Baldassare Forestiere tunneled under
to sculpt the earth into subterranean baths,
gardens and grottos— one hundred chambers
excavated with hand tools, picks, a shovel
and sometimes a mule to move bigger rocks.
Thrown out of olive groves by his father,
he traveled with the idea of growing citrus.
A new arrival, he bought hardpan, rocky land
that could never prosper in a valley
perennially burned by summer sun,
soil-cracked by drought, fog-swamped
in winter. He survived by levelling
other farmers’ tracts and grafting fruit trees.
To escape the heat, he went underground,
one scoop of dirt at a time, dreaming
of catacomb passages, a cool alcove,
a snug bedroom, a garden view lit with skylights.
In a cavern, eight—twelve—metres below,
he would grow wonder trees,
one citrus bearing eight kinds of fruit.
He would treat some woman, wife,
to cedrons, navel oranges, Valencias,
tangerines, grapefruits, and sweet lemons,
while she bathed in his hand-carved tub.
In brick planters, pear trees would thrive,
pomegranates, almonds, mulberries,
palm dates, persimmons, and strawberries,
red grapes and green, rosemary, myrtle--
his fish pond stocked with fish caught
in the San Joaquin River, his own brand
of wine hand-pressed, Sangre di Christo--
All of this did come to pass, his villa, after
forty years of burrowing, but the woman
did not want to play Persephone;
she would only have him above ground.
She could not see the charm
of his spliced trees, the sweet globes
of fruit glowing in sun shafts
of his cavernous honeycomb.
He hand-scraped dirt, dredged scrabble,
strained his back with wheelbarrow loads
to remake the lower world into his own image.
He stayed alone. Ten acres of an ant colony,
piazzas in deep vaults, meetings halls,
a space for a restaurant and dancing--
he imagined a peopled resort,
where others could see in the braced ceilings
and clay-tiled patios who Baldassare Forestiere
was, a man with little money, who sculpted
himself and propagated a wonder tree
still growing a bounty seventy years after his death.
I have walked down into the earth,
descended into Forestiere’s gardens,
imagining his evenings, reading,
in his small bedroom, alone and buried
(for he did like to read), sitting next to
the starlit skylight to tune the radio,
lifting a tired arm to put a strawberry in his mouth.
Maybe I’ll go to the sky,
Sabato said after his wife left
and he tired of swimming
in wine bottles. He walked
the railway lines to gather cast-off
rebar, rods he webbed
into steel latticework of spindles
and steeples, scalloped cones,
and ribbed tetrahedrons.
He climbed higher daily,
yearly. Like a boy pulling himself
up, level after level of a rocketship
jungle-gym in an abandoned park,
he climbed inside his airy cages.
He knitted gridiron, wrapping spines
in wire mesh, troweling on cement,
embellishing with shells, florid china teacups,
blue willow plates, toy cars, mirrors,
cobalt shards of Milk of Magnesia,
7-Up bottles and porcelain figures.
After three decades, his funky lace towers
did reach clouds. Thirty meters up,
he intertwined needletops
with arched bridges, more narrow
than the width of his foot.
He traversed his scaffold without hand rails,
grown used to misted views of Watts.
He invited all to visit Nuestro Pueblo,
and neighbours came to trace pottery chunks
in the walls and roofless doorways,
to look up, to feel it all with their hands.
Sabato Rodia embedded himself into all crevices
of his lifework. Earthquakes and riots
could not pull it down. I have put my hand
on his walls, seen the patchwork curios.
What if I used my one life
to construct these stony geometries
with only hands and thrown-out scraps?
Keep faith, Sabato, despite the neighbourhood
gawking and talking, in the beauty
of delightful dream spires.
Reinaldo Rios’ OVNI scouts film shaky,
homemade movies, tracking aliens
through a snarl of vines and plantains
in night yards of Lajas, where a woman
believes she was abducted into the surgical room
of a spaceship, returning to Earth with scrambled intestines.
The rainforests of El Yunque hide secret labs
where the U.S. military examines extraterrestrials
and creates genetic mutants that sometimes escape.
In an island of alien invasions, Roberto’s vision
began with ink doodles on lunchtime napkins,
sent as love missives to his novia de escuela superior.
He wrote his contract to her on tissue wisps
ink-carved with flying saucer designs of the home
he would one day put her in; she crumpled his banners
of love and ran, as women do, when placed upon an altar
that portends a man’s nebulous inner journey. He studied
industrial arts and fine arts—tending his love wound--
taught, saved, borrowed, retired, still intent on crafting
his napkin blueprints into a hillside glory
where he could sit, gazing down into traffic--
the centre of his own universe.
