I was the guest this week on the podcast Quintessential Listening: Poetry Online Radio hosted by Dr. Michael Anthony Ingram, a poet and retired university professor. You can find the audio here.
I am currently reading Albert Camus’s Notebooks 1935—1942, and I found this little piece of wisdom from the section May 1935 to September 1937. I thought it was worth sharing, and I hope you find some value in the words.
“One must not cut oneself off from the world. No one who lives in the sunlight makes a failure of his life. My whole effort, whatever the situation, misfortune or disillusion, must be to make contact again. But even within this sadness I feel a great leap of joy and a great desire to love simply at the sight of a hill against the evening sky.”
Camus, Albert. Notebooks: 1935-1943. Knopf, 1963.
My full-length poetry collection Outward Arrangements: Poems is now available in both paperback and ebook versions on Amazon.
The book includes 26 color photos that were originally posted to my Instagram account, inspiring the companion poems. I had previously posted a few examples here. Now I thought I would share a few other excerpts from the collection.
The Last Leaf
The last maple leaf
did not want to leave the tree,
even though his mother
told him it was time to go,
time to break free from the limb
and fall to the ground.
The little leaf said,
“Why, why must I leave
when I can still cling to this tree?”
“Because,” his mother replied,
“it’s part of life, the cycle of nature—
we drop to the ground during fall
and return in the spring.
So come on, let go.”
“I will not. I will not,” the little leaf said.
But a stiff wind stirred and the leaf
lost his grip and twirled to the earth,
falling into his mother’s grasp.
“See, that’s not so bad, is it?” his mother said.
“No Mom,” the little leaf said.
But then he asked, “Mom, am I still a leaf
if I’m no longer connected to the tree?”
In Need of Houdini
You are wrapped in chains
and stuffed in a metal chest.
The key has been discarded
and the box dumped
into the ocean.
You can’t stretch your legs
or flap your arms,
and you’re stuck in the box—
unable to lift the latch
and swim free.
How long can you
hold your breath?
The Great Equalizer
The democratic nature of parenthood.
It doesn’t matter who you are—
man, woman or trans, gay or straight,
Black, white or any other shade,
tall or short, skinny or fat, rich or poor—
when your toddler is wailing
in a grocery store or shopping mall,
when the feet are stomping, the arms swinging,
the cheeks reddened and the tears rolling—
all you want to do is pick up the child
and make the crying stop.
Wealth, social standing and comely looks
mean nothing to kids; they’re not impressed
by your credentials and you can’t negotiate
with these little angels and tyrants who rule the world.
Two clichés apply here:
parenting wipes the slate clean
and levels the playing field.
All mothers and fathers desire the same thing—
the health, safety and
development of their offspring.
The goals are simple amid the frenzy
of a life marked by stress and lack of sleep.
They are: eat the chicken nuggets, drink the apple juice,
recite the alphabet, put away the toys, finish the milk,
wave bye-bye and go down easy at nap time.
the key to happiness—
the realization that
there isn’t one.
You can’t coax
make plans for it.
You can only
attain it by accident
through the act
of living itself.
Point of View
flee the space
inside your head,
and seek the magic
of the world instead.
I am in the final stage of preparing my latest poetry collection for publication. I am going the self-publishing route via Kindle Direct Publishing on Amazon and IngramSpark for wider print distribution. Suffice to say, there’s a lot to learn and I’m nervous the whole thing will be a mess when I confirm my title and hit “publish.”
Here’s a description of the book:
Outward Arrangements is a full-length collection of narrative, observational and meditative poems written in free-verse style and covering such topics as identity, self-esteem, health, family, parenting, advancing age, nature and the evanescence of existence. The work is a journey of discovery, as the author looks both within himself and in the outside world to seek meaning in everyday life.
One section of the book originated as the text in Instagram posts, with the poet sharing his delight in making odd revelations—like finding an empty baby stroller parked on the sidewalk, a pair of Chuck Taylor sneakers left underneath a city park bench and an old pay phone toppled and splayed on the ground. Here the poet pays close attention to his surroundings, observing things that could be easily overlooked, and using those objects of chance as the starting point for stories. The photos that sparked the poems are included in the collection.
Using raw and honest language, the philosophical poems in Outward Arrangements pose universal questions, reflecting on what it means to be alive today and addressing issues and emotions that people wrestle with in their daily lives. In this way, the collection is accessible to a wide range of readers.
If anyone is interested in reading an Advance Reader Copy in exchange for an honest review on Goodreads or Amazon (after publication), please email me. I can send you a PDF of the book. Thank you!
