Oh, Hello. C’mon in.
You know I was just thinking about how you’ve
Always thought I was cool…
And here I am, cooking fishcakes and broccoli.
I didn’t know how I could re-present all this for you.
This is where I’m really at. Nothing’s
As fetching as the raw.
I heard the dog barking on the third landing
& I was fairly sure it’d be you.
Kind of rainy out tonight. I was so exhausted
After work. Made some coffee
& sat here reading the Voice. Sort of
Thought I’d hear from you. I thought,
Well, he’ll either be in the same mood
Or different. And look:
I’ve got a magenta sock and a rust
Sock on. Just like the, uh, Futurists.
And my old work shirt. Feels good
Since it’s clean for a change.
Oh, do you want some? The broccoli’s
Good with the grated cheese on it. Yeah,
The fishcakes suck,
But just douse them with lemon juice.Eileen Myles, ‘Homebody’, 1978
‘Nothing’s as fetching as the raw’ – a small piece of insight embedded in an otherwise flippant poem seems to be the best place to start with ‘Homebody’. Maybe it’s just my own social media circles echoing back at me, but poetry’s ability to teleport me away from the Covid-fuelled world has landed me trying to rose tint the washing up, rather than taking long Sunday walks or swimming naked in an idyllic loch. The direct punch of Myles’s writing feels more real than a Zoom tutorial, at least.
The poem comes from Eileen Myles’s first collection The Irony of the Leash, published in 1978, four years after they moved to New York to ‘become a poet’ (in their own words), at the age of 23. Critics have often referred to them as a ‘cool’ poet and that awareness of cool is there, right at the beginning, as they welcome us, their visitor, stating that we ‘always thought [they] were cool.’ Yet Myles seems to focus far more on a performance of ‘cool’, capturing that strange sense of nakedness you feel when someone enters your space (when you’re told to act natural).
I think the poem really speaks to the strange over-construction of self we’re all so inclined to act upon. Myles confesses that they ‘didn’t know how [they] could re-present all this for you’ – a confession which speaks to the anxiety of letting parts of yourself be seen. The poet constantly draws attention to elements of themselves which we would otherwise assume had gone unnoticed: ‘here I am, cooking fishcakes and broccoli’. The line sounds rehearsed, again emphasising the transformation of everyday life once someone looks in. In the same manner, Myles draws attention to their mismatched socks and work shirt, telling the visitor to ‘look’ at these parts of them. There’s a pride in not caring about stuff – ‘just like the, uh, Futurists’ – which suggests an aspiration to actually not caring, rather than the achievement of it. Myles’ confidence in their nervousness shows the fallacy of ‘too cool to care’.
So much of poetry (especially our generation’s relationship to it) is focused on relatability, and I’m not arrogant enough to argue that this poem is any different. Yet there is a certain strength in the ability for poems to shine a light on the things that we do which would otherwise be lost to us. To teach us that we are rarely alone in our strange anxieties. Or maybe just to remind us that one day, we will have someone over for dinner again.
Image: fridayn via Flickr