Thursday, November 6, 2014

Wendy Vardaman

Postscript: Post-colonial pilgrims
November, 2011

We were driving our children
crazy, but we didn’t
know it, making them follow our wet
footsteps to approximately 111
churches in Italy: where you swooned over finger bones, tongues, torn
cloak scraps, uncorrupted corpses; where I fixed
my worship-wanting eyes on mud mixed
with marble. On chiseled lats & traps. On skin

& muscle modeled thick over thin, dark & light. They
were too polite to say what they believed:
that they’d seen enough; that it all looked
the same after the first seventeen or so;
that they wanted to eat, relax; that they never got to lead.
That we were wearing them out & through with our lack.


Tortelli di Zucca Mantovani
            for Mantova, Italy, May 1, 2013

Atreus Caecilius cucurbitarum / Sic illas quasi filios Thyestae / In partes lacerat secatque mille.Martial, 1st C. CE

Cross breeder, easy mixer, monoecious—male and female flower on the same stem:
bees travel 15 kilometers with their messages, circling zucca to pumpkin,
no botanical obstacle or cultural barrier to mating cucurbits
of every shape, size, texture, color, which—wild or not—will resist disease, pest, drought.
When Martial called Caecilius the Atreus of pumpkin, he might have meant melon, meant

Lagenaria siceraria —gourd, vessel, container that traveled 10,000
years ago, Africa to the Americas; did not mean zucca, mean Mantovan
Piacentina, Marina di Chioggia, Americana, Turbante, whose oldest
seeds, like all cultivated cucurbits, are rooted in Oaxaca, Mexico,
8000 years old at least: become askutasquash, pompion, pumpkin, zucca.

Madison’s pumpkins—large, round, bright orange—don’t look like zucca Mantovani, what we
might call squash—Hubbard, Acorn, Festival, Delicata—making gnocchi, risotto,
tortelli, not pie, and the colors of Mantovan pumpkins run terra cotta
and sinopia to olive tree leaf and rosemary green, to mottled wall of pocked
palazzo; record ground, record quake, earth connected to earth—fractured plaster split

inviting us through and in between, like lines on pumpkin, stretch marks of ripening.
To go to Mantova directly, you must travel via these cracks widening
in damaged frescoes, through intonaco, arriccio, garden clay. At the Palazzo
Ducale, where Montegna first painted the family Gonzaga as real, not allegory,
angels lean into their elbows on heaven’s balcony, try to get a better view,

no way down from those illusionistic domes except by vine. In 1514
Isabella d’Este Gonzaga, said to have inspired tortelli di zucca, went to Rome,
to Villa Farnesina, where the first painted pumpkins from the Americas
appeared three years after her visit and two centuries before any botanical
illustration. Perhaps she brought their seeds, rare gift that bloomed in soil then in the walls’

festoons. I’ve made pumpkin ravioli for friends without knowing it’s the specialty
of Mantova but didn’t think México, either. Could buy it Made in Italy
at the Monroe Street Trader Joe’s in Madison, where food from Europe sometimes means
urbanity, sometimes excess, but that’s not tortelli di zucca made at home,
in spite of the fuss, or fresh-rolled and sold at the corner pastificio. Come

Tutti i Santi Ognissanti, women of a certain age bring flowers and lumere to the dead
during passegiatta: slow walk, drip drip of day after day turned centuries. Turned
later to tortelli di zucca, not thinking origin, but salty & bitter, sweet
& sour, hoping to lure home the living and the dead, they set new roots, spread their leaves,
recipes passed mother to daughter for longer than any memory, like seeds.

previously published in Slippage


Reprise for Nick
Bartell Theatre, Madison, 12-29-12

That lights
That ukulele
That the house
That Prince Hal hung
That the marquee would
That friends with guitars &
That your Macbeth confirmed
That your Richard III said the same
That your so quiet father stood next to
That someone started but didn’t know what
That your sister memorized I know you all & other
That your mother sorted hundreds of photos she’d
That forty actors leapt at the/ left their seats / entered left &
That another friend began Our revels now are ended and everyone
That when you were John of Gaunt Brabantio Polonius Prospero
That walking toward her tripod your mom waved, Let the wooly mayhem
That a funny story about London last winter discovering Eastcheap—it’s
That your Macduff battle cry roaring forward every rehearsal wooden sword
That Halleluja/ Health to the Company/ Record Year for Rainfall/ Lime in the Coconut/ Where is My
That someone telling about Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead needed help to
That your father said whales said backyard said forgot said he hadn’t planned
That someone’s mom entered left aisle & said all said cherished said
That some people didn’t know if they knew you well enough to
That one by one each someone stepped into the god light &
That your college friend played guitar not bass because
That the audience clapped after every actor had
That none of this was planned & look how it
That playing many parts is not the same as
That no one knew you as well as they
That themes emerged during the
That the audience started to
That we’re actors it’s what we
That [heads/ heads/ heads]
That all the holidays
That philosophy
That silence
That youth
That life

previously published in Burdock


Playing Chronology in the Dark
      Good Friday 2014

Boy with beaded loops about your throat, two twists,
dark beard like my oldest, I could mom you, too,
twenty years or so. Put you on the parent worry-
worry list. We talk as if we know it,
and we do. My daughter’s slipped
me info about you, and I have other ways that mothers know
to know. I hug you on the sidewalk when you go—
already missed. We sip cold coffee. Weigh the risk.

Look & look away. I try to glimpse
what’s underneath the watch that sits
below the hand that points in my direction, other wrist
undone, rolled clockwise toward the table’s slick.
How easy to split ourselves on wish
and want, stroke hope’s white feathers, spun from glass.


the parents

maybe this poem should write
itself. maybe this poem will write

itself. it can’t tell you anything
you don’t already know

yourself. I can tell you that. one day
they hold you like that in their palms.

the next, they slap you so hard it still burns—
thirty – forty – fifty years after the fact.

then they can’t push themselves off the edge
of hospital-high beds with the flats

of their hands and feet. then they grip
your wrist to walk to the toilet, look you hard

in the face, say they don’t know you.
tell you all about your death. and you know?

when you catch a glimpse in glass of a bent
creature leaning against your mother, your father,

you don’t know you/where you’ve gone
either. though you do see

someone you used to love leaving your house
without a backward glance, just a wave

above a new-shorn head & for half
a moment, you are somewhen else,

someone else, too, like the little
scared girl who clings to your hand.

© Wendy Vardaman


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