The collection’s last section, “The Two Thousandsies” (dedicated to Rachel Maddow), his “Garden of Eden” reminds us this Professor Emeritus poet has managed to sustain over decades a vision of the profane as sacred, which alone is worth the price of admission.
On the 1st anniversary of 9-11, I was driving to my allergist’s office in Garden City on Long Island, NY, which takes you along an avenue of car dealerships. One of them was flying the biggest American flag I’d ever seen, like the size of a football field. It registered on the corner of my (unconscious) eye, but when the message was interpreted by my brain, its giant sound, snapping in the wind on that yet again perfect September day, steered me to the curb, sobbing. So when I was looking for my way into Fred Moramarco’s new retrospective collection, The City of Eden, I avoided two poems in its middle, “Irreconcilable Differences” and “Messages From the Sky: September 11, 2001,” which turn out to be two of the best in the book. Both are formatted to look like the Towers, that indelible II icon.
They appear in one of the collection’s 8 sections, titled “Love and Other Dark Matters” which attracted me because it hinted at an awareness of current physics, but there is only one poem included that refers to “Dark Matter” which begins with a quotation from The New Yorker: “A number of physicists today are convinced that most of the universe is made of unknown matter…They call this alien stuff the Dark Matter.” I think of dark matter & energy as evidence that we are the aliens in this Universe, but Moramarco uses the science metaphor to describe an infestation of ants in his house one
sunny summer San Diego morning…
I get the broom and Black Flag ant spray
I keep stored for occasions of this sort
and hiroshima them into oblivion,
first sweeping with the broom then blasting
with the bug spray until not a trace of this
dark matter can be seen moving like animated dots
The previous section, “Takes and Retakes”, brings together poems about poets like Sylvia Plath, Cesare Pavese, Wallace Stevens, Franz Wright (“At 15 Mr. Wright wrote his first poem and sent it to his father. ‘I’ll be damned,’ he wrote back. ‘You’re a poet. Welcome to hell.’, Yeats, and John Donne. These vary in density and tone. The Yeats-inspired “The Dark Leopards of the Moon” is great to wrestle with, and the next page’s “Conversation with John Donne” is a subtly rhymed hoot:
“So what’s been happening?” he said
sounding awfully Southern Californian for the Dean of St. Paul’s.
I wasn’t sure if he was in his ‘Holy Sonnets’ mood
or in his ‘Jack the Rake’ phase, so I hesitated
before answering, but then told the truth.
“I’ve been falling in love…
What can I tell you,’” I said, “we’ve gotten so close,
we’re like an e-mail and its reply…
Such is she to me, who must
like my other self, click on her mouse
to send our words full circle, a pulse just
sent in an instant from her place to my house.”
“Nice conceit,” he said. “I get the sexual reference,
to ‘her mouse’, and how ‘must’ and ‘just’
evoke ‘lust’, but what the hell is email?”
The City of Eden has its own Facebook page and as of early August, eleven laudatory reviews at Amazon. This admirable marketing energy echoes in Moramarco’s poems. As a “Door to Door Poetry Salesman,” he begins by quoting the actor Charles Grodin, “Maybe the only way harder than show business to make a living is selling poetry door to door…” and continues, rhyming,
Early start today. Would like to make a sale
in the morning, then kick back for the day…
It’s not a day for Petrarch or Dante,
though on Thursday I might up the ante…
I just want a poem that feels honest and true;
that tells about me as it tells about you…
I’ll knock now and see if anyone’s at home.
The City of Eden that opens :“’You mean Garden, don’t you?’/No, city, though there are apple trees there,/ and snakes, lots of them…” closes with some poems that don’t convey the range of his section of Shakespearian sonnet knock-offs (“Takes on Shakes”) or the flash fiction-poetry of “Five One Line Poems with Titles”:
What a Cigar Means
You need company
What Tomorrow Will Be Like
Yesterday. Today. Maybe Today is enough.
What Tomorrow Will Be Like – 2
Did Richard Nixon Swim?
I am not a fish.
The Brooklyn Bridge
used to be a wonder.
But in the collection’s last section, “The Two Thousandsies” (dedicated to Rachel Maddow), his “Garden of Eden” reminds us this Professor Emeritus poet has managed to sustain over decades a vision of the profane as sacred, which alone is worth the price of admission and transforms his “Cunt Variations” from curse into choir. “The Messages from the Sky” of 9-11 that he repeated are the ones he sends his fortunate readers:
… To mothers and
wives, to husbands and friends, to
fathers and lovers, to brothers and
sisters, to aunts and uncles, to the inert
tapes of answering machines: Love
from the Towers, love from the planes,
from the towers and the planes:
“What thou lov’st well remains
the rest is dross. What thou lov’st
well shall not be reft from thee.”