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Gail Wronsky: California Poets Part 1, Three Poems

Gail Wronsky

August 27th, 2020

California Poets: Part I

Gail Wronsky

Three Poems

The difference between a jaded vision and an honest one is a nighttime

Vision always first comes as innuendo with a splash of the grave—

as a flash perhaps of green light sinking into the loam of the living.

A night in pursuit of it gives me: aging freeways of broken glass

layered over and embracing each other; the wistful stitching

of a siren; and a corner of the eye kind of glimpse of the

floating outstretched soul of a psychiatric patient who leapt today

from his doctor’s office into air—into air that was itself a

window, a gaping toothlessness in a sky blue mouth. It’s five a.m.

I put my cup down on the counter of the all-night café and

vagabond off, thinking about how the psychedelic soul (for

it must be) often sinks into its guts, refusing to be relocated

outside of the body, until in the hum of some undersong it

becomes little more than a hum itself, a humming of a kind of

hankering and its absence, little more than the determined

shredding of a napkin by a goth girl on the front steps of the

Last Bookstore, little more than the starchy aroma of the noodle place.

It is the soul’s oldest habit--to try to make connections between

emotions and things. And the body, at this age, wants nothing,

really, but to put its head down softly in some moonlight, to sit

while others are shown the working ropes and levers, shirking

noise rather than shaping it into meaning. In that small noise of the

still body, the pink insouciance of early morning clouds. In this

small morning suddenly everything seems oracular, even

the woman being taken away from her tent of tarps

and boxes by an affectless cop. “My husband,” she’s saying (they

pass me on the sidewalk at Spring Street and 6th) “burnt to death

in ’97 when our house came down. My husband,” she says, “he

looked just like the beautiful Elvis.”

Myself am hell

Henry Adams, admired by Lowell, argued

that Stable equilibrium is death. Either that

or it’s the only chance you have of staying afloat.

What if, like Lowell, you’ve got it crazy/bad—

feeling as if your own hand is at your throat

while a fever tyrannizes the brains, the bones,

the stones, the soul, which all ultimately turn to

blackness and language. The peak is a narrow one,

psychoanalysts say. And poetry, as we all know,

is as quiet as the sapphire in the eye of a storm,

which can only be seen when a god’s red eyelid

lifts or during maniacal episodes: gifts of the muse—

those and pain. Meanwhile, we worship the

artifices of a love song, dreaming of wings of

sonorous melody. Mythologies aren’t what they

used to be (even the lives of the poets disappoint).

A few clouds, white and piled high, navigate

through space like galleons, perfectly balanced galleons,

across the della robbia glaze of an August sky.

And yet we must not scare.

The Non-Self

Sewn through by my use

Of dashes,


In the tongue-swallows of my

Clamped down mouth,

Clamped down

On this eyelid-thin

Life of mine. She is


A social butterfly. She

Wakes wearing


Antennae and

Sun’s motes,


Fingers suggestively

Exploring a conch shell’s


Or is it my hand that

Strokes and probes

The chalky interior

Of this metaphor?

Author Bio:

Gail Wronsky is the author, coauthor, or translator of fourteen books of poetry and prose, among them Dying for Beauty, a finalist for the Western Arts Federation Poetry Prize; Poems for Infidels; Blue Shadow Behind Everything Dazzling; and Imperfect Pastorals. Her New & Selected Poems, Under the Capsized Boat We Fly is forthcoming from White Pine Press. Her translation of Alicia Partnoy’s book Fuegos Florales (Flowering Fires) recently won the American Book Prize from Settlement House Press. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Boston Review, Antioch Review, Denver Quarterly, Virginia Quarterly Review and other journals. She teaches creative writing and women’s literature at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and is currently working on an art/poetry project the with Los Angeles artist Gronk.


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