Stephen Massimilla






ODE TO THE WATERMELON
                                             after Neruda

The canopy
of the tree of summer—
intense,
invulnerable—
is all bright sky,
yellow sun,
big drops of exhaustion,
it’s a sword
over the roads,
a burnt shoe
in the cities:
the sheer clarity, the world
overwhelms us,
stabs us in the eyes
with dust clouds,
with sudden gold fists,
it tortures
our feet
with little thorns,
with scalding stones,
and the mouth
suffers
more than the toes;
the throat,
the teeth and gums,
the lips and tongue
are all thirsty:
we want
to drink waterfalls,
the blue night,
the South Pole,
and then
what crosses the sky
is the freshest of all
the planets—
the round, supreme,
celestial watermelon.
It’s the fruit of the tree of thirst.
It’s the green whale of summer.

The dry universe
suddenly
spangled with dark seeds
from the firmament of coolness
lets the swelling fruit fall:
its hemispheres open,
showing a flag
of green, white, scarlet
that dissolves into
cascades, sugar,
and delight.
Jewel box of water, placid
queen
of the fruit market,
bodega, storehouse
of profundity,
moon on earth.
Pure globe,
in your abundance
rubies come undone,
and we would like
to bite into you,
drowning
our face,
our hair
in you, and
the soul!
We sense you
in our thirst
like
a mine or a mountain
of resplendent food,
but you change
between our teeth and our desire
into only
cool light
that slips
into a fountain
that touched us
with its singing.
And this way
you don’t weigh us down
in the scorching siesta,
you don’t burden us,
you only
pass ahead,
your great heart of cold embers
transformed into water,
a single drop.






ODE TO THE LEMON
                                  after Neruda

From those petals
let loose
by the light of the moon,
from that
aroma of exasperated
love,
drowned in fragrance,
yellow drifted
from the lemon tree;
and from its planetarium,
they descended to the earth—lemons.

Tender produce.
The coasts,
the markets filled
with light, with gold
ore,
and we opened
two halves
of a miracle,
congealed acid
that ran
from the hemispheres
of a star
and the most profound liqueur
of nature
incomparable, alive,
irreducible,
born of the freshness
of the lemon,
of its fragrant house,
of its secret acidic symmetry.

In the lemon, the knife
cuts a little
cathedral,
the hidden apse
that opened windows
of acidulous stained glass
to the light,
and the topaz
droplets riding down
the altars,
the cool architecture.

So, when your hand
clasps the hemisphere
of the cut
lemon over your plate,
a universe of gold
spills over,
a
yellow cup
of miracles,
one of the fragrant nipples
of the earth’s breast,
a flash of light made fruit,
the diminutive fire of a planet.






(HAIKU: FIVE SERVINGS)



MERGUEZ HAIKU

Fiery meat, spice of
Tunis, make my blood skip: siz-
zle, bite, filling, bliss.




LOCAL MARKET SEA TROUT

Ice-ribbed vessel—prow
flashing among waves and waves
of spring lettuces.



SEASONAL HAIKU

Spring blurring branches—
drizzled skies, cool drops plopping
in the eyes of fish.



PICNIC

Blackbirds land, peck their
shadows, refly—raucous song
to hungry June ears.



HALLOWEEN HAIKU

Carving crack-toothed grins.
Heaven-scent of orange flesh.
The cat climbs in to feast.





UNCRYPTED

Rescued leafless and gleaming,
lonely as a captive

Eastern Queen: the Pomegrante,
true fruit of Eden, womb-hive,

“seeded apple” of Persia,
ancient emissary
to the Mediterranean—

I would trace its lineaments
on a cave wall
in hematite, that crimson shade

of the underworld.

After scoring the tough
leather skin, then breaking

the jewel clusters
from their honeycombed
membranes,

I discover that never
will our language, our music
be the same.

Tender, glittering within
the fissures,
the arils stain the tongue

just so, the edge of want
never done.

It’s a contemplative occasion—

scarlet seeds squeezed
secretly into the mouth,

releasing their pulp
and juice, as the tongue

breaks free
of its crypt, connects

to the blood of the song.






ODE TO OLIVE OIL
                       after Neruda

Near the rumbling
grain, in the waves
of wind from the oat fields,

the olives:

their bulk of voluminous silver,
their rigorous lineage,
each knot,
each terrestrial heart—
the felicitous
olives
cleaned
for the fingers
that created
the dove
and the marine
snail:

green
innumerable
pristine
nipples
of nature,
and there
in
the dry
olive groves
where
only
the pale sky with cicadas
and hard earth
exist,
there
the prodigy,
the perfect
capsule
of the olive
filling
the leaves with its constellations:
and later
from the vessels,
the miracle,
the oil.

I love
the homelands of oil:
Chacabuco, in Chile,
in the morning,
platinum plumes,
forests
against the wrinkled
mountain cordilleras;
and in Anacapri, high
in the Tyrrhenian light,
the despair of the olives;
and on the map of Europe,
Spain,
a black basket of olives
dusted with lemon leaves
as if with a powdery ocean breeze.

Olive oil,
erudite and supreme
ingredient for a stewpot,
pedestal for partridges,
heavenly key to mayonnaise,
soft and savory
over the lettuce
and supernatural in the inferno
of the archiepiscopal mackerel.

Oil, in our voice,
in our chorus,
with
intimate,
powerful softness
you sing;
you are the Castilian
language:
there are syllables of oil,
there are words
useful and redolent
as your fragrant substance.

Not only wine can sing.
Olive oil sings as well;
it lives in us with its ripe light
among the blessings of the earth
that I unbind—
olive oil,
your inexhaustible peace,
your essential green,
your culminating treasure pouring down
from the fountains of the olive grove.




Copyright  ©  Stephen Massimilla 2013

 

Stephen Massimilla is a poet, critic, professor, and painter. His latest book, The Plague Doctor in His Hull-Shaped Hat, was selected in the Stephen F. Austin State University Press Poetry Prize competition. He has received the Bordighera Poetry Prize for Forty Floors from Yesterday; the Grolier Prize for Later on Aiaia; a runner-up citation for the Salmon Run National Poetry Book Award for Almost a Second Thought, selected by X.J. Kennedy; a Van Rensselaer Award, selected by Kenneth Koch; an Academy of American Poets Prize; and multiple Pushcart Prize nominations. Massimilla has recent work in AGNI, American Literary Review, Barrow Street, Bellingham Review, Chelsea, The Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, Epoch, The Greensboro Review, The Literary Review, Marlboro Review, Paterson Literary Review, Provincetown Arts magazine, Quarterly West, The Southern Review, The Spoon River Poetry Review, Tampa Review, and many other journals and anthologies. He holds an M.F.A. and Ph.D. from Columbia University and teaches literary modernism, among other subjects, at Columbia University and the New School.

For more info: www.stephenmassimilla.com