In this episode, Alan reads and discusses the poem "Sunday at McDonald's" by A. R. Ammons.

If you find the show valuable and would like to support it, you may subscribe here on the website or via Anchor. Your support helps to this work possible. Thank you!

Listen

‎Poetry to the Brim: Episode 8: “Sunday at McDonald’s” by A. R. Ammons on Apple Podcasts
‎Show Poetry to the Brim, Ep Episode 8: “Sunday at McDonald’s” by A. R. Ammons - Apr 12, 2022
Poetry to the Brim - Episode 8: “Sunday at McDonald’s” by A. R. Ammons
In this episode, Alan reads and discusses the poem “Sunday at McDonald’s” by A. R. Ammons. --- Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/poetrytothebrim/support

Transcript

Hello everyone. You're listening to Poetry to the Brim.

Today I'll be reading the poem "Sunday at McDonald's" by A. R. Ammons. This one was recommended to me by Daniel, a paying subscriber of the show, who has helped me to improve the show by both giving me suggestions as well as sharing the show with others. This episode is my way of saying thank you to him, in addition to just reading a really awesome poem.

--

"Sunday at McDonald's" by A. R. Ammons

In the bleak land of foreverness no
one lives but only, crushed and buffeted,
now: now, now, now every star glints

perishing while now slides under and
away, slippery as light, time-vapor:
what can butterflies do or clear-eyed

babies gumming french fries—nature
is holding them, somehow, veering them
off into growth holdings, forms

brought to peaks of splendor, sharp
energies burring into each other to
set off new progressions through the

rustle and mix, rot and slush: is
this the way it is: sometimes a man
will stand up, clear and settled as

a bright day, and seem to look through
the longest times and roilings to
the still, star-bending, fixed ahead.

--

So the first thing that struck me about this poem was how it takes place in a McDonald's but really blows up beyond into a landscape of existential and cosmic proportions. The title alone contains a coupling of a mundane McDonald's with a Sunday which is often viewed as a day with religious significance. To me, this suggests at the outset an ordinary experience will be transfigured in the poem. The only reference to McDonald's in the poem is really the "clear-eyed / babies gumming french fries," yet there's something really delightful about this coupling of the local, mundane McDonald's where the speaker seems to be located with the larger questions of time and nature that the poem considers.

Right at the start of the poem, the lines are strange and astounding. "In the bleak land of foreverness / no one lives." On a cosmic scale, no humans or anybody survives and it sort of doesn't matter, and that is kind of a sad thing. There is only the eternal Now by which we are "crushed and buffeted"—"now: now, now, now every star glints / perishing while now slides under and / away, slippery as light, time-vapor." I love how Ammons enacts the buffeting of the now by repeating it five times in just two lines: this is a great example of form making the reader feel the content.

In just these first five lines, we can also already feel the ambivalence of the speaker regarding time and nature. On one hand, there's the curious phrase "bleak land of foreverness" as well as "crushed and buffeted;" and on the other hand, there's the slipperiness of the present moment with every "star glint[ing and then] perishing" as well as the "light, time-vapor." There's a tonal contrast here, between hopelessness and hope, which helps to suggest the two possible senses in which life can be viewed. The first sense, viewed through the lens of time, is one that is actually suffocating and seems "crushing" to the speaker; while the second sense is the one viewed from the eternal Now, wherein there's a particular lightness of Being.

The poem goes on to say that everything abides according to nature's laws: the butterflies and the babies in the McDonald's are helplessly foisted into nature's "growth holdings." Development and change according to bounds. Yet "sometimes / a man will stand up, clear and settled as / a bright day, and seem to look through / the longest times and roilings to / the still, star-bending, fixed ahead." What Ammons seems to suggest is that there will be flashes of the pristine, timeless Now when the mind is quiet, despite the apparent fixity of nature's laws. In such moments, the Now presents Itself before our minds can employ concepts, such as time, to perceive it. I think on a first reading, these lines might suggest that the "fixed ahead" is something like the inevitable future, according to the common understanding of time. But on further reading, the "fixed ahead" seems to be the ever-present eternal Now. It is "fixed" in the sense that there's no destination to reach, the Now is always here; and it is "ahead" of us in the sense that it's ever-present and before us—even on a Sunday in a McDonald's.

--

"Sunday at McDonald's" by A. R. Ammons

In the bleak land of foreverness no
one lives but only, crushed and buffeted,
now: now, now, now every star glints

perishing while now slides under and
away, slippery as light, time-vapor:
what can butterflies do or clear-eyed

babies gumming french fries—nature
is holding them, somehow, veering them
off into growth holdings, forms

brought to peaks of splendor, sharp
energies burring into each other to
set off new progressions through the

rustle and mix, rot and slush: is
this the way it is: sometimes a man
will stand up, clear and settled as

a bright day, and seem to look through
the longest times and roilings to
the still, star-bending, fixed ahead.

--

Thanks for listening to Poetry to the Brim. If you enjoyed the show, please share it with a friend or two who might also enjoy it. If you read the poem differently and would like to share your thoughts with me or just have general suggestions about the show, I'd love to hear. Feel free to message me on Twitter (@acyanlight) or Instagram (@acyanlight), or email the show at poetrytothebrim@gmail.com.

Also, you can find a full transcript of the episode on the website at podcast.poetrytothebrim.com. There, you can also subscribe to stay up to date by email for when I release a new episode, as well as find ways to support the show.

Alright. Thanks again! Until next time.

--

Citations

  1. Ammons, A. R. “Sunday at McDonald's.” A Coast of Trees, W. W. Norton, 1981.