Regular Contributor Amy Pence is with this season’s poetry review. If you are a lover of poetry this one seems like it will not disappoint, but it also looks like it would be great for just the casual poetry reader and a nice change from you normal spring and summer reading!
Lee Rossi is a master portraitist. Reading his third collection Wheelchair Samurai (Plain View Press, 2011), I’m reminded of Van Gogh’s honest rendering of his friends and neighbors such as “Roulin’s Baby” (often referred to as the “green baby”) that hangs in the National Gallery.
His vision is wry and sometimes brutal; he sees to the core. In “Yakuza in the Jacuzzi,” the speaker sends up his sister’s mobster boyfriend “floating like a walrus in the giant/ redwood crockpot behind their house.” His appraisal continues:
…all I really want is to scrub away those awful tattoos
covering the drive-in movie screen of his back—
geishas with shotguns, samurai in wheelchairs,
Fuji-san about to blow its top
and drown Edo in a sea of fire.
Like Van Gogh, in both his portraits and his landscapes, the strokes may be broad, but they have depth and texture. You’ll be taken on a wondrous ride in every poem. Whether wandering in Stonehenge, at the Ice Age Museum, on the island of Rhodes, or on May Day 1975 chasing Rilke’s angels, he balances so many elements, you may wonder how he‘s going to end these things.
In poem after poem, exquisitely. In “Perché No,” the speaker and his wife tour Florence, where he takes everything in: “Fragola, the fugitive/ taste of strawberry lips,” the flower sellers “where bees circled/ the flowers as if the flowers had invented bees,” and a shocking tour of the nightmarish tannery that will turn out “gloves that fit like a caress.” Rossi closes the poem:
Tourists are like cut flowers. After a week
we begin to smell, and you throw us out.
I can still see that young couple of drunks
stumbling up twisting, cobbled streets, lips numb,
giddy with wonder and anticipation.
The night was warm, the air sweet with the smell
of leather, all those hairless skins, empty
now of their bodies, ready to wrap
anyone willing to pay the price.
Likewise, in “Elegy in an Elephant Graveyard,” Rossi’s closure bears no false epiphany, but gives us a healthy undertow that prevents an easy resolution:
…Every day, they say, another species is lost.
Tonight my children will dream of beauties we’ve destroyed
to keep them alive. After lunch they spin down the park’s
grassy slopes like asteroids in the giant fridge of space.
SUV’s hunt for parking like wolves circling a flock of sheep.
What I appreciate most about Rossi’s collection is his accumulation of vision. Many experiences have been mulled over the years. For the most part, these are healthy stews, rich with flavor. “The Sauna,” on the other hand, distills the experience of aging with humor and wisdom. “Gravity has had its usual/ simplifying effect” he writes of the occupants of the sauna sitting around him. Rossi ends the poem:
…Who would recognize
us from our yearbook?
Not our current crop of wives.
Not even classmates, absent
thirty years. Only our parents,
there at the beginning,
who could not stay for the end.
And ourselves, aggrieved
at time’s heedless insult
to our once flagrant beauty.
Ultimately, the poems show us, with a raw and an unerring vision, the “flagrant beauties,” that we might catch, if we would just pay attention.
– Amy Pence, Regular Contributor