it was
My drawn-out go at this poem is inspired by fellow blogger Minnesota Matron, whose recent post about an arse-paining student gave me great comfort, in a week when I’ve been wrangling again with the alcoholic student in one of my classes who caused me to lose much sleep a few months back.
This is Just to Say
by Jocelyn Teacher
I’m sorry you went off your meds
in the ’90s
and started to drink constantly
and lie more frequently than you drink
which you probably are unaware of
even as you email me every day that you’ve
missed class because you were bed-ridden and
your grandmother died repeatedly and your friends
all died, every single one of them.
Forgive me for being a poor teacher, as you
told the dean last week when you appealed the
Failure for Non-Attendance grade I’d assigned.
In your version, my lack of teaching is somehow related to
your having diahrrea for seven weeks which meant you couldn’t
come to class.
I’m sorry your absences weren’t at all alcohol related.
The dean, and then the registrar, and then the Vice President
might have had some sympathy for that.
A delicious and sweet and cold martini will be great solace to you
during your academic probation
for which you must forgive me.
**shout out to National Public Radio’s “This American Life” program, which planted much of this in my mind