Grace Cavalieri

Grace Cavalieri: Tenth Anniversary Issue

Tenth Anniversary Issue: A Tribute to Guest Editors
Volume 11:1, Winter 2010

Guest Editor, “The Bunny and The Crocodile Issue,” Spring 2004

 

Grace writes:
“Death doesn’t care about us and has no obligation to notice our lives. Yet, we spend our days juggling how much thought and how much feeling we can afford to give death. Beltway Poetry offered me a literary mission to write about poets who have left us, especially my dear friends, Roland Flint and Ann Darr. The essays for Beltway Poetry were a deeper way into my friends’ work. Silence is a way we hide our memories. Having an invitation to write about these and other poets was a gift to meditate into the fine points of those we loved so well. I had known every word written by these poets, and yet when asked to replenish my remembrances, I discovered even more eloquence and precision in their lives and works. Writing about other poets is a way to turn our praise upward, and if we didn’t do this what would we do with what we felt? And then what should we do with our prayer? A magazine whose proposition honors our literary antecedents makes all those past lives new again, and a new life is worth making—even our own.”

From the Editor:
Grace Cavalieri is the writer who has contributed to more issues of Beltway Poetry Quarterly than any other; she wins the prize for appearing in ten separate issues! She was a featured writer early on, in Winter 2001. She contributed poems to four theme issues: the Whitman Issue (guest edited by Saundra Rose Maley), the Wartime Issue (guest edited by Sarah Browning), the Evolving City Issue (guest edited by Teri Ellen Cross), and the Split This Rock Issue (guest edited by Regie Cabico). In addition, Grace contributed to two of the biannual literary history issues, with an essay on Roland Flint, and one on Ann Darr, and to the US Poets Laureate Issue, with an interview with Joseph Brodsky. Grace was guest editor of the Spring 2004 issue, with a special look at authors published by The Bunny and the Crocodile Press, which Grace has run since 1979. In addition, Grace has been a terrific advocate for the journal, recommending authors, and providing continuous and effusive encouragement. Grace has always been a model for me of how writers can serve one another and help build the literary community together.

 

EQUIPOISE

(for poet Robert Sargent at 94)

Today I tripped and dropped the cake
outside your window
spreading the grass with whipped cream for sparrows to eat.

My hands were emptied of pleasure, but
I went inside. You were
dressed for company, a bright blue shirt to match your eyes.

“She’s here” the helper shouts and your blind eyes see,
just as, almost deaf,
you can always hear me.

Today I tell you to go on with your writing.
Although 94 and knocked back by stroke,
I ask your “process.” Poetry, you say. “But how can you write?”

You say you hold a pencil, do a line, then have it read back to you.
You think you can manage.
“Family secrets” I whisper. A good idea for a poem.

I lean in as we did every week over lunch.
I repeat the story you told me 30 years ago.
You lowered your voice then to tell me how your mother was found

sleeping with your uncle. Today I make you enter
the house of memory,
“And who found her?” I ask. Winifred, my little sister.

I wanted to know who else was told, what your mother said,
why your mother’s other sister helped her out,
loaned a room in the house. Adultery. We talk about adultery,

how you put false information in your journal for your wife to find.
Your eyes are cloudy
yet you look straight in my face. It says we’ve been through a lot,

stories told each other over the years, our friendship a fragile line,
we walked and never fell off.
Once I said you did not express enough appreciation.

Today I say ”I Love You” and you say Thank you Thank you.
You say it 5 times in one hour.
The line sweeps back, holds us in, correcting its curve.

There is nothing we do not know. I avoid painful subjects.
I close the door,
stepping over the sweet confection melting in the sun.

 

Kathy Keler, "Levitate," acrylic and alkyd on canvasboard, 7" x 5"

Kathy Keler, “Levitate,” acrylic and alkyd on canvasboard, 7″ x 5″

TOMATO PIES, 25 CENTS

Tomato pies are what we called them, those days,
before Pizza came in,
at my Grandmother’s restaurant,
in Trenton New Jersey.
My grandfather is rolling meatballs
in the back. He studied to be a priest in Sicily but
saved his sister Maggie from marrying a bad guy
by coming to America.
Uncle Joey is rolling dough and spooning sauce.
Uncle Joey, is always scrubbed clean,
sobered up, in a white starched shirt, after
cops delivered him home just hours before.
The waitresses are helping
themselves to handfuls of cash out of the drawer,
playing the numbers with Moon Mullin
and Shad, sent in from Broad Street. 1942,
Tomato pies with cheese, 25 cents.
With anchovies, large, 50 cents.
A whole dinner is 60 cents (before 6pm.)
How the soldiers, bussed in from Fort Dix,
would stand outside all the way down Warren Street,
waiting for this new taste treat,
young guys in uniform,
lined up and laughing, learning Italian,
before being shipped out to fight the last great war.
TRANSPORTATION

Jan and Mary left me last night in Bulgaria
because the dead do not care
how the living will get home.
The street will take me there if I can follow its winding.
I walked two blocks to the past with its straight narrow doors
and asked the man what people lived there.
All he could tell me was the name of the street.
That it is gone – and still there – confuses me, and
I need someone who can remember with me.
If I’m the only one left who holds the memory,
It is the emptiest street
in the world.
They say “the Lord alone looks on the heart.”
He must be lonely too.
It is dark, yet something will lead to my house.
Once again, my family has left. The house is sold.
My sister is elsewhere and does not know me.
I stay in a Bulgarian rooming house
where they change your sheets while you are sleeping,
rough linen with lace—
I don’t know if I have
enough money to stay. How many days?
Downstairs I buy a long hard loaf of bread, a mug of coffee, and set out.
I realize I must look for a cab, it is so far.
There are some boys from my school but they live across town,
I can’t ask that they go out of their way.
Then my father comes out of the foyer carrying his felt hat in his
hands. He looks so old and tired, and sorry for all we’ve been through.
He’s here now, after all these years.
Jan and Mary are with me now too.
He can take them back with me to childhood
so we can start again. He is here to drive me home.
A MATTER OF RECORD

I have never seen anyone die.
I have never seen the spirit leave the burnt body –
I do not know what sound is caught
from the throat, and I’m sure it’s not
one I would want
to hear twice—
then the stony heart,
a lack of beauty that comes to stay,
unattractive expedients,
vast disappointments.
More sadness fills the room—
enough to die of right there—
unless you believe that
after Sundown, comes Sunrise.
After the Sunset,
as a matter of record, I am told,
it comes up gold.

 

 

Grace Cavalieri's newest publication is Other Voices, Other Lives (Alan Squire Publishers, 2017), a compendium of poems, plays and interviews. She has nineteen books and chapbooks of poetry in print, and has had 26 plays produced on American stages. She founded and still produces "The Poet and the Poem," a series for public radio celebrating 40 years on-air, now from the Library of Congress. She is the poetry columnist for The Washington Independent Review of Books. She received the 2013 George Garrett Award from The Associate Writing Programs. To read more by this author: Grace Cavalieri: Winter 2001; Introduction to "The Bunny and the Crocodile" Issue: Spring 2004; Grace Cavalieri on Roland Flint: Memorial Issue; Grace Cavalieri: Whitman Issue; Grace Cavalieri: Wartime Issue; Grace Cavalieri: Evolving City Issue; Grace Cavalieri: Split This Rock Issue; Grace Cavalieri on Ann Darr: Forebears Issue; Grace Cavalieri on "The Poet & The Poem": Literary Organizations Issue.