Christmas Macanudo; Towards an uneasy love for Ophelia; Opening Day at U-Pick Cherries in the Leona
By: Beth Ruscio
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.
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.
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."