poetry and poets

Thursday, March 31, 2005

some thoughts on why or why not

"There is no history, only fictions of various degrees of plausibility."
- Voltaire

"I tell the truth, 'cept when I lie."
- Dwight Yoakum

"If I lie and say you took me for a friend, patched together in my thin bones,
will you help me be cunning and noisy as the wind?"
- James Welch

"The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest; but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic."
- John F. Kennedy

"Lies, lies, lies"
- Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Edward Albee

"I got no alibis, can't even tell my usual lies"
- Tommy Elskes

"Excellency, it's a natural lie to tell, I beg you, stop this now . . ."
- Reverend Hale in The Crucible, Arthur Miller

"I think that jazz and poetry are lies"
- Comanche, Eric Taylor

"I might come to the end of my life and find out everyone was lying"
- Truth No. 2, Patty Griffin

"The truth is not out there"
- Bart Simpson

"Some folks get spiritual 'cause they see the light, some 'cause they feel the heat."
- Conversation with the Devil, Ray Wylie Hubbard

Saturday, March 19, 2005

times catches on

times catches on
tony gallucci

Okay, Okay. It's seven blocks down Sycamore, past Tenth, time is nothing, the air thick with gardenias, why on earth would someone grow those damn things in their yard, one whiff at a wedding is enough to last you until the next wedding, a yard full of that smell intoxicates, the atmosphere a vat of drowning wishes, and drives me out where I should be, the dark swallowing me whole, the cracks in the street pushing against the soles of shoes so worn they might not make it home with me tonight, but for their quiet they are useless against the street and those cracks and the rocks and the curb's edge and the sudden water meter holes hidden in the black grass, and I wonder at the wake I trail in the heavy scent of white flowers, and the shadows I cast on the blooms white even in the sliver of waned moon, and I shake at the bark of white dogs, and start at white cats, and pray for white birds to guide me on, through dimlight porch light envelopes, and seething urban soil rich with tender care and test tube miracles, and along shoestring paths of desire, and quiet, quiet, quiet, step, step, step, breath, breath, and the sound of breathing to you a locomotive, to them the wind in the palms, and quiet, quiet, step and the sound of treading to you a slap in the dim kitchen of don't wake your mother, take it like a man, to them the patter of ebony leaves dry like flakes of fried tortilla brushed off the tables to the blackmouth mutt sleeps behind the stove, dry like the wheeze of Uncle Ernest in his sleep lately in the rocking back chair, and quiet, quiet, swish, the whoosh of clothed leg against the Bird-of-Paradise, to you the sudden letting go of the Venetian blinds strand, to them the hiss of after the anthem television in the sleeping room of cousins for Christmas, and the quiet, quiet, tap, tap of your print on glass, your identity, your downfall if you aren't who you are, tapping the dark room alive, awake, alight, in the night, to you like grandpa's old dance drum, all the grandchildren singing falsetto to his past and yours now, to them only the air conditioner dripping in the drain pan, air, conditioning, draining, conditioned, sleeping, and there you are with her hand in yours, hers part of something hidden, forbidden perhaps, there hovering in the dark, inside the window, inside the place you've never been and won't until you've been inside yourself a whole lifetime, and her whole lifetime now pounding away, the steady beat of passing moments, now here, now gone, now here, now gone, wrist to wrist, whisper to whisper, a hair brushes skin, skin brushes hair, breath brushes breath, word passes word in the dark seeking solace and soliloquy and solitude if two can manage solitude, and life brushes life, and there is a moment, an infinitesimal micro-moment, and then it's gone, and you, and you remember the path, the palms, the pressure of the planet on your toes, the brush against the giant calming leaves of the Bird-of-Paradise, or is it pair-of-dice, and the whiteness, and the porch lights, and the gentle smell of the gardenia on Sycamore Street, after time has come back to get you.

Published in Waterways, January 2003 (for Albert Huffstickler)

mother ocean, father island

mother ocean, father island
tony gallucci

Okay. You never think of this until it's too late.

