alice d’alessio | days we are given

22 12 2009

PoetryDispatch No. 305 | December 23, 2009

Alice D’Alessio

Days We Are Given

DAYS WE ARE GIVEN is Alice D’Alessio’s third book of poetry, an “Earth’s Daughters” chapbook contest winner for 2009, and a winner in every way a poet makes sense and beauty of her life through words.

I’m proud to say that Cross+Roads Press published her first major collection in 2004, A BLESSING OF TREES, which won the Council for Wisconsin Writers Posner Prize for poetry. It was an immediate bestseller, admired for the delicacy and depth of Alice’s poems, the sheer beauty of the book’s layout and design.

I’m proud to say as well that Alice is one of those Cross+Roads Press writers who moved beyond ‘first publication’ with Cross+Roads to test the waters elsewhere with new manuscripts—and continued success. A new collection of hers, Conversations with Thoreau, has been contracted for with Parallel Press, UW Madison.

DAYS WE ARE GIVEN continues to explore the poet’s personal history, joy, pain, revelation…the coming to terms with time, relationships…the comfort in those days we are given. Here is a poet who loves the play of words—and plays them well, perfect pitch, the harmony of past and present.

The book is divided into three sections: “Things Left Unsaid,” “Infinite Discords.” and “Days we Are Given” Each a book unto itself. All together…where the harmony comes through. –Norbert Blei

CODA

for my mother

You broke my heart, you said.
And then you died

leaving the two raw pieces in my lap,
like weeping pomegranate.

Because I tasted the seeds and knew
the underworld? Because your meadows

couldn’t hold me, and beyond the fence
I found a wilderness more tempting

than you – virtuous as a nun –
could comprehend? Was I to blame?

You loved the idea of my life: dinners for eight,
bright kids, bright flowers, filling your dreams

of domesticity. Was it wrong
to hide frayed edges as they pulled apart?

Only daughter of a lonely mother
I was doomed to disappoint

as every seed you planted escaped
your nurturing to flaunt

its own wild weedy dance.
Look, the marsh marigolds we treasured

have disappeared this spring
gobbled by deer, overrun by reed canary grass
but still the redwing blackbird sings.

SONNET FOR MY FATHER

All down the long, dark halls they sit and wait
like faded pansies in July. Help me, they say,
the voice a prayer that comes too late:
help me to not grow old or take me away.
My parents are here, where they never meant to be,
hothoused, like all the rest. Reduced from book
to page to paragraph, their memories consigned to me;
their vision gone. How short a time it took

to steal their worth – my mother’s clever hands,
my father’s love of books. He copied and reread
the words of Freud, Carnegie, Franklin, tried to understand
their secrets; wanted poems to rhyme – how else, he said,
can they be poems? Daddy, this is for you.
You gave me the words. Arrangement, I can do.

TWO CHAIRS

A narrow street, all in confusion,
the children scrabbling back and forth
on muddy cobblestones,
and you in tweeds, impeccable.
I say, we need to talk.
We always needed to talk
and never did, back then –
our words
boxed in like inventory
along the shelves of gritted teeth.

I drag the chairs, position them just so.
Cheap lawn chairs, they move easily,
scrape the cobblestones
like metal fingers.
Too close, too far away. I keep moving them –
facing each other? Side by side?
An inch or two this way, and that. As if
all the world depends on how we sit.
As if we are Palestinian and Jew
forging impossible treaties,
and not two nice people who never learned to talk,
who let the silence go on widening
to a chasm no words could ever bridge.

WAKING UP

When I tell you about my dream,
I think you’ll understand:

we are standing on a pebbly shore –
last summer’s shore – at sunset
and the waves keep rolling toward us
with crests of coppery fire,
and troughs, deep indigo.
In the dream, they lose brightness
as they pile up at our feet
in thick translucent folds –
rise to our ankles, knees,
to our waists. I know we will drown soon.

You watch calmly and say,
that’s how it is. I scream
and try to run, but cant move,
my feet buried in sticky muck
as the dream unravels.

See? I say.

But you don’t see, because you don’t dream.
And you tell me again
in that off-handed way,
you’re crazy, you know.
And anyhow
, you say,
you didn’t drown, did you?

WE READ THE NEWS

and yet, we make up shopping lists,
schedule physical eighteen months from now,
go on the Net to scout resorts
for winter getaway, look at map of Italy
and say the soft names yet again.

Buy membership at fitness center,
for three years of pedaling, pumping iron;
plant trees for the next century, pausing
from time to time with sudden gasp,
as if a cold chill lapped our ankles.

