Joseph Zaccardi

April 16, 2020

I’m pleased to introduce a few poems by Joseph Zaccardi today. The author of five collections of poetry, including his recently published The Weight of Bodily Touches (Kelsay Books), Zaccardi served as Marin County, CA’s poet laureate from 2013 to 2015. During his tenure he edited and published the anthology Changing Harm to Harmony: Bullies & Bystanders Project. In his thoughtful introduction to the anthology, he tells us that he learned the word harm comes from the Old English, meaning grief, sorrow and physical injury, while harmony, a much older word, comes from Latin, meaning a joining. “My goal then,” he writes” was to find a way to change what I believe is harmful to both perpetrator and victim; to bring about a harmonious interaction between two words whose meanings have no basis for comparison.” All proceeds from the sale of the book went to the Marin Poetry Center’s High School Poetry Program, bringing poetry to students and teachers, informing them of the consequences of bullying, and to the Spectrum LGBT Center, an organization that promotes acceptance, understanding and full inclusion for LGBT people. Why do I tell you about an anthology published several years ago? To give you just a small idea of the intelligence and compassion behind Zaccardi’s work, whether it be writing his own poems or calling for poetry by others for both meaning and transformation.

When asked what started his passion for poetry, Zaccardi says that poetry first came alive for him in the 6th grade when his teacher, Sister Francesca, gave him a small book of poems by WC. Williams; a gift, alas, that he has lost.

“At times a gut punch, at times a gentle stroke, The Weight of Bodily Touches is felt deeply from first to last. Here Joseph Zaccardi shares with us his remarkable views of the weight of the world on humans. Like the mother who ‘digs up her (stillborn) child’s scaffold of white bones,’ we may find ourselves returning repeatedly to certain poems because they have become part of our being and we cannot let them go.” — Matthew J. Spireng, author of What Focus Is and Out of Body.

Here now are just a few poems from The Weight of Bodily Touches.



Girl with Mandolin


Elaine touches the scar where the surgeon cut through her sternum runs her

finger over the raised red artistry that divided her body the way Picasso unbridled

paintings to graft an art closer to life and she explained how the medical team

pried open her chest how they used her radial arteries to make a bypass and

how the stitches on her arms left trace lines from elbow to wrist that are smooth

nearly opaque and she tells me about the store clerk who asked if she tried to kill

herself who did not know the ancients pecked into patina of stone and chiseled

with antlers their message why did he say such a thing she asks me and am I

upset that a scalpel could craft such brilliance and then she struck the fretted

fingerboard of her mandolin bringing the fullness of its sound to me from its

hollow wooden cage and we who were separate are brought together our rooms

and walls taken away.



To Feast on the Flesh of Decay


Suppose first light spikes between limbs of the black ash

into the dog kennel where hounds brace their paws

against chain links and their spittle turns to vapor

as the farmer brings them water and a kettle of scraps

then goes back to the main house to help his wife in labor

and suppose he genuflects and counts her rapid breaths

and feels the thrum of blood move through her body

his trousers’ knees and shirt sleeves wet as he waits

to catch the stillborn they’ve named Maia of the Angels

while outside a breeze rattles the wheat stalks and stirs

the chaff left on the field hayed days before it flowered

suppose this farmer returns to the barn for a shovel

to bury their child and in the rafters hears the rustle

of rats in the loft while his hounds bay to stalk a fox

while his wife Marta wraps their baby in white cloth

if you think everything disappears fully think again

suppose come late spring she digs up her child’s

scaffold of white bones and presses them to her breast

to suckle her loss and what if she eats the grave dust

under her own nails and what if he farmer does

what needs doing back in the hayloft

by pushing down a bale of fodder

for the milk cows.



The Sound the Tree Makes



The tree fell in the forest because of deep freeze the tree fell because it was

another day because of gravity the tree fell soundless onto shoulder-high snow

the tree fell because the wind swirled because of root rot termite buggery

because its torso was girded by bark beetles because the phloem and xylem

dried the tree fell because it was time for it to fall it fell and the sound echoed and

birds rose from their roosts the sound was train-like crushing thunderous the tree

fell in slow motion black and white silent the tree fell because a lumberjack yelled

timber because it was first growth old diseased the tree resting on the ground

was delimbed by chain saws was cut into logs by bucking the trunk from butt to

crown was dragged on a skid trail from forest to flatbed truck strapped down and

hauled to the mill the outer bark skinned denuded with grinding wheels the tree

was sized under a circular saw’s buzz was kiln dried planed trimmed smoothed

graded and banded the tree gave out a great scream when it was felled that

could be heard by other trees in the next county but in some counties could not

be heard at all.

Published by Katherine Hastings

Katherine Hastings is the author of three collections from Spuyten Duyvil Press (NYC): Shakespeare & Stein Walk Into a Bar (2016); Nighthawks (2014); and Cloud Fire (2012), as well as several chapbooks. Poet laureate emerita of Sonoma County, CA, Hastings edited Know Me Here — An Anthology of Poetry by Women; Digging Our Poetic Roots — Poems from Sonoma County; and What Redwoods Know — Poems from California State Parks, published as a benefit for the California State Parks Foundation when 70 parks were faced with permanent closure. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including The Book of Forms — A Handbook of Poetics (University Press of New England, Lewis Putnam Turco, editor); Verde Que Te Quiero Verde — Poems After Federico Garcia Lorca (Open Country Press, Natalie Peeterse, Editor); Changing Harm to Harmony — Bullies & Bystanders Project (Marin Poetry Center, Joseph Zaccardi, editor); Beatitude — Golden Anniversary (Latif Harris and Neeli Cherkovski, editors), among others. She hosted WordTemple on NPR affiliate KRCB FM from 2017 — 2017 and founded the WordTemple Poetry Series in Sonoma County (2006 — 2017) where she also taught craft-focused poetry workshops. Following the October 2017 wildfires, Hastings moved with her partner to Western New York in 2018. "Shakespeare & Stein Walk in to Bar is animated by the two most rewarding and replenishing of poetic forces: dexterous formal diversity and a fierce, unflinching searching..." — Malachi Black "Rooted in what Hastings calls the "momentary forever," these marvelous poems, so rich with detail and so full of duende, explore the paradoxes of transience. Yes, the poet reminds us: 'The alarm is set and ticking' for each least thing in the living world..." — Susan Kelly-DeWitt On Cloud Fire: "'s your veiled history." — Lawrence Ferlinghetti "For Katherine Hastings, 'The mirror is a lake of longing'. Her poems are told us by 'a woman with a moon in her chest;' their surprising images embrace close observation, deeply dramatized love and losses, and have the power of crossing boundaries of spirit to reveal truths otherwise unseen." — Daniel Hoffman, US Poet Laureate, 1973 — 1974

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