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.