ronald baatz | devouring birds

31 08 2012

POETRY DISPATCH No. 381 | August 31, 2012


Editor’s Note: Access, accountability, attention… What is it about those writers who speak to us and those to whom we turn a deaf ear…because those who speak to us are what they write, are what we need to know (more) about ourselves? Only they open that door. Invite us immediately into their home, their heart, their life.

Paging through another new book by Ronald Baatz, I come across:

“I cannot read Williams tonight, but I can read Para.” I’m hooked immediately, knowing Williams, knowing Para…wondering where the hell is Baatz going with that line? With Para in particular? “Williams seems like a stranger while Para is like/a friend who has come to drink and spend the night.” Well, you gotta love that. … “But tonight I want to listen to Parra talk about being an old man./… “Should an old man living alone/have a dog?/Should the dog be old also? Would it be better if/the dog were to die first?…”

This is his BIG book (maybe Baatz’s biggest). 155 pages, New and Selected Poems. On the upper left-hand corner of very last page sits a tiny, untitled, final poem all by itself:

Orange peels-
the shadows of them
as I remember
the shadows of them
curling in childhood.

“curling” …brilliant. No poem without it.

Welcome (back) to Baatz’s world. A world of curling orange peels, of parents shuffling into the surrealism of age (the poet but a few steps behind)…of loneliness, birds, dogs, sheep, friends, world famous writers, artists, musicians who sustain a poet’s own words, women who come and go like Michelangelo…

Oh, hell. Open the door yourself. I’m still stuck in Baatz’s desert where I always thought I would find myself at the very end. — Norbert Blei


I cannot live here when I am old.
It is too cold for many months out of the year.
As it is, I am having a rough time dealing with
the cold now. When I am old I want to live
in the desert. I suppose this is a common goal
for people who live in the cold. Although, thankfully,
this past winter was a blessing, so unbelievably mild was it.
The morning newspaper explains why
there is such an abundance of yellowjackets.
I was stung recently. I was sitting on the green lawn chair
at the back of the house, minding my own business, reading,
when suddenly I felt an itch on my leg. As I scratched this itch,
one of these yellowjackets let me have it. It had managed to crawl
up my leg, underneath my pants. After stinging me
it fell to the ground and walked away; for some reason not flying,
perhaps too exhausted from having stung me.
My first instinct was to kill it; instead I just moved away from it.
I will leave these heavenly purple mountains to the bugs and the bears
and whatever else wants to claim them as their own.
I do not want to be exposed to such cold when I am old.
I want to bake in the sun. I want to be like a dried fig.
If I had money, then living here would not be such a hardship.
I’d be able to defend myself from the cold with money.
But there is none, and there appears to be nothing I can do
to rectify this problem. I live where the winters are harsh and
I have no way of keeping myself warm. I am profoundly disappointed
in myself. I will not even have the money necessary to move
to the desert when the time comes. So why do I even talk about it,
dream about it. I have been pathetic at creating a decent income.
I will die in this lousy cold. I can see it all now: when I die
others will come to take my body away, my belongings.
They will make a thorough search of my room for money
that I might have hidden away, and they will find not a dime.
Then they will unearth thousands
of poems, and they will know why.


I find it is a good time in my life to be reading the autobiography
of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. When Marquez was a child he was
able to gain the attention of adults by telling stories in which he
greatly distorted the details. As an adult he carried this
lovely habit into the writing of his books, even when it came time
to tell the story of his life. The beautiful, magical occurrences that
take place in this telling make it easier for me to accept the horrors
of Alzheimer’s that plague my father. His twisted, misshapen
memories, his hallucinations, his forgetting from one moment
to the next, his face contorting with fear; all this seems slightly more
bearable to me when I feel like a fish at the bottom of the sea
looking up at the stars crying in their infancy. Unfortunately,
Marquez is of no help whatsoever to my mother. His disease
might be the death of her before it is the death
of him. The amount of patience needed to interact with my father
is almost too much to ask of a person. Yesterday
she ended up in the bank crying to a teller. Crying
in public is becoming more and more frequent for her.
She doesn’t know from one day to the next what awaits her.
It’s questionable whether we will have a birthday party
for him this summer. Would he be able to play the role
of a birthday person with even a stitch of understanding
and joyfulness? Would he recognize who came to the party to
celebrate his being ninety years old? Would everyone
appear as a dangerous stranger? Would the gathering
cause him to be capsized in dark bewilderment and sorrow? But,
he has always said that he wanted to live to be one hundred.
Now this miraculous event might indeed come to pass, at
least in his head, since when he last spoke of the subject he
proclaimed that he will be one hundred on his next birthday. And
if he recognizes not a soul at the party, then it will no doubt
feel to him as though he has lived “a hundred years of solitude.”


