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C.N.P Poetry 

Christmas Macanudo; Towards an uneasy love for Ophelia; Opening Day at U-Pick Cherries in the Leona

By: Beth Ruscio

Christmas Macanudo 

He’s got holly stabbed in the crown of his thumb-pressed fedora, lays bets on long shots, hard eights in craps, 

fifty-to-one exactas, flashing that black gumdrop smile, 

the teeth, gnashed to pegs on tough guy stogies, 

clenched snug in a candy rot side pocket. Never had the bucks for the illegal Cubanos, only the Dutch Masters they hawked on the Friday Night Fights, brought to you by Gillette. The Macanudo I smuggled back in thick wool socks from frozen Quebec that made him quiet as he puffed, wreathed in lilac smoke. The time he asked me to hold his lit cigar and we broke into We three kings of Orient are... 

Towards an uneasy love for Ophelia

O, you scattered, fragmented wisp, you 

shattered flower pot shard, you torch singer 

with no sense of pitch, how much I have learned 

at your expense, from plight to plight 

your Ay, my lord and I think nothing, my lord

that load you choke down, that we are born 

to be mastered, you pawed-over unlucky charm.   

                                           Yet, what would I give

for a sure and certain place in the chain of being?

How easy for pigeons to curtsy.  How safe, 

fixed at the feet of oaks, among vines, beneath 

a seraphim canopy, to coast above the work song 

clack of shellfish and the livelong undertow.  

                                           And how much I ache 

for a faith like yours, its wobbly legs, its puppyness, 

how soft to give everything over, every muscle, 

every ghost, to the collapsing fugue, to sleep— 

because anyway, we are all of us weak, crying 

uncle, life is weakness, and in every ending, we all lose 

the will and the victory is without stones 

in your pockets, and the river is your answer.    

                                           O, Ophelia, 

you deliver me from believing in ceilings 

from the sway of swinging from some chandelier 

and hearing what you would say come out my mouth. 

Who could deny me my moment of frailty, 

talk me down from what ledge, keep me 

from keening about my own stage? To be 

a bad joke in the making?  For want 

of what would I surge ahead?   

                                           But, Ophelia, you disaster,

you take my breath away—from the stinging nettles 

in your hair to the reeds in your teeth—

as you breech the last lock so placidly, 

you darling damned.

Opening Day at U-Pick Cherries in the Leona Valley

To get there, we cross a landscape that shuns green, 

the same rain shadow Mojave that the death-or-glory 

sons and daughters once trudged, hallucinating, 

with the rumor of ocean more preposterous 

than oranges in groves.  These days, it’s meth country.  

The mayor’s busy paving sidewalks into undulating 

curves, piping bird song through speakers heralding 

a gentler downtown.   Corrals of Bunyanesque 

fiberglass roosters and cows butt up against the road.  

Remember THEM? one of us says.  Sci-fi movie, 1954.  

Desert atom bomb tests spawn giant irradiated ants.

Mad, ruthless insects.  Stand-ins for Commies.  

Kill one, two more take its place.   

Black and white film stock.  Chocolate syrup for blood. 

For they say you have taken the sunshine, Leon sings 

and his voice rides us over to where there’s grass.  

Then we’re under its spell—sad song

that aches like a phantom limb.

We pick thirty-six dollars worth 

of deep purple-red Brooks cherries.  

Admonished not to eat them 

in the orchards before we pay up 

we gorge on them in the car, 

staining our fingers, lips.  We’re beasts.


Beth Ruscio, daughter of actors, is part of a working class family of artists, actors, teachers and writers working in the currently sheltered-in-place state of California.  The current winner of The Brick Road Poetry Prize, her debut collection Speaking Parts will definitely be published in Spring 2020, or thereabouts.   Many thanks Cathexis Northwest Press—some of this book’s poems first appeared here.  Other recent work can be found in Cultural Weekly, Tupelo Quarterly, Tulane Review, High Shelf, Spillway, Malpais Review, and in the anthologies Dark Ink: Poetry Inspired by Horror; Beyond the Lyric Moment; 1001 Nights; and Conducting a Life: Maria Irene Fornes. Her finalist honors for poetry include The Sunken Garden Prize, The Tupelo Quarterly Prize, The Ruth Stone Poetry Award, twice for The Wilder Prize and honorable mention for The Two Sylvias Prize.  An accomplished award-winning actress as well as a longtime mentor at Otis College of Art and Design, Beth shares her life with the gifted playwright and teacher Leon Martell and their talented dog, Lolita.   

"Christmas Macanudo:

Believe it or not, this began as a meditation on a Christmas coffee mug.  It became an homage to my late father, the veteran character actor Al Ruscio.  He gave them up, but for a long time, a Cuban cigar was his idea of true extravagance.  

Towards an Uneasy Love for Ophelia: 

This girl, motherless and maligned as a docile hothouse flower, wilting into madness—it’s a tall order to find what’s there to love.  But I found the exercise of taking on someone you don’t admire and finding a way to empathize “from plight to plight” enormously powerful.  Imagining if I could do any better under the circumstances.  

It’s the work of all art to commune with a small “c” and I fail, but try to fail better.    

Opening Day at U-Pick Cherries in the Leona Valley:

If a poem is a hallway, as Addison Hoggard said last month, then “...Cherries...” begins with desert, and ponders oranges, then meth, then giant cows and ants, Commies . . . and there’s a moment of change, which Adrienne Rich says is the only poem.

That song of longing, when one person goes and the other stays, and is left to howl their heartbreak.  And then, there’s cherries." 


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