We sign papers that promise
long term care, mark the calendar
for lunch in trendy pub
where, benched and boothed in hum
and chatter, we study laminated menus,

weigh the merits of gorgonzola pasta
as if our lives hung in the balance
as if the sheer number of decisions,
stacked like sandbags, will hold it at bay –
the silent tsunami gathering force in the rearview mirror.

INVENTORY

How we dug in fifteen logs for steps
to carry us up the back hill
to the farmer s fence,
named it Sunset Boulevard;
put a bench there facing west;
six startled cow-eyes looking back
like, What?

How we tried to make a prairie –
burning, lugging eighteen buckets of seed
and flinging in wide arcs till we ached
and dropped exhausted on the deck,
and watched five crows
pick out their favorites. How on our knees
we cheered the ruddy clumps of bluestem,
the first three stalks of Indian Plantain,
Compass Plant. It takes a thousand years
to make a prairie, but we could tell ourselves
this was the start.

How we watch some hundred billion stars
slide left to right each night
while coyotes wail off-key
and bats dip and swoop
in their nightly smorgasbord.

We’ll be old here, perhaps next year,
and maybe the world will fracture –
sluff away under its sorrows –
but you and I have counted these moments,
balanced the tally, and called ourselves rich.

Editor’s Note: DAYS WE ARE GIVEN is available directly from the author, 3418 Valley Creek Circle, Middleton, WI 53562, $8.00 plus $2.00 for shipping and handling. The book is also available from Earth’s Daughters, P.O. Box 61, Central Park Station, Buffalo, New York, 14215. Website Earth’sDaughters.org.






alice d’alessio | questions for henry

22 12 2008

kiss

Poetry Dispatch No. 261 | December 19, 2008


Editor’s Note: The real payoff in teaching—and in publishing the work of others, should you be also engaged—is the satisfaction of seeing a student, a friend, (eventually a fellow-writer’s work) come back to you in other publications, literary mags, books…accomplishments, accolades galore. (“I remember her/him when…”), Not that you can in anyway lay claim to another’s success or talent, but only that “you were there” in some way to witness the beginning, the development, and perhaps in some small way gave a little nudge.

Sometimes the attention happens suddenly. More often, years pass. Either way, the journey is a lifetime—which both (I hesitate to use the word ‘teacher’ as well as ‘student’) realize though may not express because anyone seriously treading the writer’s path knows it is filled with potholes, wrong turns, dead ends, economic insecurity, considerable failure. No guarantees.

Real writers know the commitment is to the word alone—for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health… And one (teacher/friend) never forgets the other (student/friend/teacher). The writer/teacher wants to see the friend/former student succeed on his or her own terms. Find her voice. Let it be heard.

blessingAll this by way of mentioning a friend, former ‘student’, a poet whose book, A BLESSING OF TREES, Cross+Roads Press, published in 2004.

All this by way of mentioning my joy in discovering a beautiful new poem of Alice’s in the current issue of the little magazine, FREE LUNCH, edited and published by poet Ron Offen.

FREE LUNCH has published some of the best poets in America and abroad. Editor/publisher, Ron Offen, sets the acceptance bar quite high. I wouldn’t say he’s a strict traditionalist, but he honors form, music, substance. You had better know what the hell you’re doing, and not waste his time just stringing together lines of plain prose and making it ‘look’ like poetry. (Their ain’t no ‘free lunch’ for you, friend, at Ron Offen’s poetry restaurant)

This is a great little mag to support, by the way. Single issues, such as this one that Alice is in (FREE LUNCH #40) cost $5 . Paid subscriptions (three issues) are $12. It’s a good way to stay in touch with some of the best work that’s out there. If money in these poor economic times is a problem–you might suggest your local library subscribe to it—for the sake of writers, all lovers of poetry in the community.

freelunchFREE LUNCH
P.O. Box 717
Glenview, IL 60025-0717

Here’s

Alice’s new poem—only the first stanza, and the first three lines of the last stanza. I’m holding back on the last 8 lines in the hope you’ll send a small Christmas gift to a good little poetry magazine that remains dedicated to celebrating the human spirit all year long, for many years now. No small thing. $5 will get you this issue, #40. $12, three issues.

Thank you all…Alice especially for “questioning Henry”…for following the true path. —Norbert Blei

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QUESTIONS FOR HENRY

My greatest skill has been to want little. –Henry David Thoreau

by
Alice D’Alessio

How little, Henry?
Didn’t you hanker for a haunch
of venison, and a pint
with the local lads? A fierce game
of bowls on the lawn,
pummeling the backs of the winning team?
A ride on that newfangled train,
racing at 30 miles per hour,
with the wind
licking your cheeks, ruffling your whiskers?