I’ve been tied up with post-production on a work-in-progress documentary project (more about this at another time), but I wanted to share the joy I received today when I found this literary inventory amid the pile of Amazon packages strewn in the lobby of my apartment building. Dreaming of Lemon Trees: Selected Poems is available from Finishing Line Press.
This full-length collection of poems is a combination of three previously published chapbooks—Outskirts of Intimacy (Flutter Press, 2010; second edition 2017), Vestiges (Alabaster Leaves Publishing/Kelsay Books, 2012) and In Pursuit of Infinity (Finishing Line Press, 2013). The work covers many years of my life and is comprised of narrative, confessional and philosophical poems, written in free-verse style, with a focus on identity, masculinity, family, romance, illness and death.
And I must admit it was fun to rip open the box, pull out a copy and thumb through the pages. It gave me a feeling of accomplishment to see all those poems bound in book form.
This is just a reminder that advance sales of my poetry book Dreaming of Lemon Trees, to be published by Finishing Line Press, end one week from today.
For those who may be interested, please consider buying the book before Sept. 13, since pre-publication sales determine the press run. And thank you for taking the time to read this.
I am pleased to announce that Dreaming of Lemon Trees, a full-length collection of poems, is slated to be published by Finishing Line Press on Nov. 8. Advance sales are underway and will continue until Sept. 13.
Dreaming of Lemon Trees is a combination of three previously published chapbooks—Outskirts of Intimacy (Flutter Press, 2010; second edition 2017), Vestiges (Alabaster Leaves Publishing/Kelsay Books, 2012) and In Pursuit of Infinity (Finishing Line Press, 2013).
This book is comprised of narrative, confessional and philosophical works, written in free-verse style, with a focus on identity, masculinity, family, romance, illness and death. These poems are accessible to all readers and address issues that people deal with in their daily lives.
Pre-publication sales will determine the press run, so if anyone is interested, you can order the book online. Thanks for taking the time to read this. I appreciate it. Below you’ll find some excerpts from the collection.
Outskirts of Intimacy (2010; second edition 2017)
A vanilla ice cream cone
covered with sprinkles of dirt,
a handful tossed by small grimy hands
across a chain-link fence.
A blond child’s whine—
flat, constant and eerily melodic.
The girl then turning away,
screaming upstairs to her mother,
sound asleep in the mid-August heat,
the lime-green curtains fluttering in the
second-story window of the adjacent brick building.
The child just standing there, scraping off the grit
and licking the melting residue
trickling down her forearm.
Post-Op Image, 1984
Sprawled out on my mother’s bed,
I hear chunks of ice falling from the roof,
and a city snowplow rushing past our house.
I tilt my neck to glimpse at the wooden crucifix
perched above my mother’s head,
and feel my putting-green hair and
surgical scar meandering from ear to ear.
I then pester her with a flurry of questions,
diverting her attention from a Danielle Steel book.
She delivers no rebuke, though,
but merely clasps her nut-brown rosary beads,
and brushes them gingerly
against the disfigurement.
St. Peter’s Cemetery
I extend a hand to touch an angel trapped in marble.
Its face is cool and damp, like the earth beneath the slab.
I pose a question to my deceased father,
Knowing the answer will elude me.
For his remains are not buried in this cemetery,
But instead rest on a shelf
In my sister’s suburban Ohio house.
Chalk marks on sidewalks,
fireflies stalking the night,
creaky porch steps,
chain-link nets and
the crack of the bat.
Sour-puss lips break a smile,
then sneak a kiss.
It’s cool to hold hands with
the girl of your dreams,
the one who says she’ll
love you forever.
But forever is too far away.
Our time is now—a passing moment
when our parents look the other way.
Summer fun in the springtime
of our lives, sucking it all in
under this streetlight paradise.
Father’s Day Forgotten
Daddy and Christi parted ways at a bus depot
In the early morning hours.
No big scene, just a kiss on the cheek,
Then she turned around and was gone for good—
Hopping aboard the Trailways bus
Headed westbound for Chicago.
And she never looked back.
Daddy went home to his beer bottle and sofa seat,
And he drew the living room curtains
On the rest of the world,
Letting those four eggshell walls
Close in and swallow him up,
Wasting away in three empty rooms and a bath.
And the memories can’t replace his lost daughter and wife.
So he tries not to remember his mistakes
Or how he drove them away.
Instead he recalls Halloween pumpkins
Glowing on the front porch,
Training wheels moving along the uneven sidewalk,
Little hands reaching for bigger ones in the park,
And serving Saltine crackers and milk
To chase away the goblins that haunted
Dreams in the middle of the night.
