Poem: Whiskey Breath

Another personal favorite poem that thinks about unintended plagarism.

Whiskey Breath

Years from now, when I write
    that a character’s cheerful scruffiness
    hung about him like the breath of gin,
will I remember Carol Shields’ description
    on page 118 of ‘small Ceremonies?’
“A cheerful scruffiness hung over the station
    like whiskey breath”
And is that plagiarizing,
    or selective memory,
    or the buried stuff we un-dig and take as ours?

But it happens, reading Rushdie
    or Elmore Leonard    
That particular phrase, a mystical delicacy with words
    clicks in my mind and makes me pause,
    to re-read and smile, salt away
    and I know it’s hung there like a cheese,
    ripening, waiting out some future knife
I am what has been flung through my mind
    from every source

A writer is supposed to use the observed
Noticing the stranger sprawled inelegantly,    
    each detail of his clothes, close-set eyes,
    mole on his cheek, button missing
But what of Anne Rice’s images of Venice,
    even though I’ve been there
Do they creep into my work as well
    a selective memory
    plagiarized, remembered, borrowed, what?
Poetry Collection: The Smell of Tweed and Tobacco
This poem is included in
Jim Freeman's
poetry collection


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