My headlights just two more dots in the light stream
wending homeward, by Juana Díaz, along the south coast,
where near the sea, the highway cuts through Peñoncillo,
I see the flying saucer, touched down on a green hill.
In cosmic dusk, seen in satellite shots,
the Caribbean archipelago is a lit constellation,
with Puerto Rico so electrified that the island
is perfectly outlined, glistening in space.
One blue star in its cluster is Roberto’s three-tier saucer,
constructed of panels of shining blue float glass,
coloured landing lights around the base, flashing silver domes.
That Blue Nun blue of Marc Chagall’s stained glass, lighting
up the hill, dazzling the sea behind it—
slowing the tired motorists.
For forty years he planned and built for seven,
raiding the auto-junkers and dollar stores,
crafting each element of the exterior and interior--
hundreds of cheap silver ashtrays welded on the top tower;
blue, red, yellow plastic salad bowls
capping the bright running lights.
Inside, floating furniture is fastened to walls,
a table built from a chromed exhaust manifold
and auto glass. His paintings of planets
and one weeping rose. Roberto Sánchez Rivera
sits outside on the cool upper deck of his saucer.
He has placed a plaster alien there that raises a hand
to point at the horizon, like our Ponce de Leon
statues in pueblo plazas. I see Roberto
in his boxer shorts with a bucket of iced medallas.
He’s not moping over Stella, that high school beauty,
or staring forlornly out at some far exoplanet
revolving around a stellar corpse.
He is in the moon glow of tonight’s dance,
where he met someone and handed her a napkin
twirled into a rose. He thinks of adding more woomp
to his saucer, maybe a gyromotor, a liquid hydrogen
something, a magneto plasmico engine, a clutch.
He’ll scoop one fist of earth, bend one rod of rebar at a time,
grab one handful of stars; he will add order to chaos
and funnel himself into his creation. He amazes
us with his vessel, zooming to celestial lift-off,
before some other cabrones colonize space.
Loretta Collins Klobah
Loretta Collins Klobah is a professor of Caribbean Literature and creative writing at the University of Puerto Rico. Her poetry collection The Twelve-Foot Neon Woman (Leeds: Peepal Tree Press, 2011) received the 2012 OCM Bocas Prize in Caribbean Literature in the category of poetry and was short listed for the 2012 Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection in the Forward poetry prize series. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Best American Poetry 2016, BIM, Caribbean Beat Magazine, The Caribbean Writer, The Caribbean Review of Books, Poui: The Cave Hill Literary Annual, Susumba’s Book Bag, Moko: Caribbean Arts and Letters, WomanSpeak, TriQuarterly Review, Quarterly West, Black Warrior Review, The Missouri Review, The Antioch Review, Cimarron Review and Poet Lore.
Inspired by a statue I found lying in long grass on the clifftop of a Greek Island.
From the rock-ribbed kingdom deep below our world,
breathless stone, enduring and preserving time,
drawn whence whispering voices court Persephone
to the open precincts where our chant is hurled
round the sanctuary and out across the brine.
Sculpted to a girl, elegantly arrayed:
votive handmaid, on Apollo's holy ground.
Deep below, a pale featureless block to haunt;
now red-lipped and radiant in light's arcade,
where the flowers of Kore's joy abound.
Once Apollo offered loveliness his lyre,
hopeful of her promise; now this seer-priestess
lays upon you, statue, tribute of my craft:
Song which lights the future, leaping words of fire,
hallowed hands which feel, and understanding, bless.
Many seasons here, shall you at peace abide -
harmonious haven, though the tribes make war;
hear the laughter, priest's intonement, canticles,
see the rhythmic rituals and distant tide;
'till at last, slaughterous barbarians pour,
cast you down and out beyond our city walls
girdle of this high unvanquishable place.
Broken out from sanctuary's curving arms,
there, where sky-bright cliff to wine-dark water falls
leaps from heaven's heat to cooler liquid's grace,
to Uranus will you turn a marble face.
Look! a girl, one far-seen summer day will stand
at your feet, recumbent in the wild grass;
know not who you are, gaze on the faded stone.
She'll not tell her find, only with gentle hand
touch, and bid human farewell before you pass,
solvent, integrating with the mother earth
loosing to the wind your memory of fame:
Sky-engendered purity and cult divine
soon absolved beneath the blue-height's lofty mirth,
Gaia takes the artist's form, the statue's name.
Pent Persephone, this maiden-stone reclaim.
Ruth Asch is a poet in rare moments when tranquility and inspiration co-incide. She is also the mother of four and sometimes a teacher. Her first book of poems 'Reflections' was published in 2009, and poems since in many journals on and off line such as Inkspill, Meditteranean Poetry, The Bamboo Hut, Poetry Repairs, Poetry Atlas and The Literary Yard.
a tanka, untitled
words grow muted
and hearing diminished –
I begin to tiptoe
along the lonely curve
of inner silence
This poem was written as part of the 20 Poem Challenge.