Or, how about
a warm and breathing body
next to yours?

…(continued in FREE LUNCH





alice d’alessio | three poems

28 01 2008

Poetry Dispatch No. 208 | January 28, 2008

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Three Poems by Alice D’Alessio

norb3neu.jpg When people question why I devote so much personal time and energy to projects such as Poetry Dispatch, the answer seems very clear to me: because too many fine writers never receive the attention they deserve. Alice D’Alessio, another case in point. She’s as good the best poets on the American scene today, yet she’s barely known in her own state of Wisconsin, where she can write circles around many of the highly touted poets-in-universities who know how the game is played, appear regularly in all the ‘important’ literary journals, receive all the grants, get paid to read their work at other universities, and inevitably find their way to major presses, small and large. Why Alice’s work has not appeared in the hallowed POETRY magazine after all these years…well, go ask the literary entrepreneurs who run that enterprise.

blessing.gifShe has published only two beautiful books to date (and I do mean beautiful in design and content)…both books limited editions, and both books out of print. The first, SOMEBODY LIVED HERE ONCE is long gone. The second, A BLESSING OF TREES, which my press published (500 copies) four years ago is also long gone, but occasionally a copy surfaces, one way or another I get my hands on it, and when I do, I ‘offer’ it (at a collector’s/negotiable price) to a list I keep of people looking for specific back copies of CR+Press works. I’ll be happy to add your name to the list, if you are interested.

Alice’s poems are highly crafted works of art shaped by a deep love for language, ‘the’ exact word to capture precisely the moment she wants us to share. If you have ever held the tiniest bird in your hand, felt…well, that’s what many of Alice’s poems are like. Norbert Blei

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Somebody Lived Here Once and woke to bird songs by Alice D’Alessio

The first chirp comes at 4 a.m. in May
after a night of barred owl
coyote howl, and yes,
the whippoorwill.

We don’t know who he was
or what he did—his tiny cabin
just big enough for
rusty wood stove and a bed.

Outside, the pump and somewhere,
no doubt, tho’ long gone now
an outhouse, weathered—its rank fragrance
mellowing into earth.

Once in the woods
I stumbled on foundations
of long-gone buildings, up the hill,
under the gloom of oak
and basswood trees,
buried in honeysuckle, blackberry
wild geranium. Close by
the barn—gray, hand-hewn timbers
rough notched at ends, to fit
and stand for decades—now tumbled in
on bales of wire. old tires
and rusted wash tubs. It’s 30 years
that we have owned this place
and yes it keeps its secrets.
Who planted the apple trees?
Who plowed the field, where
corrugations underfoot, hidden
beneath the goldenrod,
attest his dreams?

And did he count the fireflies on a summer night?

from SOMEBODY LIVED HERE ONCE, The Valley Poems; privately printed, 20 copies, Madison WI, 1997

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Saving the Forest by Alice D’Alessio

On my desk, a hawk’s skull
thin as parchment
rests in its pottery cradle beside
the ivory clenched talons;
acorns and fluted walnuts
sleep in an oak-leaf nest
their tasks undone.

Gleanings from the forest,
they whisper of soft rain, wild wind,
their fiber woven from millennia of adaptations-
spring’s wanton surge and autumn ripening.
I keep them close at hand.

If I store them
in stoppered urns
hand-painted with Druid symbols

If I take them out when the moon
silvers the birch,
rub my fingers on their sacred skin,
turn slowly around three times
chanting the dove’s slow plaint,

will the stealthy ones cease their invasion?
Will the earth cool, the rains come?

Will this be enough?

blessing.giffrom A BLESSING OF TREES, Cross+Roads Press, 2004

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Something for the Journey by Alice D’Alessio

Suppose, for instance,
this is the last morning. You never know.
You wake to find a wet snow
has sneaked in after midnight
wrapping the branches
with an airy gauze, spangled with diamonds
so that every snarly twig and tendril
is an epiphany of white
etched against the purplish-blue
of an undecided sky.

And you want to be sure to seize it,
store it in scented linens,
in carved and gilded coffers
along with last May’s poppies,
August sunlight spilling its motes and spores
among the pines and sandstone cliffs,
and a copy of your only perfect poem.

Because we must take something with us,
like the pharaohs.

blessing.giffrom A BLESSING OF TREES, Cross+Roads Press, 2004

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Editor’s Note: Check www.poetrydispatch.wordpress.com for an archived edition of this dispatch in the next few days. Please send others there as well to experience some of the best writing to be found anywhere on the net.








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