There is want and there is need and the two are so easily confused, especially when we can’t appreciate what we have. In fact, our economic system depends on a seeming willful confusion of want and need. This is what Jessica Fox-Wilson explores in her debut collection, Blameless Mouth.
But wait there’s more. I have dresses
for jobs you don’t work, furniture for rooms you can’t
afford, cars for streets you don’t live on. Try this on
for size. Clothe yourself in the better things of life.”
–from “Magazine Says: You’ve Worked Hard”
Do I need that shiny new Thing or do I want it? The need and the want each create their own hunger, though fulfilling the hunger for our needs keeps us alive while fulfilling that insatiable hunger for our wants… well, that only feeds a growing emptiness that can never be satisfied just as a few fast food cheeseburgers can make us hungry for even more. And more and more and more. Maybe want isn’t a greasy burger; rather, it’s nicotine, and it can kill.
His eyes glowed, from want
–from “Snapshot of Our Father: Swap Meet”
I’ve been trying for years to want less, to be happy with what I have and want mostly what I need or what I will really use. I have learned not to need the latest greatest biggest best and fastest hunk of plastic that will only end up swirling around in the middle of the ocean one day anyway. This is a hard thing to learn, and it’s something I’m still working on. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for girls who at such a young age begin receiving cultural messages designed to create monstrous and unlikely-to-be-fulfilled wants that feel like such desperate needs.
I am a girl
but not a live nude girl
I study my body, a mass
of white, unformed dough,
hiding my future shape.
I want so much
to be like them, laughing
despite the cold bars.
I whisper to them,
how do I start?
They giggle, Girl,
it’s only a matter of time.”
–from “Live Nude Girl”
How many girls are growing up thinking they’ll be Disney princesses? Boys can grow up pretending to be cowboys, and it’s possible for them to do that (though Willie & Waylon advise against it) but aside from Grace Kelly, startlingly few American girls grow up to be princesses. (I know, a shock, right?). We are all taught from an early age to be consumers, to want and need and fulfill those needs for ourselves and others while learning that what we have is insignificant, unworthy, not enough, out of fashion or obsolete.
“I know nothing I can buy
will ever fill me.
I am satisfied
only with the possibility
of all the endless products
just beyond my reach.”
–from “Living Next to an All-Night Grocery Store”
What if no one wanted any Thing? Could our country even survive the implications of that? I don’t know what would happen. Are book stores closing because I can’t convince myself that I need more books, because I have more than enough? Need and want aren’t as entirely separable as I might like. By reducing our wants, do we make it harder for others and ultimately ourselves then to fulfill our needs? I don’t know that I like this train of thought, but good books pose tough questions, which Blameless Mouth does exceedingly well.
“The same small red fox darts across lawns, scavenges for
food. Her starved stomach tightens. Can she survive, unfilled,
staring into dark windows? Can the fox see her full
reflection, mirrored on concave skies, gray and unfilled?”
— from ”Ten Miles West From Here, 4:42 AM”
In an old episode of M*A*S*H, Hawkeye sits down at the bar and says he needs a drink after a long day in the O.R. Everyone looks at him and he pauses and then gets up to leave. He says that he’ll come back when he wants the drink. The beginning of overcoming his alcoholism is that awareness of the difference between need and want. I suspect it’s the beginning of healing for many people. Blameless Mouth provides a moment to think and a path for examining our needs and wants, perhaps outlining the way toward a healthy reconciliation of the two.
Separating need from want and having is not easy, but this is what Blameless Mouth does remarkably well. All the more impressive because Fox-Wilson self-published (which I really admire) this brave collection that allows reader and poet to “teeter together, on the knife’s edge of having and wanting.” Teetering… I like that. A good book should make the reader teeter a little, I think.
This book was really good, enlightening even, and yet it creates another paradox of sorts because you’ll need to ask yourself if you need this book. Or do you want it? Whatever your answer to that may be, I can say that I am very glad I have it, and I think you will be too. You can purchase it at LuLu.
You can read the full text of some of the Blameless Mouth poems at Jessica Fox-Wilson’s blog, Everything Feeds Process. Be sure to check out the videopoem for “Echolalia” while you’re there. Others have written more about the book, so please go visit them as well: