Dorothy Barresi: Poems

Dorothy Barresi is the author of ALL OF THE ABOVE (1991, Beacon Press), which won the Barnard College New Women Poets Prize, and THE POST-RAPTURE DINER (1996, University of Pittsuburgh Press), which won an American Book Award. She has recently completed a new book of poetry. Her poems have been published widely in literary journals, including Poetry, Parnassus, The Harvard Review, The Antioch Review and The Kenyon Review, and her essay-reviews appear semi-regularly in The Gettysburg Review. She has been the recipient of Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and the North Carolina Arts Council. Her poetry has been awarded a Pushcart Prize and the Hart Crane Memorial Poetry Prize. She is a Professor of English at California State University, Northridge, where she is Chair of the Creative Writing program. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Phil Matero, and her sons, Andrew and Dante.

Dorothy Barresi was the Distinguished Poet Judge for the Annual Bordighera Poetry Prize of $2000 and bilingual book publication for the 2001-2002 awards.

Straw Into Gold

Is the work of this world bitter

but tidy, too? Companionable in its way?

Webs across my doorway

are the dropcloths of persistent

graveyard shifters:

these spiders wish me no harm, gone by 6:32 A.M.

But strands stick in my eyelashes and bangs,

I’m nearly late–stupid, stupid–

and cursing the strong urine by the curb,

the swoonsmell of night-blooming jasmine,

and coffee sloshes over

my lead-bottomed commuter’s cup, Have a Special Day.

Which is why I don’t see but nearly

collide with the young Mexican woman

dangling a child by his ankles, headfirst

into the garbage dumpster by my car.

I’d say son, but who can read family for sure

in a tiny pair of grubby denims, no socks,

and the look she doesn’t give me

which is pure adrenaline, black, don’t say a word.

I don’t. What is there to say?

Dim seagulls who routinely mistake

half-defeated neighborhoods like this one

for Pacific Ocean

need oiling: they’re squealing again.

Without wrath or mercy it seems,

but like all the broken theories and weak

planks of sunlight in my mouth just now,

they build the workdays

we sign our names to, and cross over,

and cross over. So she fishes

the little guy deeper, this way and that,

exhorting him in the Spanish I don’t have

until Budweiser cans and redeemable diet

Cherry7-Up cans come spinning at her feet,

and flies rise ecstatic there, big as dimes.

I’m in my car by now, nothing fancy.

It’s a four-door because I’ve somehow recently passed

into the clear age and zone

of dependable transportation,

and every month a bill

reminds me of the rate of exchange

for a little peace of mind on the freeways.

I remember the kid at the dealership.

Believe it or not, someone

I’d babysat years before, in another lifetime,

with one of those skim-milk mustaches now

and eel-skin cowboy boots.

“Exotics,” he called them.

He was proud of those boots. We’ve got, he said.

a rebate situation

I think you can live with.

And he was right, pretty much. Which is why

even now I’m careful to warm up the engine

before backing out.

I square my briefcase on the seat beside me,

check my lipstick, too,

making two or three big smacking

smooches for the rearview mirror. Pretend ones,

so that anyone seeing me must think

I am two confused people at once.

The tough one blowing goodbye kisses–

so long, suckers!–and the other one,

who touches her white face

to the wheel for a second, that’s all,

then sets out for the outskirts of the kingdom

on time, and with proper gifts.

[from All of the Above, Copyright © 1991 by Dorothy Barresi. All rights reserved by the author. ]

The Nude Detective (from The Post-Rapture Diner, © 1996)

–for God

Your devices are sensitive.

In rain and in snow,

in moonlight that clatters down

its bright plates and crockery

like a voice in the head,

you stay. You lend to our windows

a fishing pole

and a microphone.

But why?

Are you some under-assistant’s

last hireling?

Nothing, not even faith or crazy envy explains

how we provoke you to this patience

hour by hour.

And if our daily static can be removed,

our yeses

turned to no on tape

the way technology puts

plastic hearts in men, or

cheese in jars,

then surely we don’t deserve

such a careful listening.

Such bare attention to what we do

only makes us act worse.

A kiss, a gasp–

how long before you drag

your sunburned knuckles in some fleshly

circles on the ground?

How long before you order moo shu pork then drip

plum sauce on the bedsheets?

Mr. Never Kissed and Tell, Mr.

Truly Exposed,

we’re speaking out at last.

You wearing just a porkpie hat

like Donatello’s David,

you with dark circles under wholly

permanent eyes, we wish you’d get a life

and beat if for good this time, you goddamn,

you shivering

angel who loves us more than we love ourselves.

[from The Post-Rapture Diner, Copyright © 1996, by Dorothy Barresi ]

At Five Months

–for my son, Dante

I love to watch your sleeping breath

slide the moving diamonds of milk and drool

to the corners of your mouth.

A nipple is leaking on the pillow.

Not mine, the bottle’s.

You chewed too hard for that,

as though one breast made you mad with hunger

for the other, and then, for something

other than me.

Where are you now?

With your diapered bottom in the air

(a punk variation on fetal position)

and your hair matted with iron-fortified

oatmeal you wore like a hat this morning,

where in the land of nap’s misrule

have you gone to overturn me?

The fingers of your left hand curl

into a fist. I want to kiss them but hover instead,

adjusting your lamby-pie blanket

that needs no fixing.

Even the pastel sheep know that.

Why can’t I sleep?

Opening drawers and louvered blinds, I’ll find

a chore to wake you yet, then cry

that I’m exhausted.

Love, you have done with me

what you set out to do.

I cannot rest.

I cannot not mother you.

[from a chapbook, Mother, My Porous China, Gone]

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