I meet my mother at the lawyer’s office in town.
We thought it best to talk about my being given
health care proxy and power of attorney for
my father without him initially being present.
The lawyer’s on Main Street. He has new shoes.
He is a very quiet and accommodating man with overly
bushy eyebrows that might crawl off
his forehead at any second. His secretary, the older one,
performs all the small talk about the weather.
The younger is obsessed with eating a bowl of frosted flakes.
We are in there for a very long half an hour,
charged one hundred dollars which I find cheap. Afterwards,
I suggest to my mother that we have coffee together,
but she says she should get back to the house as soon
as possible since my father is being looked after by a neighbor.
So, crossing the street, I walk her to her car. She holds
onto my hand. Her hand is the hand of a woman in her eighties.
It is diminished and bony but still capable of being firm.
She was an exceptionally beautiful woman. Still is. I was always
so proud of the fact, when I was a kid, of just how beautiful
my mother was. Naturally enough, I could never understand how
my father had managed to actually have this woman in his life.
I lived with the suspicions that he could read such thoughts in
my eyes. But, I’m well aware of the fact that their love endures
on a level I may never know. I feel like weeping right here
in the street. I help her into her car. She makes a u-turn and
drives off in the direction rain is coming from. I stand there,
rooted in front of a closed movie theater in a decaying town
that lies between a river and a creek. It is a morning in April.
At some point Alzheimer’s could force us to put my father in
a nursing home. I don’t talk to my mother about this too much.
We know the possibility exists. I dread the day when
I’ll be responsible for separating them. It will be like
tearing the wings off a bird and throwing them up in the air and
expecting them to fly.


There’s a sadness to it, of course, my becoming more
and more isolated from the world. I remember, years ago,
when I was living at the motel, there was this woman who
used to come and go, sometimes staying for months at a time.
Every so often I’d go over to her room, sit around, and talk with her.
The room would smell from clove cigarettes and dirty wash.
Over the lampshades pieces of clothing were draped, to bring
the light down to the most remarkable dimness. This light
never failed to charm and attract me, as a moth would be
attracted to a bright light (although, I suppose moths are
drawn to dim light also). Anyway, I find myself steadily
becoming increasingly like this woman, and it’s not always
the most comfortable realization. Although, I cannot say
that I am living with dirty wash. No, this I cannot admit to.
If anything, I’m fanatical about washing clothes. My
clothing has worn thin, not from my wearing it but from
the continuous washings. But, my god, like this woman
I’m letting the house go dark. She died at the motel, from cancer.
Some nights I’d see her crossing the parking lot, meager flesh
on her bones, and she’d knock on my door and she’d ask me
to play Mozart on my stereo set. She loved Mozart.
In her youth she had been a very promising violist, but
injury and shock from a fire had made her a ghost
of her old talent, her old self. I used to feed her also,
the miniscule amount she was capable of eating.
She loved sharing a thin sandwich as much as
she loved Mozart. I told her it takes
a lot of solitude to write a poem.
She told me it takes a lot of solitude
to die.

[from: DEVOURING BIRDS, New and Selected Poems, Blind Dog Press, Australia,2012.]

More on Ronald Baatz can be found via his web page by clicking here…




One response

1 09 2012
br james

fritz–check this guy out–he’s one of us!–jimko

On Fri, Aug 31, 2012 at 12:39 PM, poetry dispatch & other notes from the

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