This week in the PEN Poetry Series, PEN America features two poems by Callie Garnett. 


Serial Mom

If obsession arrests you in time
Consider me ten, when I turned to mom & said
“Can we just look in the video store?”

It was a schoolnight.
Movies are a “hot” medium, says Marshal McLuhan (“Media Hot and Cold”):
Hi data, hi def
Highly involving, asking little of you.

(To McLuhan the telephone would have been “cold”

The video store between 7th & 8th was easy to case
Quickly and linger in
John Candy on the North Wall, to the East

A room set off by a curtain of wooden beads
I remember thinking, “who are you kidding?
I’ve seen behind the beads” (I never had)

The cover of Last Tango in Paris:
& steamy, somehow like video itself.

The cover of The Money Pit:
A mussed up couple standing by a big nice house
The house was a money pit.

The cover of The Fisher King was such a mystery to me:
Just a man laughing
By a pond
With a ponytail.

The cover of Steve Martin’s The Jerk was almost too good to be true:
The jerk himself

& the night we chose to bring him home
I got a little scared

The cover of Bed Knobs and Broomsticks, always prominent
Children riding a bed through the sky w/ Angela Lansbury
Who’s not even hiding the fact that she’s a witch.

Why hide? There’s a war on & you have these
Special skills.

The cover of I Married a Witch showed a concerned-looking man
I Married a Communist, same. Serial Mom:
            A mom
            Grinning widely
You had to be careful who you married.

Mom actually worked at Sesame Street.
There were googly eyes scattered everywhere
Matted hair of red & blue, reedy puppeteers…

Mom, why is the man on the TV pulling apart the calzone?
             I don’t know.
There’s a lot on TV that doesn’t involve you.

For McLuhan, TV is a “cool” medium.
It seems right that we, now, should pass the time coolly
In a hot context.

The cover of The Good Son with Macaulay Culkin
You just knew he wasn’t good.

Dear Mom, It so upset you when unwholesome rumors spread about
Mr. Rogers. Fred was a saint, you said. & we wept

When he addressed the Senate Subcommittee on Communication.
Children’s Television as a kind of religion. Often

You could have a muppet’s carriage, easing through the house
Like Prairie Dawn or a rock snail reaching

A sun patch. The rare Saturday you slept in
I might take out your broom, my broom

While I watched cartoons.
Cartoons are cool media, as you will have gathered by now, for I swept the
             living room
Through them.


The Burning of the New York Crystal Palace

The Burning of the New York Crystal Palace
Beside the Croton reservoir took 25 minutes

First it pustulated like a fruit, a bursting food
There were ropes of soapy water in the street

There was surprise, refreshment almost, in
The spontaneity of her consent

Now would he taste the banquet of his dreams
But it was just that, food in his mind

He thought, she probably cost a great deal to make
Implying a scarcity elsewhere, more people to hate



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