Friday Jun 21

OsherowJacquelyn Jacqueline Osherow is the author of six books of poetry, most recently Whitethorn, just out from LSU Press. She has been awarded fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ingram Merrill Foundation the Witter Bynner Prize from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and a number of prizes from the Poetry Society of America and Pushcart.  Her work has s appeared in many anthologies and journals, including The New Yorker, Paris Review, The New Republic, American Poetry Review, Slate, Best American Poetry, Norton Anthology of Jewish-American Literature, the Wadsworth Anthology, Longman Anthology, and many others.  She is Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Utah.

Golden Oldie
Even now, I can’t hear the organ intro
to Percy Sledge’s sultry when a man
loves a woman without that afternoon
returning full force:  it’s on the radio—
you’ re painting? plastering? the little bedroom
and I’m giant pregnant reading Middlemarch
for my PhD exams on the glassed-in porch—
and suddenly you crank up the volume
until the entire house begins to shake.
Don’t tell me there’s no such thing as happiness.
You racing down the stairs, ecstatic,
shouting listen to this! listen to this!
your whole heart audible, mine pumping fast.
We were young, infallible.   It wouldn’t last.
Casa del Fascio  (Giuseppe Terragni, 1936-7)
Who knew light
was a construction
material? (the guard
tells me the basement
was a prison) that Giuseppe
Terragni’s once Casa del
Fascio, now the local
ministry of finance,
is a right-angled
hierarchy of radiance:
small blocks, large panes,
rectangles and squares,
each an onslaught of
luminescence, pressing
through the ceilings, through
the stairwells, through the
walls, a Renaissance
courtyard only  light
instead of marble, instead
of terracotta, instead of
travertine,  the same intimate
dimensions intact, pristine,
only here each edge
is made of light

I wanted to see what
a Fascist thinks is
beautiful—though I
know, having read
in a trance the Pisan
Cantos.   I loved
those flower petals
caught on stone
(bougainvillea, I always
thought) those clinging
leaves,  that lyric overhaul
of still photography
Ezra Pound established
as his trademark:  I even
used to love his early songs
before I found out (“spit on
the Jews for their money”)
what was underneath
the thick black lines.
I can’t see anything
beneath this light
but fields of light,
their self-contained
treasuries of parallels
and perpendiculars
pieced together
in a taut mosaic,
partition in a nimble
truce with synthesis:
light meeting light
on grids of light
The guard (by now
my best friend, having
let me in, not quite
according to regulation)
tells me about a woman
who comes here every
year, a woman ninety-
two, ninety-three, an ex-
partisan, once prisoner
in the basement, how
the two girls with whom
she was arrested faced
a firing squad.   She comes
back every year to pray
on the anniversary of
the allied victory, declared
as she awaited execution
I’d love to know
the substance
of those prayers—
have they changed
over the years,
or even from
the outset, skittered
from lamentation
to thanksgiving?
Surely they were
her friends, the
murdered girls?
Maybe it’s penance,
a prayer for forgiveness
for her increasingly
obscene longevity—
Or maybe it’s not
prayer but sheer
bravado, the pleasure
of remembering her
would-be executioners,
strung up in a frenzy
by the crowd.  Unless
it’s something else
she’d remember:
the terror? ferociousness?
lack of imagination?
passion? stubbornness?
religion? whatever
turned into the where-
withal to bully fate
to give up another
day or two another year
Whatever she does
I doubt she sees
the architecture,
sublime though it is
(it is sublime.)  Still
without her noticing,
it works on her, that’s
what scares me, even
in retrospect.  What if
this were calculated
to blind us all, part
and parcel of its evil
purpose?   What business
does a Fascist have
with light? and why am
I wholly susceptible?
I, who hate right angles,
hate the minimal,
who always thought
I hated modern
buildings:  what chance
do I have—willing as I am
to fall beneath its
thrilling Fascist spell?
Because, I’m telling you
it’s dangerous—to say,
but sill . . . to intervene with
words like grace and genius.
I don’t favor execution
but I begrudge that bastard
Pound every last minute
in the madhouse.
The guard tells me Mussolini
would stand right here,
right here, in the center
of  light’s clearinghouse,
his face a spreading rec-
tangle of glare.  The guard
gets nervous, says it’s time
to leave. But I ask questions,
keep him talking. I haven’t
figured out what’s going
on here yet, where the light
comes from, why it stays,
why every building in
the world doesn’t glow
like this.  This.  This Fascist
House.  I gaze and gaze.