Charles Rafferty’s Appetites


Charles Rafferty, one of our EIL poets, has a new chapbook, Appetites, out from Clemson University Digital Press. Digital, yes! That means you can read it electronically! As an appetizer, here’s a mini-review.

Appetites begins with the unusual appetites of a woman “swallowing [a man’s] life,” gradually and entirely, but almost casually, “without effort or malice,” eating his coin collection, keys, aquarium fish. We know from the first poem in this chapbook, then, that Charles Rafferty is cooking up something oddly delicious for us, possibly life threatening (like a blowfish), but possibly the very sustenance we need to keep on living, or, if not, he’ll hand us a bloody napkin to stanch our gaping hungers.

Sexual hunger is prevalent in these poems. In “The Man With a Star on the Tip of Each Finger,” the actual stars and moon are nothing compared to the light and heat of a couple’s lovemaking, to “the constellation of his embrace.” In “Theory,” Rafferty explodes the platitude of “liv[ing] each day / as if it were our last” by pointing out that “we’d never get anything done.” We’d eat that blowfish, of course, but mainly we’d be off making love, for what could “supersede / the honey of a girl?”

“The Man Who Stopped Not Drinking” explores the yearning and regret of the alcoholic with quiet sympathy and cacophonous birdsong. “Tuesday Night at the Traveling Circus” looks at the audience’s not-so-hidden hunger for horror, for blood, “to see the tame / untamed”—their sanguinolency, or addiction to bloodshed, to use a recently “outed” archaic word for it. Though the word might be gone, the blood thirst is still there, right under the big top, and we keep paying the ticket price. (This one makes me think of Archibald MacLeish’s circus poem, “The End of the World.”)

So many of the poems in Appetites are beautiful and scary. So many let us see how one human being handles an appetite grown huge in the rest of us. In “The Man Watching Bumble Bees in the South Jersey Pine Barrens,” we watch a solitary man on a walk, but we also watch bees pollinating the blueberries in blossom. They are loud—I think of Yeats’s “bee-loud glade”—louder than a nearby mourning dove, than the man’s beating heart, than an F-16 in the sky overhead, so loud I expect this to be a whole swarm. But it’s only six bees, and the real-life vanishing of the bees suddenly looms large, the loss of species and of icebergs, the loss (somehow) of innocence and trust that all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well. Mm, maybe not. Maybe our appetites have already got the best of us.

Let me leave you with the rest of this poem, so you’ll know what I mean, and feel the glowering urgency. Remember, you can read the whole poem, or the whole chapbook, here, but for now, let’s look at half a dozen buzzing bees and prepare ourselves for what must be coming:

…They seem almost frantic
as the sun dissolves behind a scrim
of needles and evening cloud—as if it had fallen
to these six bees to pollinate this patch
of horizoning berries. The fissure of honey
they have hidden in some log
must be draining into sand faster
than the blossoms can miracle out
of these twigs. It will be dark inside the hour—
the air black with the same night that hobbled
over Europe and the vast Atlantic.
The moon will not be up. I should be getting ready.

–Kathleen Kirk, Poetry Editor

Charles Rafferty’s EIL solo feature is here, with art by Brian Oldham.