You wade into the surf and dig your toes into the thick sand and feel its layers pulled away and close your eyes and then there's a swallowing and burying and a constant pulling away and you're being yanked to the side and your knees buckle and then you’re sucked out into a giant stumble, flinging out an arm to catch you and you try to put your foot out there but it’s stuck in place and quicksand is going through your head, but this is not what you pictured, not a drowning, though that is what quicksand will do to you, drown you in lungs full of grit, or else just burst them, bottomed out in the weight of a millennium’s erosion, maybe the quickest thing stone can ever do, and you are falling now, trying to catch yourself in waist deep water where you can't really catch yourself before the waters do and you are not afraid, not scared, dumbfounded maybe, shocked, but you will make it and the sand eating at your calves now won't let you be pulled over, pulls you down but not out and fights the pull from the side and then stands you up, knocking at you and maybe you have never really felt so pulled before, and finally all there is to do is to laugh and you do. You laugh. And the pulling stops. Not down or away or up, just stops and you can stand there and laugh and then Billy comes over and says, you sure are short where'd you go, and says, remember to keep moving that's a thing I told you to remember, and you remember but never knew what it was he was talking about and now you do, Jamie, now you do.

In the twilight, sun hard on your shoulders, the last heat bouncing off the churning surf, throwing braided line with pyramid sinkers and shrimp-pink beads beyond the shallow breakers, hooks heavy with old pigperch backs, your back into the throw, your arms into the set, wrists into the rolling of the reel, a nibble, a tug, a hard wham and the heavy fiberglass rod jumps from you like legs snapped up standing hard in buried sand being pulled everywhichways and you rear back against the pull, stinging darts of sand in the wind in your shoulders, the line racing away, throwing rooster tails of salt spray off the S-loop guides, and there is a moment, one final moment, when the sun hisses behind you, behind the bay horizon, behind that the whole of the earth, you see it all from here, flashes a golden wink against the blue, now indigo, edge of humanity, and you forget the line, the bait, the hook, the day, the dusk, the night, and just hang in that moment, and only a slamming run brings you back. A hundred hard runs, leans, dips, cranks, leaves the thing abandoned at your feet.

All I know is that you hollered at me. I heard something in your voice I didn’t hear when you were stuck in the sand with Billy and, when I run to see, you have not come any closer, to it, or him, or me, or anything. I am proud of you, I say in different words. I dream of bringing up a big mako or blacktip spinner but all I ever hook are them lousy bonnetheads, and here you are. We see your knees buckling in your mind, not knowing you stood in shallow surf with 200-pound sharks. And you won't even come look now, though it's mostly dead, you killed it, fighting it hard against its breath, against it's need to head deep. Oh Jamie where do you think they come from, encyclopedias and National Geographics? Were you thinking this ocean was not the ocean of morays and killer whales and maybe even Jonah and his big white sperm-headed whale, the one we all cry out for lonely nights when we don't understand how big mammal fish swallow up whole humanities and ideas and confuse us with giggles and snickers in this big old world full of incongruity? Jamie are you afraid now when you were not afraid then, stuck sandbound in the craw of the big mother ocean, mother feeding everything, us too, every single second of every hour of her lifetime, been living far longer than we can count? Is that it Jamie? Been fishing for something we all don't know what it is out here in the one place we can all claim as our own, Father Island lying next to Mother Ocean. Can't anybody know what it is we need to know. Maybe better not to know it in a place too big for the knowing of it anyway. Maybe better not to know anything at all. Maybe. Maybe better if we don't know that. Could be we don't need to know what it is we don't need to know.

Published online in The Map of Austin Poetry, March 2003

Susan Ellis, Paris: "Tony Gallucci's "Mother Ocean, Father Island" has left me exhausted. I'll have to come back and read the rest [of the issue] when I've caught my breath. This is such a wonderful example of why we debate - Is this prose or is this poetry? The long dense lines carried me along and included me in the struggle. For me it was very definitely poetry."

Ross Clark, Brisbane: "Stazja, a good read . . . I enjoyed particularly . . . Tony Gallucci's "Mother Ocean, Father Island": now THAT's a prosepoem with tidal flow. I wish you all the Pacific. "