Now Christi has a life of her own,
And she lets the answering machine catch
Daddy’s Sunday afternoon phone call.
She never picks up and rarely calls back.
So Daddy returns to the green couch
Pockmarked with cigarette burns.
He closes his eyes, opens the door to his memory vault
And watches the pictures play in slow-motion.
He rewinds again and again
Without noticing the film has faded
And the little girl has stepped out of the frame.
A courtship of contempt,
filled with swirling fury and churning angst,
not halted by the hands of God.
Zealous rituals express unwavering faith,
and outstretched arms set hearts aflame.
Trees topple under a crescent moon—
a gleaming scythe that carves the frost-burnt night,
invoking stones to crush the gnarled root,
as fragments of identity rupture
into paralyzing self-hate.
In Pursuit of Infinity (2013)
Dreaming of Lemon Trees
I dream of words
I strive to recapture
When I awaken in the morning.
I dream of stories with endings unknown,
Vibrant scenes imagined in my sleep—
A Degas ballerina alone in her dressing room,
A wagon train backlit on the horizon,
A hummingbird dancing on the windowsill,
And a lemon tree in the church courtyard
Wherever I go in my dreams,
The air is balmy and sunlight abundant.
Trees sway and the scent of evergreen
Finds its way to my nose.
I dream because when this tired body hits the mattress,
It relaxes, then releases and gives up its earthly weight.
My eyes close and I sink to the deep recesses of my mind,
Setting the subconscious free.
Independence Day, Late 1970s (Rome, New York)
Whipped-cream clouds smear a powder blue sky,
while Grandpa nurses a carafe of Chianti
and dreams of waltzing down Bourbon Street.
The DeCosty family gathers on the patio,
with Uncle Fee roasting sausage and peppers
and Nana dribbling olive oil over fresh tomatoes,
then adding alternating pinches of basil and parsley.
Inside the backyard bordered by overgrown hedges,
the rambunctious cousins wham Wiffle balls
with a thin banana-colored plastic bat,
evoking the hollers of Grandpa . . .
who watches out for his mint-green aluminum shed,
situated perfectly in left-center field—
serving as our own Green Monster.
And when we get ahold of that little white ball,
it smacks up against the aluminum obstacle,
clashing like two marching band cymbals
in a halftime show.
And with sweat coursing down his neck,
Grandpa barks out his familiar line
under the patio awning:
“Son of a bitch . . . keep that goddamn ball
away from my shed.”
But Nana is always on our side,
and cancels out his power and keeps him in check.
“Fiore, you let those kids play and mind your mouth,”
Grandpa abandons his no-win cause,
turns up the volume on the Yankee game
and pours himself another glass of red wine.
He watches quietly as the shed stands erect
in the late afternoon sun,
sacrificing its facade for our slew of ground-rule doubles.
The most adorable pregnant bridesmaid ever
Waddles down the church’s center aisle,
Unable to hide her protruding belly.
And with her feet swollen,
Her lower back sore and forehead warm,
She endures the ceremony standing
On the altar beside the joyous couple.
But she nearly passes out while
Posing for pictures in the lakefront park.
Inside the reception hall,
She almost vomits at the sight
Of shrimp cocktail and chicken Florentine.
She orders hot tea and lemon from the top-shelf bar,
And dines on rolls and garden salad.
This single-mom-to-be, though not merry,
Offers a smile when others turn to stare,
And bobs her head to the music
As the guests hit the dance floor.
She nibbles on a sliver of white-frosted wedding cake,
And asks for guidance from her parish priest,
Wise old Father Meyer.
Then the bride overthrows the eager females huddled
Near the dance floor and the bouquet lands
Softly in the expectant mother’s lap.
Her face turns red as everyone looks at her.
So she just grabs the bouquet and throws it back.
While perusing for books in the library, I spotted a large volume entitled The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962. In the few moments I took to scan the 700-plus-page book, I felt like I peered into the troubled soul of the confessional poet and author of the novel The Bell Jar. Plath struggled with depression much of her life and committed suicide in 1963.
The intensity of the language in one of the passages from a section dated 22 November 1955 – 18 April 1956 captivated me, and I thought if you rearranged the sentences in verse form, they would construct a splendid poem. I had no sense of context from where Plath’s agitated emotions sprang, and standing in the library stacks, I felt a great sense of loss about Plath’s life and sadness that she took her unique voice with her to the grave.
Here’s an image of the passage I read:
Plath, Sylvia. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962. New York: Anchor Books, 2000.