The House on 14th Avenue
The House on 14th Avenue is about paired and shared lives, featuring two people whose connection sometimes seemed forced and uneven. That of master and slave. That of trembling and acceptance. Some of the poems detail each individually, a scraping together of momentary identities; others bring them together as they embark on journeys both physical and psychic. Journeys into the past through an underworld of ancestral ghosts and paths so well-trodden there is no possibility of creating new ones. Journeys in the present through detailed lists of the physical objects around them (with the mythic bleeding through on occasion leaving only stains behind). And journeys into a future where the realization of endings looms and where the two are left once more to cope each in his or her own way with that knowledge. In the midst of it all lurks the manipulator of words, phrases, images – the meta-text that tries so desperately to make sense of it all, that tries to bring order into what seems like simply a chaotic movement forward, and that wishes for…prays for…sacrifices for a dream state where a culmination of sorts exists, if only in the mind of the creator. In the end, it is left to the reader to decide whether the “two peasants” will be allowed to escape the gravitational pull that has weighed them down…to float away from the harsh realities that have defined them into the realm of words and infinite possibility.
Inventory I: La piccola cantina beneath
Puckered up peppers
swinging in their string halters
like primitive paratroopers
on semi-permanent parade
Scratches on splintery walls
spelling out matar kybele
Tight plum jam jars
reflecting purple light
over morning toast
Homemade wine vinegar
in equilibrium between
alembic and carboy
pulsing in oil
the colour of sea bilge
of pasta bits rattling
in the corner like boys
at a game of craps
Tomato sauce battalion
ready to spill blood
for the right cause
with twisted lip
and knife-edge handle
larded with symbols
Dry beans lima beans lupini beans fava
Flour from a Golden Temple
with recipes for chapatti,
paratha, puri, and roti
One tiny basket
for drying curds
plastic and star-crossed
dangling from a nail
in the head-scrape ceiling
He contemplates paternity
Born in the fabled lap of knowledge,
his father taught him when to split a stone
in two, right through its veins. Stones have no hearts;
you cut them to increase their worth.
The separated jewels held his papers down
or else invited moths to taste of the fruit.
He saw without his father stooping over,
turning all the damp faces to the sun.
Drying up is man’s finest labour. Moisture
breeds incest. His father sealed up sadness
in the long, pale days between one rain
and the next. And never grew old.
Tomes framed his backbone. I teach you the song
of crystal spiders, alchemical stones.
His father tore the fat leg from its joint,
explaining how, in time, it would grow back.
The spider oozed; the eyes like parchment
crackled to a powder. I felt only the pain.
Fragment from a shorter work VI
My Dear Sir,
I agree with you. There must be some way surely to tell you about my father’s garden. His giant tomatoes have no business going unnoticed. The care he takes in grafting Italian vines on to American roots mustn’t be allowed to slip away. The deaf and mute should not be the only ones to carry the message of his lumbering cucumbers. No mental care facility can hold back the secret in his fingers, the vines creeping about him, the tendrils clutching at his shoe laces. If only I had the talent, I would make his garden – and not some exotic mystery – the subject of my epic. Asparagus the tender heroine; common slugs the villains; my father heroic in the night, dying flashlight in hand, sacrificing the lettuce to keep watch over the young peas and experimental lentils. I am at a loss as to how to reveal these things to you. And my apologies if, instead of clarifying the situation, I have added further to the confusion surrounding my father’s garden.