ISSUE SEVEN
May 1999

David Citino

David Citino David Citino teaches at Ohio State University. He is the author of ten books of poetry, most recently The Book of Appassionata: Collected Poems, Broken Symmetry and The Weight of the Heart.   He is the editor of the prose work The Poet's Eye: Six Views on Writing Poetry, to be published by Oxford University Press in 2000.
Venice Declares War on Pigeons    Click to hear this poem in RealAudio

—AP

for Dominic


There are photos and slides in a closet,
stored too in the dark of my skull.
A son of mine, still a child—though yesterday
I met the woman he says he’ll marry—

stoops in the Piazza San Marco as if
he bore the weight of the ten pigeons who,
having achieved flight, surpassing
the bipedal waddle we do, having

dominion over their heavier brethren,
rise to claim his bag of popcorn.
His face is radiant, the moment of perfection.
(Is it only in childhood the soul

has such control over bone?)
It's as if by coming all the way
from Ohio to this magic place he holds
the scene together, even San Marco,

staggering Frankenstein monster
of beauty. My boy rises off stones to do
a little dance with lilting creatures,
birds which still today inhabit

the kingdoms of paper and air.
City authorities, citing disease, filth,
are bringing in nets, cylinders
of poison, army marksmen.

Amid the jewels, hourless breaths
of Byzantine gold, under the Campanile,
next to the Doges’ Palace, a city
where death, water and light conspire

to elevate us, there is soon to be
a slaughter. I will find those photos,
carry them outside, start a fire. Smoke
from my pyre will twist off the paper.

Fat, dirty little angels will dance forever
on the shoulders of my smiling boy.

 

 

Depressed by a Review, I Walk Toward
the Mall   
Click to hear this poem in RealAudio


"Citino's poem about Christopher Columbus is... pungent... but it lacks the psychological complexity of Tennyson's work."—American Book Review


Wait, let me get this straight, I say:
a poet great as all get-out out-got me?
I stand convicted of being just me.

Filet o' Fish wrappers stained with flecks
of special sauce, soggy fries,
shreds of lettuce limp and brown,

broken straws scrabble through
the cracked asphalt of parking lot
to collect at ivied K-Mart walls,

like wreckage of a heart discerned
too well. Through golden arches
tumble the sad permutations of my soul.

Tennyson was the Man—OK? A stud,
large as Elvis in the Blue Hawaii period,
spill of grandiloquent Cambridge beard,

sage, aged visage. He was known far
and wide as The Poet of the Victorian Age,
and was made a Lord, for Christ's sake.

My diplomas, of acidic State of Ohio
paper, age less gracefully. Were Tennyson
alive today he could be an MTV VeeJay,

Coldwell Banker realtor, televangelist
or game-show host just by opening
his vatic mouth, while my voice

is pure Cleveland—West Side no less.
This mall is no Crystal Palace, I certainly
no bard. Still, seeking solace in beauty,

I step toward the thonged, gartered
mannequins of Victoria's Secret,
mourning the ungrandeur of my days.

 

 

Reading the M.R.I. Report,
the Retired Pastor Considers Dementia  Click to hear this poem in RealAudio


Days when the body tells me it’s found
another way to say Oh no you don't,
I try not to think about the nothing
I'll become—except perhaps in the minds
of those who know me, the hearts
of the few who love—when I go to ash.

(Not that I'll be able actually to do anything
about it. The ash I mean.) Stop thinking,
I say to myself, as you'd say to a child
No talking in church. I've two ways
of talking to myself inwardly (inwordly,
I almost wrote), my intimate monologue.

There's the way I say using words,
as if I were speaking on the record
for someone listening in on my thoughts.
(This may come from a noisy childhood,
my head filled with garrulous saints,
angels, demons, and the three Gods,

one of whom—or is it Whom?—had wings
and cooed like a bird.) Then there is
the lightning, too-fast-to-hear thought
by which I will myself to jerk the car
from chattering squirrels or kids going
from one oak or game to another 

across the road, the wordless ways
I communicate with mind, heart, arm.
Don't give it another thought, the saying goes.
How can I (not)? I can’t know I'm not
thinking. No voices. No chants. Nothing—
but keeping track of the nothing is now

the postmodern occupation, itself
a thought, perhaps the most important one
we have. No way out of this haunted church
of neurons. We scream at ourselves,
or whisper, or make that silent speech
inside the confessional of dark old bone.

Is the voice I use when I talk to myself
as much like Mother's and Father's as
my outside voice? His (capital here
because he begins a sentence, not
as a theological statement) was always
too loud, especially when I was near,

though still he can shout great distances.
Ten states over. I don't know how
Mother sounds inside her head, for all
our love. (No one yet—for real—has heard
the inner voice of another, though many
lovers claim they know the foreign accents

of God. (What does His—some now add
or Hers) sound like to the angels?
To Himself (Herself)? Can all three cast-
members of the Trinity speak at once?
While I'm losing the knowledge necessary
to mouth words to myself, thinking

more slowly Hey, listen, to me. I'm
thinking!, might I also be losing it
that other way, beyond mere words,
eluding, exceeding the drag of syllables,
a nighthawk dipping, diving above
ripe fields, earth rising quickly, stones

 

 

Naming a Wildflower, a Mountain,
a Night    Click to hear this poem in RealAudio


Wild Carrot or Queen Anne’s Lace.
Given choice between native and colonial,
how will we say the filigreed wildflower

strewn along blurs of July highway
near ice-blue chicory (or Cichorium intybus)?
Alaskans have changed the mountain back

to Denali, The Big One—the sacred name
the Athabaskan folk shouted in prayer—
from McKinley, coined by a white prospector

in 1896 to lift a dull Republican candidate.
David, I became in Cleveland in 1947,
along with a peasant cognomen, to replace

the utter nothing I was, when, to put
a spell on a cold night, tongues dancing,
they said one another, a woman and a man

to top

 

David Citino: Poetry
Copyright 1999 The Cortland Review Issue SevenThe Cortland Review