Last night, re-reading Lina Wertmuller’s screenplay for Seven Beauties. I only made it as far as the scene where Pasqualino (Giancarlo Giannini) kills his sister’s pimp before I decided I needed to read something less brutal. So I picked up the latest issue of Luna, volume 8, and settled into bed.
I was absorbed by the poems of Beth Bachmann, a poet of whom I’d never heard. Apparently she’s been in APR, but that’s one of those magazines that I usually only read if somebody gives me a free copy and hovers over me expectantly. She has also been in Gulf Coast, so I went back to the shelf and found my copy of that issue. The poems were good, but they were sweeter in nature than the ones in Luna, and I realized that—though I was laying Wertmuller aside for her brutality—I was compelled by the suggestions of violence in Bachmann.
Bachmann’s poems grabbed me because of their violence—was I just looking for it?—but it was a violence which was often implied, a sense of foreboding, a mood often just beneath the surface, rather than Wertmuller’s horrifying image of a family of ten being gunned down in a mass grave. And it’s not that I don’t like Wertmuller’s films—I do. I guess this particular evening I just wanted the striptease, not the naked body; the faint hint of heat, not the bottle of Tabasco.
Notice how the information in the following poem unfolds bit by bit, like evidence in a murder trial:
Blood from a head wound thickens on the fingers
as if it’s been reduced from bone.
Ask yourself, first does he know he’s being followed?
The print of his foot is not bound or reversed,
But he’s bearing something heavy:
a hundred pounds over a shoulder
can collapse grass against the direction of the wind,
disturb a swarm of blowflies, or displace the water
burdening a leaf—the way a stray might if it turned
toward a sound before it continued feeding.
The poem is subtle; it asks the reader to meet it halfway. It doesn’t give clear directions. And it doesn’t describe what it’s wearing beforehand, so you still have to scan the crowd; you still have to do work. “Something heavy” is a hint; “a hundred pounds” gives us just a little more to go on. By the time we get to the “stray,” we have a sense of foreboding; that sense of foreboding pays off in the “feeding,” without being so explicit as to give away all of the mystery. Indeed, what makes the poem so urgent is that feeling that we don’t quite know what’s being fed upon, though we have our sick inklings.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
This issue of Luna is jam-packed with terrific poems. Among the contributors, Harriet regular Major Jackson, elder statesman of poetry Robert Bly, and heartthrob Eduardo C. Corral. Luis Cernuda, Joan Murray, Nin Andrews, Dan Beachy-Quick, Ngo Tu Lap, Craig Morgan Teicher, Wayne Miller and Martha Collins are among the many contributors who make this an electric and eclectic ensemble.
Juan Felipe Herrera
Juan Felipe Herrera is represented by four stand-out poems. Here’s my favorite, a devastating picture of our immoral war:
all the broken boys
and the shredded elms cannot be sewn back
nine generations of weeping for every wound,
all dust howls nine lifetimes, ragged, upright orange flesh open
butterfly seed tomb
colorless, almost transparent standing in between cross-fire
and five hundred pound American bombs and Shiite clerics,
the face of Walt Whitman with a pipe, or Hirschman on Columbus Street
angular, frayed and the cherubic azure of their eyes
upon the dead with fists frozen, rising up, or with shoulders bleached
hunched to serve, they fire the body, love they say, treasure
its rose-stamped holdes, Euphrates across the broken pubis
the leaf branches curled to one side, a mosque remains,
in a bitten wood of syllables, poison and beards, I hear
a mortar broadcast across the globe, general-men in
camouflage, they say nothing has changed, we are en route
to triumph, listen to them
—Juan Felipe Herrera
Born in Albany, Georgia, D. A. Powell earned an MA at Sonoma State University and an MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His first three collections of poetry, Tea, (1998), Lunch (2000), and Cocktails (2004), are considered by some to be a trilogy on the AIDS epidemic. Lunch was a...