What Do You Call This?
C. By The Sea
This piece is about 5 printed pages long.
It is copyright © Carmine Starnino and Jacket magazine 2007.
What Do You Call This?
My grandfather kept his in his pocket,
taking it out only at dinner. I own one too.
More emblem than tool really, but I love the way
it answers my grip, perfectly weighted,
light, the small crook of its handle
hugging my pinky, the blade curved
like the C of my own name, so that
whatever I need to cut, I need to cut
towards me, my thumb steadying
the object, then a surgical half-sweep
my grandfather used to shear away
a bit of cheese, a chunk of bread,
or to divvy up a peach, piling the pieces
in his glass of red wine. And me, what
do I use it for? To sharpen my pencil.
Its crescent tooth bites into the wood, moving oh
so quick and deep, this doohicky sickle,
this whatsit scythe. Rongetta. Ron-get-ta.
Owning nothing, there is, I see today, a touch of those cars
about my life, a touch of decay in that flotsom of chrome
I recognize, demanding a new curiosity, a new eye to roam
chock-lifted hatchbacks and overturned trucks, vans crushed
and strewn on cinder blocks, all that automotive cartilage
and bone, the mounting lugs, drive shafts, and valves, that
high-rise of mess, that pile gagging on its own size, and then
to have the clutter just sit there, so big you feel really bad
for the ground bearing the brunt of it, scattered and busted,
dismantled, maxed-out — everything allowed its hundredth
free-fall into flaw, leather seats with rips whooping open
on white fluff grins, kicked-in windshields, gutted engines,
and hoods sporting splatter patterns of corrosion as bright
as blood, then there’s the flacking of mud, and colour here
nothing more than the crash of tinctures. And the surfaces?
Oh, fish-scaled or brindled or grease-charred or scratched
like Arabic scribble, paint the tint of fruit sickened with rot,
dense exfoliate pinpricks of umber that crust lichen-thick,
or ochre hemorrhaging up through some scraped-off yellow.
Then the ground freaked with patches of oil, and, tree-like,
a tall stack of tires black-barked with treads. The air tastes
of it, whatever it is that stains the hubcab’s bowlful of rain,
and from deep inside that heap — part Hieronymus Bosch,
part Mad Max — you can hear the ticking of some fragment
expanding as it loses its last faint bloom of warmth. Look,
all these scummy windows reply with a version of myself
peeking into smudge-lit interiors at erstwhile dashboards prinked
with accessories and imagine this ‘70 Pontiac motoring off
in an open road afterlife — unless, of course, this is it, unless
erosion is a category of endurance, unloved and unlovely,
and the hereafter is simply what remains when you’re left
with what survives its subtraction (and what’s left is always
some old, odd scotched part — iron-gray chassis, gashed grille,
door frayed off its hinges). Better yet, you’d think all this
would foul a sunny spring day but this junk has lived here
so long beside the half-darkened wood it’s now one more
disbursement of nature, the weather taking metal back to its
first motive, becoming a new growth, a small rust blessing.
C. By The Sea
Binoculars on tankers during my stake-out in Bob’s cottage in Saint John.
It’s steady-going over level water, cloud-coloured,
flat-as-a-tin water, far enough out to reach with your fingertip,
and tiny enough. All week I have a great view
of this view, take notice long enough to feel there’s never enough time,
then turn back to the table, to where I left off.
Such comings and goings are just a tenth of the tale.
At night, reading e-mail, this place one of the last lights before the open sea.
A cry like a child in pain jolts me awake saying
what the fuck, enough to put me off sleep
for good. The sound is slow, hackles-raising and unrelenting
— but then, isn’t that the point, that it begs
to be stopped, the horny-down-to-the-bone moan
of an animal abandoned to its instincts
and thus made unfit for our world? Across the alley,
inside a yard with around-the-clock junk,
it pleads its case: nicotine-yellow, upthrust rump,
heart-shaped face trapped in a bestial, blunt,
eyes-shut rendition of lust. Something like the first
fish taste of a woman in my mouth: the howl of a body
hormonally deranged. Unspayed, unsated, singing its song of woe,
of whoa, an a cappella punk yodel that dogged me back to a bed.
The day dressed in brackish hints, morning after
we grilled one-inch salmon steaks,
hiss-sputter of fat
sperm-whitening on flame — downwind of dishes
unwashed, slick-sealed with marinade
and a night-long bestirring of juices
humidity now uses to goose the air
half-wild with ripenesses, morning after
not quite reek, but food-funk,
like sun’s trace-taste on neck, back, and leg
or milk, left out, pleasing itself.
Waking, too, to an authorless odor
quoted all around us
then suddenly cited: sweated-in staleness of leather sandals
flung in a corner, morning after
we wear nothing but garlic on our fingers:
a touch that always rubs off,
a smell that wants the run of the place.
Carmine Starnino has published three volumes of poetry for which he has won numerous awards, including the Canadian Authors Association Prize, the A.M. KleinPrize, and the F.G. Bressani Prize, in addition to being shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Prize for best first book. He is the author of A Lover’s Quarrel, a collection of essays on Canadian poetry, and the editor of The New Canon: An Anthology of Canadian Poetry. A new book of poems is forthcoming in 2008.
Acknowledgments: “What Do You Call This?”. From Credo (McGill-Queens, 2000). “Junkyard”. From With English Subtitles (Gaspereau Press, 2004).
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