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Glenna Luschei: Californian Poets Part 2, Five Poems

Glenna Luschei

February 23rd, 2021

California Poets: Part II

Glenna Luschei

Five Poems


I bit the dust in Matanzas

like the Spanish fleet

the indigenous Cubans destroyed.

I bit the dust in Matanzas

where all mornings unfold alike.

The nurse dabs me awake with cold

water from the mountain stream.

She leaves the liter bottle stamped

with the troll to last all day.

All Cubans drink the same fairy-tale water.

All afternoons sleep.

Abuela tunes up, “Ay Dios mio ayúdame”.

Second day I have entered her litany.

She chants, “Ella es Norteamericana y habla espanol.”

By the time she winds down

the nurse brings us rice and a drumstick.

I begin to crave the sour yogurt.

Late afternoon the TV clicks on.

Children march in the streets.

Abuela naps.

Evening at last. Another drumstick.

The nurses retire

and I creep out to the heavenly unlocked balcony.

Night goes on.

The fiesta convertibles and stray dogs

pass each other in the street.

My Father’s Work

Our teacher asked what our fathers did.

When friends said, “WPA,”

I asked my dad, "What's the WPA?"

To explain, he took me to our post office. A man on a step ladder

painted tunnels of wheat on the wall and farmers with fat legs.

The man climbed down, handed me a paint brush.

“The wheat needs a little more ochre,” he said.

I had never heard ochre.

The most beautiful word,

and I fell in love with the smell of paint,

the art on our travels, the handsome bridges in North Carolina,

and the murals of Coit Tower in San Francisco.

Cowboys and orange pickers painted on walls

meant escape from poverty, dad said.

It meant soup for the first grade.

I paid a quarter for soup and a nickel to see Roy Rogers

at the Saturday picture show.

A friend gave us a loaf of bread she cooked

with bacon grease. My mother’s bread was the best.

We shared it with men who came looking for work.

She baked bread in coffee cans. The loaves came up like mushrooms

cooling on the windowsill.

That's what I loved about the depression. We helped each other.

Decades later, I heard my father’s secrets:

“He bought me my first suit of clothes.”

“He took me off the street.”

“He sent a truckload of coal.”

What I loved most about the depression were the Indian Head pennies

my father gave us to put on the railroad tracks, and the half-dollars

he let us shell out to beggars on Pierce Street.

Scrap Metal

I was eight years old and wanted to win

the scrap metal drive.

I asked father to dispatch the lumberyard truck.

After Shorty drove back with the mattress springs and dumped them

on the playground, my excitement began to build.

Then more of our trucks came trembling into the schoolyard

with cast-off pumps and windmill blades from old farms.

We piled them against the slide. My brothers donated

their glistening tinfoil bars.

Wait! Is that my grandfather's cast-iron bed?

Would he sleep on the floor? I don’t remember.

After Spam sandwiches and grape pop, the superintendent called us

into the auditorium. He announced my name and pinned the sterling

victory pin, Dot-Dot- Dot- Dash in Morse Code, to my flannel shirt.

He saluted me and I saluted back.

I got sterling silver for asking my father to round up scrap.

I learned a lot. My family would do anything

to help me, especially grandfather who gave up his bed.

The senior boys in the auditorium returned to graduate in uniform.

Their purple hearts.

My Cat, the Shah of Iran

Along with the celadon vases for my mantle

and the dolphin sculpture,

my lover left me his cat, the Shah.

Raised from that feral kitten,

le chat orange, he prospered into the imperious

Shah of Iran.

His jeweled eyes spark my heart,

his watermarked hide presses me with ermine;

his throaty purr buzzes me

as a potentate’s kiss might.

He reclines on my chest,

stills my irregular heart beat

nods as I weave that tale, like Scheherazade’s,

that will grant us one more day.

Sick Room Story

You name it, we had it.

Flu, measles, strep throat, ear aches, a mastoid operation

not counting the time I ran my arm through the washing

machine wringer, elbow broken, two places.

We landed in the Sick Room

bureau crowded with cod liver oil bottles, my sister's adenoids

floating in a jar, the portrait of General MacArthur.

Mother rang up grandparents in Nebraska.

They came to Iowa by train carrying liniments, snake oil, and the two

Rhode Island Reds I raised from chicks last summer

on the farm.

Fresh eggs, a good start.

They bundled us in grandmother’s quilts and told us stories.

Grandfather told about crossing the prairie in a covered wagon,

two thousand dollars sewn in the mattress,

played Shenandoah on his mandolin: "Cross the Wide Missouri.”

When the Sioux raided, Grandmother hid her birthday cake in the barn.

They took a hog instead.

While we napped she went down

to the river bank to dig turmeric and gather peppermint

for our sore throats.

Then told the tale, “Sacajawea picked herbs from her keel boat,

and Lewis recorded them in his journal.

When Lewis dropped it into the river,

she went in after it, papoose and all. She called it

Chief Redhead’s Talking Papers.”

On my tenth birthday father built me an easel.

Mother gave me paints, a brush and a notebook for my poems.

Father bought a sunlamp for the Sick Room.

A six-foot intruder, it glowed and ticked, did the trick.

We got well, listened

to MacArthur’s farewell on the radio

bought an automatic washing machine

Author Bio:

Born in Iowa and educated in Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska, Glenna Luschei holds degrees from the University of Nebraska where she graduated with high distinction and was tapped Phi Beta Kappa and Mortar board. She has lived most of her life in Latin America and the American West. She is now an avocado rancher in Carpinteria, California, and served as a panelist for offering aid to farmers with the USDA, also working as a translator for Spanish-speaking workers. Luschei acted as a panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts which awarded grants to writers. She completed her PhD in Hispanic Languages and Literatures from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 2005.

In 1967, Luschei moved from Colombia to Albuquerque, with her fourth child under one arm and her first book, Carta al Norte, under the other. In Albuquerque, she established her Solo Press and the magazine Café Solo as an exchange with Latin American writers.

She participated in the New Mexico Poetry in the Schools, was named the D. H. Lawrence Fellow and a grantee of the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation. Her book, Thirty Songs of Dissolution, was published in 1977 by San Marcos Press, Cerrillos. Her retrospective of poetry, Salt Lick, was published in 2009 by West End Press, Albuquerque. Her book, The Sky Is Shooting Blue Arrows, was published in 2014 by the University of New Mexico Press. Her latest book, Zen Duende, a collaboration with Erik Greinke, was the winner of the Pushcart Prize and was published by Presa Press in 2016.

Her books of Spanish translations include those of work by Luis de Góngora y Argote and Sor Juana, Solo Press. Her Solo Press publication of Luis Aleixandre brought her and her husband Bill Horton to Aleixandre’s Nobel Prize investiture during their wedding trip in 1977. Some years later, the couple moved back to Bill’s home state of North Carolina. During that time Luschei was awarded a Fortner Prize and an honorary doctorate from St. Andrews University in Laurinburg, North Carolina.

After Luschei’s move to California, Solo Press added Solo Flight, an activities group supported by the California Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, to produce Poetry and Jazz Festivals as well as book fairs. She brought New Mexico and Mexican poets into her events, including Carlos Fuentes.

Luschei has taught for Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo; UCLA Artsreach, California Men’s Colony and Atascadero State Hospital, as well as at the University of Nebraska Writer’s Conference. She has received a National Endowment for the Arts Writer’s Fellowship and many California Arts Council individual grants.

In 2000, she was named Poet Laureate for the City and County of San Luis Obispo.


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