Mary Kendall lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Her current work and publications can be found on her writing blog, A Poet in Time (www.apoetintime.com). She is the author of a chapbook, Erasing the Doubt (2015) and co-author of A Giving Garden (2009).
I can hear him in the kitchen
pouring a drink
as if he lived here and
knew where all the good glasses were kept.
I must have dozed off between
my phone alight
with the primal request
and his key slipping into the lock.
I can't imagine why he comes here when she,
lithe and flexible and organized and
waits for him at home.
This poem was written as part of the 20 Poem Challenge.
Kelly Nickerson, Lifelong dreamer and blue-collar worker. Graduate of Office Administration at NSCC and Business Administration with a concentration in Accounting, also at NSCC. Damaged by heartbreak and heart failure. Dog person. Has learned to make soap, (one batch), paint (one picture). Amateur genealogist with an interest in DNA. Drives a big old modified Jeep. Loves Patron Silver and 40 Creek Whiskey, hates Jagermeister.
Clothed Artist and Model
He is leaning away from her, but only to gather himself for further motion, pulling his body back like a slingshot. In this return—which will never take place—he’s about to push off his left foot, to glide back to her. His gaze intently marks her body, but she, too, is going nowhere, encased in an open robe of plaster.
He seems unaware of his own frame, his sad-seeming slouch, his mess of clothes, his slack, crooked chin. In his concentration, he sees all of her, none of himself. With respect to her body, he is omniscient.
She is leaning back, luxuriant, letting his omniscience occur. Whether this is a matter of adoration or lust or mere monetary transaction is unclear. You can assume she’s been paid to be his model, a nude figure to be covered in plaster-of-paris. Their intimacy is undefined by language or voice, for they are forever silent.
Who are they? What is their story? There are some clues, small details you might consider. Yet these clues are merely things that inform and heighten your subjectivity—any conclusions you make are offshoots of you, the viewer, and your cosmos.
The male gaze captured in a museum. Pornography as art. Or is it art as pornography? The female as object to be consumed, to be owned, to be casted in thick, gooey plaster. Iris, retina, lens. Rod and cone. Neuron and synapse. Image written into memory.
A work of art of a work of art as it’s being made. Process as product, cast of a casting. How ironic: in its completion, the work is of something forever incomplete. Perhaps this is a metaphor of our lives, how we’re always making ourselves but never really finishing. Our corpus. We concentrate. We try. But in the end we change very little.
The zen of sculpture, the forever-frozen moment, the sad and lovely truth of the body—which is the truth of our lives, really—laid bare. The body after it has passed the apex of youth, when cells begin to die away more quickly than they are replaced. The brutal, slothful erosion of time. But these two, they are forever—as long as the museum curators take proper care of them.
They are several feet away from one another, and in this space there is loneliness, even though they are intimates and we are intimate with them, in this dark room in a museum in the center of Denver, a bustling, dusty town. The nude: a counterpoint to striptease? The light and dark in the room, the tilting poses of model and artist. Adam and Eve without The Apple or The Garden. Or Eve and Yahweh, Him sculpting her from a single rib, the apple yet to be painted red.
His boots, the chair, his pants, all trashed. Her luxuriant robe of plaster. She is cold, her nipples erect. Her mons shaved clean. Her long auburn hair is bobby-pinned into a bun. He must feel some sensuality in all this, artistic vision be damned. His hands hang limp and in his eyes there is not the brilliant flash of desire or creativity, the twin (and perhaps related) lightning bolts of lust and inspiration.
This is a messy business, draping plaster on a woman’s body. Worse than spackling a wall before you paint it. Though both are a kind of work. Maybe all art is merely this: work, mess, desire, the loss of self that goes both ways—seer and seen.
You see and then you know what you want to know about them, which is perhaps what you want to know about yourself.
Not their stories—artist and model, for who could ever know the trajectories and vectors of their hearts?—but yours. The heart you know but often fail to recognize. The one true story that floats like a cloud in your brain, but you never take the time to figure out the denouement. When you’re open, when you allow yourself, art sometimes does that for you. Art shows you your truth, as austere and cold as the empty corners of the museum itself.
A shard of knowing, and sometimes, a certainty. Nakedness, sure, but what do you see? The self and making and want laid bare against the grind of time.
Michael Henry: "I’m co-founder and Executive Director of Lighthouse Writers Workshop, an independent literary center located in downtown Denver. My poetry and nonfiction have appeared in places such as 5280 Magazine, Georgetown Review, Threepenny Review, Pleiades, and The Writer, and I’ve published two books of poetry, No Stranger Than My Own and Active Gods."
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