Mussels, Manhood, and a Line From The Flaming Lips

Marceline White

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In “Mussels, Manhood, and a Line from The Flaming Lips,” boy meets man over a meal of mussels. In this poem sprayed with sea-breeze, Marceline White manages to weave together images and themes that originally seem so foreign to each other, but by the poem’s end, become inseparable.

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Yolk began as an electric conversation around a picnic table in Saint Henri Square.

Our scruffy pioneer and present prose editor had previously approached each of us with an idea, a vision: We would establish our own literary magazine in Montreal. And so it was, or so it would be. After that original encounter, eight individuals devoted to the word resolved that they would gather bi-weekly, on Sundays, and bring something new into this busy, manic world—something that might slow its spin down somewhat and cause its patronage to say: “You know what, it ain’t so bad, is it, Susan?”

We are undergraduate, graduate, and graduated students of writing. Some of us learn our craft formally from accomplished authors in seminar courses, and some of us learn by looking out the window of the world and onto the streets that sing below. Some of us learn from screaming squirrels, old curtains, departed grandfathers, and bowel movements. We learn from old lovers, long winters, imperfect mothers, and from the deep internet where a musical genius remains entombed.

Yolk is cold floors on Sabbath mornings, home-brewed ginger beer in the endless afternoon, and downpours of French-pressed coffee in assorted artisanal mugs. Our first official gathering was scheduled for a duration of two hours; most of us remained for six, departing only to attend to the summons of our own beckoning realities. Together, with time suspended, we talked endlessly of contributing something to disrupt Montreal’s literary ecosystem. Something unparalleled, something true.

But what? There was nothing to discuss. There was everything to discuss.

We volunteer our time, hounding some elusive beast composed of combustible words and works. We are hopeful, truly hopeful, that we can give something new, a new way, a new light, and that if we cannot, we might at least uphold the traditions of our predecessors, cast star-wide nets to capture their echoes. We are a thousand decisions. We are a sanctuary for the orphaned word, the solitary writer, the cereal-eating artist who yearns for company, for the comfort of a like mind; we sit together with them at foggy dawn, it rains a baptism, with our arms and hands intertwined, we form an umbrella—underneath, they scribble madly, the perfect picture.

Yolk in no way presumes to be superior to its contemporaries, but its contemporaries should not presume yolk to be anything other than loud—quite, quite loud. We are yippidy jazzed to address the oh-so-technicolorful magnificence of the human experience, but we are prepared also to address the ugliness, to stare at its wet, hairy snout and into its square depth and to roar in return at the things that yearn to devour our skin, beset our ethos, and dig graves in our own backyards.

There’s so much to say, there’s so much we don’t know, but together, with you, we can placate that ignorance, render it peaceful, tolerable, and perhaps even, fucking beautiful.

And Susan says, “Amen.”

“The harder the mussel is to open, the harder it fought to live,”
my son says, grinning, splitting one open, popping
it into his mouth, as if entitled
to its soft tender, fleshy body.

I can’t help but feel sorry for them, these mussels
shutting down, toughening up as if their life depended on it.
I’ve always supported all the lost causes,

loved men that rarely won. His culinary carnage continues as empty shells
clack clack clack
onto the ceramic plate. These mussels were pulled to plate
on ropes, attaching themselves by byssal threads, 

in hopes of finding refuge, in hopes
of not washing away. The ropes were pulled by men in
cableknit sweaters, hard men with muscled arms,

hard men who soften after several swills of strong liquor.
I remember my gentle lover, threaded together in his Oakland apartment,
confessing he felt sorry for slugs because he thought of them as homeless snails.

My son devours another mussel, his eyes soft as rain as he talks of the mysteries of deep space.

Tonight, we will press with the rest of the crowd into a tent. We’re front-row
as the singer steps into a translucent balloon, begins to croon,
Do you realize that happiness makes you cry?


Beaming, my son turns to me.
Confetti will fall from the ceiling, will rain down on us:
gold coins, ginkgo leaves, good fortune.

It sticks to our sweaty bodies and falls from us
in the cold night as we walk back to our hotel room,
dusting the street with golden tears.

A Baltimore-based writer and activist, Marceline's poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and BOTN. Poems have appeared in trampset, The Heartland Review, Prime Number, Scrawl Place, The Orchard Review, The Indianapolis Review, Atticus Review, Snapdragon, Little Patuxent Review, Gingerbread House, The Free State Review, The Loch Raven Review and others. She was a recipient of an Aspen Words Fellowship in 2023. When not writing, Marceline can be found serving her two cats, posting too many pictures of her garden, and telling her son to text her when he arrives at the party.

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