PoetryDispatch No. 305 | December 23, 2009
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
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.
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 –
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.
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.
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
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.