louie armstrong of the colonias

louie armstrong of the colonias
tony gallucci

Okay. Okay. I walked down Sycamore Street after 10 p.m. I should have been in bed. In the comfortable room with the green curtains and the green tiles picked out when we built the comfortable young lawyer's house after the new job in the old hometown after a lifetime away at school and war and school again. Or curled up next to dad on the black Naugahyde couch in the living room, watching, waiting for the late news, wisdom of the Valley day, belted out Louie Armstrong of the colonias to us, the TV idling under the family heirloom ebony Virgen de la Guadalupe and the carved rosary from Torino who knows how many generations ago. But I wasn't. Without permission I wandered the dark streets of the neighborhood, watched houses with lights on, ablaze, moths on kitchen screen-doors, from some the dizzy blue of black-and-white television throwing ghosty shadows on frail strings of gauze curtainry. Drunk shadows on the walls reclining in old chairs. Snores in bass, tenor sweet good-nights, alto squeals of night in the night. The walking from room to room, blankets pulled up tight under chins, pats on the butt, whispered wishes for the daylight only a wished-for now, the moment now gone, forever gone. The silence-not silence of the night waiting-not waiting for the promise of stolen secrets, the danger of mask-no mask, the wall of young confusion. I eyed dark houses, the old, the away, the bored, the neanderthal, some boarded up, cars secured behind garage doors, or dark save for the welcome-not welcome of the porch light, the sleep-not sleep of the german shepherd on the sidewalk, the tink-tink-tink swidda-swidda-swidda tink-tink-tink of all-night rotating sprinklers, the wisp of gauze flitting out of ever-so-slightly raised bedroom windows, aroma of couples in bed, asleep, cuddled, old, young, pretending to be one or the other, or maybe are, not knowing, but knowing the smell like knowing the trouble you're in by the smell of the fear that slaps you in the face when you open the back door after midnight lost in time and faint lights and open windows.

Published online in Doorknobs & Bodypaint #29, 2003

Thursday, March 10, 2005

elegy for wendy jane doe

elegy for wendy jane doe
tony gallucci

i found out later you were only four
i thought you were much older
i kissed you
right there behind the counter at Wal-Mart i kissed you
and blew gently air into your lungs
and i counted to three
and i looked for the signs
and i kissed you again
and blew gently air into your lungs and i counted to three and i looked for the signs
and i kissed you again

Wendy, you must know this
your mom has no patience
she left fingernail cuts in my shoulder like a once upon a time lover
i didn’t know until that night when i took off my shirt to shower
you were one with some machine by then

before i kissed you Wendy i watched your mom explode a breath into your tiny lungs
and pound you like a broken toaster and your arms jerked up and your mom thought
it was a sign of life
and blasted again like you might try to blow up a balloon
that doesn’t want to be blown up

when i awoke this morning i just lay in bed and stared out the window
and i looked for signs the seasons were changing
and the leaves were beginning to fall from the trees
and i counted them
one . . . two . . . three . . .
until i couldn’t count anymore

in the morning paper they said you died from a quote lengthy illness unquote
they didn’t mention maternal instinct
or panic
or good intentions

Wendy, know this
good intentions is always an apology

Published in This Order, 1998
Published in Voices from the River, 1998
Broadcast on, 1998
Broadcast on MTV, 1998

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

my radiant sin

my radiant sin
tony gallucci

Okay. After 10 p.m. Long after 10 p.m., out beyond Sycamore Street. Highway 83 going west, in a midnight blue blur at 148 miles-per-hour, flying over overpasses, skipping, barely controlled touchdowns, blowing west past Pharr, McAllen, Sharyland, Mission, La Joya, Sullivan City, past neon palm trees and still, dark orchards, wafts of 3 a.m. tortillas and donuts, and cops at coffee shops, past eastbound freight trucks and husbands hurrying home, past waddling 'possums and nighthawks, past thumbers and shiftless and sneaking north for the American Dream, past the race for time and the race for races, past drinking too young, and too late, and too much, past roaches and joints and all-night joints, and dusty dimlight backrooms Lord knows what goes on there smelling like murder, just pretending, like so much violence is just pretending, past constables can pick out something wrong at a quarter-mile and it drives a car with bad shocks and dingleballs on the mirror, and if that's you that's trouble, and if it's not don't make it your trouble, past trouble standing on the side of the road, past trouble in the County Line Market after hours, past trouble at Emilio's bar, and Emilio's trouble, past trouble running naked through Colonia San Miguel, ole San Miguel not doing a good job of being un santo, past trouble on a black-and-white flashing blue and red, past green slipping from one dark hand to another, past pretending, past the real thing, past lying in the gutter on Jackson Avenue real thing, past hands hard-cold-steel-cinched behind the back real thing, past real names hurled, thrown, spat, past los ojos del tigre, and coy kittens, past jade eyes and emerald, color of money, past eyes rigor mortis, color of bile, middle C note humming death, past archangels and Beelzebub, bubble baths and blood, past Henry and Maria, past Jamie and Julie and John and Jose and Jimi and Jehosaphat and Jennifer and Joseph and Jesus, oh sweet Jesus, past church doors open and chapel doors closed, past crosses and cruxes and calm, and screaming noise-not noise, and only the sound of wind in the window cracked open to bleed out the sin and hot stench of breath too hot for breathing, past windows hot breath fogged, past feeling, too hot to fuck, too cold to die, past dying, past past, past present, past future, passed by, passed by, oh radiant sin.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

