top of page

Marsha de la O: California Poets Part 3, Four Poems

Marsha de la O

June 25th, 2021

California Poets: Part III

Marsha de la O

Four Poems

The Way It Happened How many hours did the sky bear down before it felt like a dense fist of pain loosening? As though another mouth stretched an O inside a body not my own. A body opened like a split peach, sleek and rent, the knees pressed wide. And was it joy that lurched downward, flooding the linoleum? I rise into the cries. If blood were silk and my legs crumbling pillars, if sound were a long caress of its own morphology and screams could plow a room, could harrow light, all you would see is red. Red on the inside of closed lids, and red the unstoppable force. Child, listen now, the evening fills with blood-colored clouds, I spend hours falling for your face. I fall for you like a ripe fruit. Fallen from the mouth of pleasure.

If it’s possible to go back to that first night and tease out that first moment when a future seemed likely, Esther Phillips was covering Home Is Where the Hatred Is at the Hollywood Bowl with her exquisite diction, and up in the cheap seats grown women all around me who knew that song wasn’t about heroin addiction so much as the men sitting next to them, leapt to their feet because they had the words by heart, and so did I, and we all felt compelled to rise for our anthem and sing those words out loud – the men beside us had no idea; that was the instant I knew it could be done – it would take time and a plan, but I was standing up, and I wasn’t singing alone.

Asking the Pears April. Fierce baby cabbage, spindly tomato, pears arriving early during this gospel of death lit like small lanterns, hand-size Neolithic goddesses, sun-warm, ticking, headless, footless, primordial: Where will you be when you’re gone? Should I ask the pear cupped in my hand, filling my palm with its womanly shape? Pears are inconstant. Never the same. A drop or two of rosewater, balm of sunlight in uncertain quantity, ivory flesh – only sometimes crisp. Didn’t you tell me once their moment is fragile; watch closely, take them exactly when rolling their pale gold against the blue, nymphs fully formed, yes, but still hard. They refuse a single understanding. You said I must core, peel, and slice the pears. Then rub them with lemon juice. It takes two knives to cut butter into almond flour to a consistency of coarse meal. You said this. And I want to say: what becomes of us afterward? Slow ripples in air. What falls from the bough rests on the earth.

Lechones Suckling pigs the size of infants, their skin golden and glistening with fat, hanging from hooks in the windows of pocket eateries on the narrow streets of Toledo – we saw them after- wards, those lechones – little ones voracious for milk, guzzlers, eager milkers, hungry mouths. The woman I was with strongly felt St John of the Cross betrayed himself with rapture, the language of lover and beloved, too much, too sexual – later she would shave her head and become a Buddhist nun – but that day we made our clumsy, in-the-moment translations on the train to one another as though searching through those songs of longing for what we would not understand and everywhere the most audacious intimacies, reading them aloud, eyes on each other, and would she taste the tenderness of new life, let the grease smear her lips? She would not. Hills the color of flayed leather, rounding their curves, a view of Toledo, the holy city like a silver brooch against the breast of storm, El Greco painted it that way. Landscape painting forbidden since the Council of Trent. He did it anyway, a rugged promontory clothed in green, claiming color as the most ungovernable element. How could that be in La Mancha— small spears and knives of grass as fresh with desire as flesh and vein, flush with dark water? Only if landscape is encounter, not description; the eye says what it does not see, the steep where the deer grazes, unquestioning sourceless light. My body as escarpment, slope, rockfall, as thin soil tunneled by new grass. Under a dome of storm. The eye of the deer also eye of the lover. What is it You want of me?

Author Bio:

Marsha de la O’s latest poetry book from Pitt Poetry Series, Every Ravening Thing, came out in 2019, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Her previous book, Antidote for Night, won the 2015 Isabella Gardner Award and was published by BOA Editions. Her first book, Black Hope, was awarded the New Issues Press Poetry Prize and was published by New Issues Press, Western Michigan University. Black Hope also received an Editors’ Choice, Small Press Book Award. De La O lives in Ventura, California, with her husband, poetry host and Ventura County Poet Laureate Emeritus, Phil Taggart. Together, they produce poetry readings and events in Ventura County through the non-profit Ventura County Poetry Project.


bottom of page