top of page

Frank X. Gaspar: California Poets Part 4, Three Poems

Frank X. Gaspar (photo by Alexis Rhone Fancher)

December 29th, 2021

California Poets: Part IV

Frank X. Gaspar

Three Poems

Lamplight It’s a life rumble, there’s no room to be had, most of the time you’re either hoarding or wasting and you’ve lost that star someplace, the bright one you were supposed to steer by, but I’m not judging, I’ve just been thinking about you, how you navigate and how we used to read frank o hara and envy his walking down seventh avenue, it was so simple for him, all those newsstands, but I’m winding along myself now, the fall air blue-hearted and full of grudge, and there’s always that strange woe in my head, and you say oh, it’s everywhere now, but I’m telling you we can’t keep going on like this, failing everything we plotted so hard to keep, and it’s not that we can’t find our voices for it it’s just that the maps are no good anymore, too many thieves and no retribution. What I mean is I am not as ready as I was before, there are so many poems to burn that I can’t tell one from another. Sometimes I sing for hours, only one song, only in parts, and last night I sharpened a box of pencils, slow, like dreaming. Do you remember what those wood shavings smell like, the curls, sometimes forlorn, sometimes confused, and the pencils themselves, do you hear what I’m saying, long, yellow, number and style pressed on their eager flanks but then all that naked lead honed and grinning in the lamplight, you wind up thinking they would just as soon be killing something.

Poem Fire He fed the feral cats who turned the porch into a round-house with their joy and scurry. He sat with the poem, which he hoped might redeem something, and where he tried to find an opening that would possibly release him for an instant or even an hour. The poem did not come easily. The brick-colored sky as the mountains burned, the haze, the febrile snow of ash, this city, which beggared all cities because at its heart it was not one of them. Its rivers were the boulevards, its freeways scored the flood plain from foothill to ocean, its center would not hold because there was no center. The orange cat danced his wild circle, the black cat lifted a balletic paw, the gray yowled pitifully because it was the only language he had ever learned. Later there were skunks and raccoons. They fled down the cemented flood canals as their highways. Drought and flame drove them to the easy life of dumpsters and gardens. Now he found himself standing at one end of the earth. And now he stood alone at the end of something more than the earth, for where had all his love vanished? His disasters and jubilations? The brash, the timorous, the wisdom and folly? How far in time and space? The poem did not come easily, as if it knew its own work was to raise circumstance to something that was his, something that did not lie beyond his own direction. If he said death, the poem would say life forever, for whatever rightly came to the poem would be snatched from the furnaces of mortal ruin. He suddenly believed this. The ash fell upon the streets in silence, the clouds could only be the breath of fire, the yard became his bastion in the metropolis. This was what the poem seemed to tell him. It was nothing he did not already know. But in the poem now, nothing could be touched or altered. This would be the poem’s secret happiness. A poem put to breath never stuttered or stalled. A poem can be loved if it takes you back to gambol among that mottled crowd of your past selves, to admire or judge them, but this poem, if he really listened to it, only wanted him to shed those selves. He did not come to this easily. It wanted him. It wanted him fevered and naked, lustful, narcotized, burning, remanded to its own artful desires, which he saw as the gestures from another world. It was the world he had always been searching for.

Simple first there must be cages, they must not be too large but they must be sturdy, steel and wire, and they must come from someplace, be made by men and women, maybe in the factories of Illinois or perhaps Shanghai, and then they arrive on black-hulled ships and bright trains, and the whistling semi-trailers we pass on the interstates, and they must be unloaded, they must be put into place, and later the children must come, and the children are easier, they are like those rare butterflies that migrate north each year, the children cost us nothing and must only be set apart from their mothers and fathers who also are easily divided by remand and are disappeared back into whatever gloom they risked everything to flee, always carrying nothing, never dreaming that the children would be taken from them and put into cages, because the children are the easiest to put into the cages, and then everything can be complete, every bargain sealed, you can breathe painlessly now, see the photo of the young girl, is she four, five, her swollen fingers gripping the wire mesh of her cage, her eyes looking into the camera beyond any metric of terror or despair or destruction and she is our unqualified proof that we will be safe again, that it is our liberty that will triumph, our license and privilege maintained, our dreams calm again, and all the time it was so simple, we only needed the steel cages, and then again, so simple, we only needed to put the children in them.

Author Bio:

Frank X. Gaspar is the author of five collections of poetry and two novels. Among his many awards are multiple inclusions in Best American Poetry, four Pushcart Prizes, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Literature, and a California Arts Council Fellowship in poetry. His debut novel, Leaving Pico, was a Barnes and Noble Discovery Prize winner, a recipient of the California Book Award for First Fiction, and a New York Times Notable Book. His second novel, Stealing Fatima, was a MassBook of the Year in Fiction (Massachusetts Foundation for the Book). His work has appeared widely in serial publications, including The Nation, The New Yorker, The Harvard Review, The American Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, The Kenyon Review, and others. His latest book, a fusion of genres, is The Poems of Renata Ferreira.


bottom of page