the hum of high wires

the hum of high wires
tony gallucci

Okay. Okay. 10 p.m. A small plane strums some old symphony over Sycamore Street, the stuff I never listened to. Dade and I laughed about that, the music of planes, the music of katydids in the June noon, the music of rattling cabbage trucks at dawn, the rhythm of pumpjacks and irrigation pumps, the syncopated whine of locusts, the hum of high wires and highways. Dade could take anything and turn it into music. I just sang. The summer of our own symphony was the summer Uncle Ralph hired us to stand at the end of rows of cabbage and yellow squash and cotton green ripe and wave red flags, markers for his day to day job poisoning bugs from an old yellow biplane floated over acres of the food he said got you where you are today. Dusted hard in poison we sneezed and spun light-headed and no one thought to say wait a minute back then. Here we were, mother and Aunt Georgia thinking we were packing boxes of citrus and avocadoes, when we were really eating live insecticide like we were the culprits. So we made music to make our days pass under the lazy floating almost not-flight of that old biplane under high wires, flipping, returning, ready to open another tank, made music as wild and tinny and edged as our days standing in infrared sand at the end of rows of ripping-your-nostrils-open onions and cabbage, and the sweet-rotten-smell of melons in the summer sun not really even summer yet if you looked at a calendar. Dade would stomp the dry valley dust and wait for the sun to churn it into homemade dust-devils, but never happened, sun made its own somewhere else. Dade just made blowing dust with a beat so hard, insistent and incessant that it’d lull you to sleep waiting between Uncle Ralph's trips back to refill, or meant playing along, swept up in it walking row to row never missing 'cause that meant two hard things, Ralph losing his profit on a double-sprayed row or burning out a row. And we’d hear about it. So we just walked and pounded out Dade's rhythm, and I sang, not high sweet like a mockingbird but like some cackling green jay deep in the ebony woods across the ditch that spit out the water filled the dusty holes and rows with gritty mud. The mud sugar cane takes and boils down in the Hidalgo County sun to a pineapple taste so fine you can eat it straight out of the ground, and I sang that sweet-lips song not sweet like cane but like it was just pure music, and Dade never cared, and sang hard and gruff and edged too, angry and forgiving, giving up and giving in. Uncle Ralph laughed like that, hard and edged, spat caramel spit and the first cusswords I ever knew what they meant, and laughed at us, couldn't do nothing but laugh and cuss Uncle Ralph, couldn't do nothing but, and when that plane just missed, snagged a wire, and spun into the tower and didn't explode like you'd think, just thudded to the ground, was the first time Dade's rhythm didn't work for us, first time singing made no sense, first time words ran away, first time I panicked and froze at the same time, wanted to help but knew better, knew there wasn't any helping this time, first time not wanting to know, not wanting to see, beat out having to see everything in the world you never seen before, like a woman whole, not just flat pieces of glossy, stapled paper or wishes through thin cloth, or someone dead, really dead, not funeral home dead, or a foreign country that doesn't want you there, or the stares of deep hatred, because this time you know, you really know, and you figured out that the knowing is what keeps you from the seeing. Dade was like that too. Took off running, ran a hundred yards, plus or minus a hundred yards, before he stopped dead in his tracks and turned around to look at me, to say come on what are you waiting for, but looking-asking why didn't you hold me back, both of us needing the reason, the excuse, the hope, the wish, the whatever it takes, to keep us from having to speak up or make amends because we might have been needed, might have done something, might have prayed, or cried or sang or touched a bloody cheek with a goodbye or lay there and talked of the sky and what mighty work lay ahead fixing that old squash-colored vehicle of crazy dying in our arms, and having no one to explain what everything that happened happened because of, or why we weren't doctors or surgeons or saints or angels now that we were both fourteen and in our hard young years finally and starting to beat and sing with the voice of five thousand days of knowing that moments like these are the only ones that a heart keeps, not silent kisses, there’re too many, or making love, never really, or delivering babies, overwhelming in the blood, or pride, who needs it. No, maybe only telling lies and the lies that make them necessary, maybe only lies stay in the heart like single truths, like planes falling from your life and taking the only real things with them, and the knowing that real is only real when it’s gone and not one single moment before, not in fields of cabbage, not in seas of laughs, not in skies of passion or oceans of change, not one flash of a tiny less-than-a-second before loss is anything once and forever whole or true or real or called love. Never.

Published online at Unlikely Stories, 2003
Version published in Chachalaca Poetry Review (as High Drone & Caramel Spit), 1998
Version published in the Little Bow River Thumbnail Series (as High Drone & Caramel Spit), 2002