Monday, June 24, 2013

#87: Two Poems by Maria Terrone

~This poem was previously published in Hawai’i Pacific Review (2011).


I’m a stumbling novitiate here
in jutting shadow, glancing at my watch
when a church bell tolls:
it’s 1:20, a time of no apparent meaning,
but the bell resounds, insistent as old men roaring

by on vespas like God almighty, click of stiletto sandals
on Magna Graecia stones, Bulgari jewels that spin
prisms down shop-clotted alleys. Boys joust with friends
and soccer balls in passageways; when doors open
on pot-clatter, then shut, their nail-hung red-pepper rosaries

rise up to knock a blessing. Ciao! Bella! Over-ripe vowels
thicken the air; I’m lost in black eyes, as if tumbling
through layers of earth and time into a chamber swelled
by a cult’s chants, the tinkling percussion of buried
springs. Chink in the wall! I climb the light

on a spider’s thread to rejoin the human web:
vendors crowd basilica steps with offerings
of red shoelaces and hand-carved mangers.
From a sidewalk niche, Neptune lifts his trident
over us all: Alla vostra salute, the grime-streaked

gated palazzos; bomb-gouged churches
where bare-shouldered teenage girls kneel
in the glow of Caravaggios; the hidden gardens
sheltering galaxies of lemon trees.
Inside a cloister, 15 marble skulls grin

‘round the monk’s graveyard plot
(the one wreathed with laurel is laughing),
and I think I could live here with a book
and the happy dead, looking up sometimes to watch
this nun with her radiant rag polishing their heads.

*One of the oldest sections of Naples, center of the original Greco-Roman city of Neapolis.
Alla vostra salute: Here’s to you

Monday, June 17, 2013

#86: "Visions and Revisions" by Art Taylor

~This piece previously appeared in North American Review (2004).

    Tending the spaghetti, Sandra studied the cabinets on the wall beside her. Their whiteness, she knew, was proof that she had painted them, wasn’t it? After all, they had been brown once, surely. She remembered picking them out with her ex-husband before the house was built, choosing them from the builder’s ragged catalog, and later she had painted them white when the marriage was over, just to make them hers alone. One hand on the stirring spoon, she raised the other to smooth her fingers across the face of the nearest cabinet’s door. It was slightly wet with steam from the boiling pot, and there was a small smudge near the handle. She’d need to clean that up. These too—the cabinets, the steam, the smudge—were real.
Her eyes swept across the kitchen: the sink, porcelain not stainless (her choice); the sponge perched on the corner, sticky with soap and destined for the trashcan; the microwave, the toaster, the can opener; the pass-through window separating kitchen and living room, its ledge decorated with a small gathering of imitation Herend rabbits, and beyond that her boyfriend Curt slapping her nine-year-old daughter Wendy; a spice rack; a series of containers for sugar, flour, coffee and tea, ceramic containers whose surfaces were shaped like basketweave; the jolt of the cabinets as his hand struck her cheek; a stray red oven mitt, just out of reach.
     Sandra gripped her thumb and forefinger around the counter's edge, pressed it hard. Then she turned her attention back to stirring her spaghetti—turned her attention, in fact, more completely to its swirl and tumble in the big black pot. She half-hoped that the busy flow of bubbles or even the twist of the noodles themselves would begin to form some pattern, restore her sense of order. She half-expected, after what she’d witnessed over the last few weeks, that the spaghetti might even curl itself into a group of letters: WATCH OUT or HE DEVIL or even HELP. They didn’t, of course, and as the steam formed a film on her glasses, she closed her eyes, fought the urge to thrust her hand into the pot—a burn to chase away the images that were chasing her. She knew already that later that night, after she had put Wendy to bed, after she and Curt had gone back to her bed, after they’d had sex and his snores had settled into a slow, steady rhythm, she would do as she had done too many nights recently. She would lift Curt’s right hand and examine it in the moonlight straying past the dogwood just outside the window, compare his right with his left to see if it seemed any more red or any more swollen, search in vain for some proof of his violence. She would go into Wendy’s room then and sit on the edge of that bed, peer down at her daughter’s cheek in the light from the hallway, gently turn the girl’s head from side to side to look for the bruise that was never there.
      Sandra opened her eyes. The film had dissolved from her glasses. The spaghetti was almost done. She looked through the passway beneath the cabinets into the living room where Curt was simply helping Wendy with her homework, just as he’d been doing all along.

Monday, June 10, 2013

#85:Two Poems by Daniel Bosch

~This poem previously appeared in Turnstile (1991).


