Tuesday 10 May 2022

Five Poems by Rafaella Del Bourgo


Shut the Door


Father shuts the door when the baby is dropped --

thank god for the carpet. The children cry

though the baby does not and he feeds her

pudding from the tips of his fingers.


Close out the sound of his voice

teaching the children that cows say baa,

sheep lift their heads to bark,

and chickens growl, deep within their beaks.


In a long hall, father holds mother, sister holds baby,

all silent in green plastic chairs.

Brother sleeps in the hospital room, one kidney

resting in a dish, his eyes shut against brilliant pain.


At home mother finds the note from that lady in the choir,

pink paper, sharp gilt edges.

It dares say, “Your wife is so lucky.”

“Get the hell out of this house,” Mother snaps at Father, “and shut the door.”


Close your eyes so we can’t see father in the rain

hauling boxes to the round, red car,

mother mopping the kitchen floor

like there was nothing in there he wanted anyway.


Now, where’s father?  Sister’s kissing that teenage boy,

his tongue a tourist in her mouth, hands traveling

her countryside.  She laughs, pushes him up against the door.

Somebody call 911; she’s twelve years old and on fire. 

Drug Wars, 1971


It comes on.

I lie with Mike in front of the fire.

Surges through the bloodstream;

showers of sparks swim their way home.


Mike’s friends at the table behind us

talk about killing someone. A rival dealer.


The television gets turned up. 

Try to cover their voices.

News announcer says,

Viet Nam.  Body bags.  Body

bags.  Black plastic.


Lead him out into the blasted night,

along a tapering road, waning moon.

Shoot him down before he screams,

bury him fast. 

Or, run him over; cover the body with a tarp

and let that be a warning. 


I blink on with each breath in. 

Off with each breath out.

The oak floor bites my bones,

pillow under my head stinks of long-ago dog.


Our hostess barks,

Those suggestions

just aren’t practical.


Cat Stevens sings,

Peace Train,

Everybody get on the peace train.


A door opens and closes.

Someone enters.  Someone leaves.

Clump of heavy boots,

muddy water sloshing in the corridor.


The monsoon.  Two guys on guard duty; 

one tries to light a joint,

muzzle flash,

the other is shouting and

something big explodes.


Arms and legs, 

heavy and useless lengths of meat.

            If I could move,

            I’d drive out of Berkeley and never return,

            clear across the country to Palm Beach, Florida.

            Befriend an elderly woman. 

            Play Scrabble, stroke her cross-eyed cat,

            walk home to a cottage

glistening in a sun-shower.

            Fruiting banana trees, birds of paradise.


We swallowed gelcaps

in torrential rain.


Mike had said, Pure pleasure.

Pure pleasure

from the sassafras root.


Right hand begins to burn,

to leak.

Drifts away from me.


Dust and grit,

a lost butterfly barrette,

one antenna bitten off by a snake.

Slip it into a pocket

and now it’s mine.


That woman at the table smiles,

offers us rum. 

Don’t tell

anyone, she hisses.

My jaw, frozen.

Clamped shut, hinges vibrating.


Only the fire is not afraid.

Speaks for itself

in a foreign tongue. 

A Whole Truckload of Bread


On the road to Makaha,

I pass a pick-up truck

packed with loaves of bread

tied down with twine

as if the bread were so light

it could fly off

to children’s hungry tables.


I imagine myself,

stained apron around my waist,

toes dug into the red Hawaiian earth,

making thousands of pieces of French toast --

cracking a bathtub full of eggs,

stirring in a pail of milk,

scooping cinnamon with a mug,

nutmeg with a serving spoon.

Salt is drizzled in from my fist

and then I fry slice after slice,

butter spattering in a pan

the size of a wading pool.


Syrup drips down their chins

and the children try to lick it up.

Sly and greedy,

they kick at bare-rumped dogs

weaving among their ankles.

The stacks of French toast

are sprinkled with the dust

from angels’ wings

but there is no time to speak of this because


the children are busy eating

tens, dozens of pieces

and this is good.

I want to keep them here,

in this makeshift kitchen,

under a breathless sky,

cutting and chewing their breakfast,

their stomachs warm now and rounded,

their mouths stuck shut

with sugar. 

At the Art Institute, Chicago, 1974


I go into the Ladies room.

The lounge has padded benches

like lips stretched tight.

I curl down into myself and cry.


The cleaning lady with her mop, her pail,

sucks hard on her cigarette to finish it,

tosses the butt into the ashtray,

crosses to me, sits so close

our thighs touch,

and bursts into tears.


After a couple of minutes,

she licks her wedding ring,

tongue lingering over facets,

then watches the sparkle on diamond chips,

asks, Why are we crying?


I tell her about The Irish Troubles,

the knock on my lover’s Belfast door,

the one single shot to the heart,

his blood, redder than his beard, his hair.

How his mother had called and told me,

No point in coming here now; there’s nothing left.


The woman takes my hand in hers,

strokes it the way you would a baby’s back

when you hope she will fall asleep.

We become silent and still,

a bas relief,

two connected figures

half-swallowed by a leather mouth:

“Women, Weeping.”

The Huon Valley Road, Lower Longley, Tasmania


At five p.m., as usual,

the farmer across the road

whistled commands to his dog

who quartered the paddock,

rounded up lazy cattle,

sent them, bellies swaying,

in long lines back to the barn

for food and warmth,

the relief of milking, while

a small group of young bulls still grazed

on the other side of the fence.


Two hours later I walked alone

down the road to the Johnsons

who fed me along with their daughters.

We finished with applesauce cake and tea.

Len, in a bent-wood rocker,

read about medical mysteries of the east.

Ruth loaned me a wheel. I set it spinning

and the girls carded wool for us while watching TV.

The whole room began to hum.


At home, you returned, late as always.

I made you dinner.

You told me everything,

asked about nothing.

Sipped a brandy,

kissed me on the cheek,

and fell asleep.


In the morning, off you drove again

in our pale grey Holden.

I watched through the picture window as

the cows grew larger and you grew smaller,

then disappeared around the big bend

with the burned-out house,

only its chimney standing.


Rafaella Del Bourgo’s writing has appeared in Puerto Del Sol, Rattle, Oberon, Nimrod, and The Bitter Oleander. She has won many awards including the League of Minnesota Poets Prize in 2009. In 2010, she won the Alan Ginsberg Poetry Award. She was also the 2010 winner of the Grandmother Earth Poetry Award.  In 2012 Ms. Del Bourgo won the Paumanok Poetry Award.  In 2013 she was the recipient of the Northern Colorado Writers first prize for poetry and in 2014, the New Millennium Prize for Poetry.  In 2017 she won the Mudfish Poetry Prize and was nominated for the third time for a Pushcart Prize.  Her chapbook Inexplicable Business: Poems Domestic and Wild was published by Finishing Line Press.  She lives in Berkeley with her husband.


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