—and Roy came up from his deck chair shouting "God-
dam, boy! This is really living!" and reeling back
hard, the cold bottle of Heineken between his legs
splashing his plaid shorts and falling to the deck
of his immaculate Ramblin', just as the fish,
curving into bright hooks, the stripes on its sides
fracturing gray into light, liquid as anything living
underwater could be, and free on twenty feet
of fifteen-pound test taut from a struck rod,

came aboard, vertical, flashing, twisting, writing its name,
mackerel, and landing so hard it spattered
blood over the ice chest which was half full of ice
but roomy enough for the fish to slap itself cold.
Roy was out of breath, but "Goddam!"—another fish,
on the other line, the glas whipped to the gunwale
and the spool giving with a whine—"You take her, boy,"
Roy said, pointing, and I knew he meant the pole,
the fish, not the wheel already in my hands.

So I let her go and picked her up, and Roy
fell across the deck chair he'd forgotten
he'd been sitting in trying to take over the helm,
and she, Ramblin', bucked into a swell
rolling under us, and past us, toward the coast,
the color of wet sand. There we were,
right where everything changes:  old man, fish,
and beer bottle in a reckless dance, twin Merc's

stuttering on troll, and me, for the first time,
at fifteen, with a her in my hands not wanting
to be steered or shifted; for whom, once hooked,
there was no reverse, no leaving the dance floor
terrified and ashamed because I'd pressed
my awkward, unmediated body against hers.
"Goddam," I'd said, walking home. Too soon?
Too hard? What did you have to do or be?
Cool? I had friends said they merely jerked 

them in—"Tip up, boy!" Roy was screaming, "Tip up!"
hardly in control.  I planted my feet on the deck,
foamy in an inch of Gulf and beer. "She's yours,
boy, don't let her get away!"—but she pulled
much harder than I ever wanted to believe
she would, and then she broke the water, spectral,
duplicating Roy's fish but further out and further off
Ramblin's starboard, as if the time between
his fish and mine were a mirror angled up and away,

and the mackerel danced there, three-quarters of an inch
of metal threading its mouth, seeming a part,
somehow, of the pole straight up in my hands, and suddenly
the gulls above it scried, and it was if they spoke
for the whole goddam run of mackerel, hundreds of them,
blue and yellow, we were running across. I wanted
to see her snap, to twist, to flash, and so I jerked back
hard and she came flying in at me, hard and wet
and shivering water from her body, and the blood—


Monday, June 3, 2013

#84: "What the Living Do" by Judith Barrington

~This essay previously appeared in Creative Nonfiction (2007).

If you’ve never had reason to visit the North Front Cemetery in Gibraltar (and why should you?), you might find it hard to imagine how it sprawls across hard flat ground with that famous wedge of rock jutting into the clear blue sky, watching over the strategic Strait to the south and over the dead to the north. At its foot lie Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and nothing-in-particulars, all taking an eternal sun bath beneath this piece of British soil just eight miles from Africa. There, too, lie my mother and father.

I don’t claim to have made a comprehensive survey of cemeteries, but I have visited quite a variety. I like wandering where the spirits of the dead linger and, in fact, just three blocks from my house in Portland, Oregon, is a beautiful graveyard. My dog used to love it as much as I do; we spent happy hours there together, I reading names that now belong to city streets as well as to early pioneers, and she gamboling among the old oaks and cedars, dodging between headstones with her tongue hanging to her knees, sprinting after squirrels that scurried up trees to spit their squirrelly curses down on her head. Together, we wandered among the Wetherbees and the Birrells, turned past chipped urns and carved stone trees, our bodies breaking the pearly spiders’ webs that stretched between granite markers and the iron bars of a mausoleum; sometimes our feet and paws stepped accidentally on the slabs naming Viola Cadonau and her Patricia, who died at three days old. But that was before the No Dogs went up and the place began to be patrolled by an army of women from the Cemetery Preservation Society or some such organization.

In New Orleans I discovered that the dead lie, not discreetly underground, but overhead in massive tombs. In Mexico, I visited Patzcuaro, where the dead lie on an island in the lake, and on the Day of the Dead little boats full of festive, singing people, make their way through the reeds and across the water, while the music of guitars and trumpets echoes around the shore as night falls, the lanterns and candles on the island merging with the galaxy overhead. In London, I hunted down the square block in Old St. Pancras Church which memorializes Mary Wollstonecraft, and explored Highgate Cemetery where George Eliot’s grave is surrounded by a wilderness of old-growth trees, flowers and shrubbery that shelters birds and foxes. Her friend and admirer, Elma Stuart, clearly knew the importance of a final resting place, having fought vigorously to be buried next to the writer.

To one who grew up by the blousy bluebell woods and smooth-flanked downs of Sussex, nothing will ever quite equal an old English churchyard. Indeed, I’ve never been able to shake off a certain regret that my parents do not lie near daffodils, under chestnut trees, in a graveyard filled with crooked stones and birdsong. Though they were infrequent churchgoers, the square Norman tower of the church, the lich-gate, and the local woman coming in to do the flowers, would have been comfortably familiar. But like so many who are buried at Gibraltar, their final resting place was dictated by the sea.