Mother Makes Me a Geisha Girl |
Nights My Father | Wheel
Masini's book of poems, That Kind of Danger, won the Barnard
Women Poet's Prize in 1994 and was published by Beacon Press.
Her novel, About Yvonne, was published by W.W. Norton.
Her newest book of poetry, titled A Chain of Such Longing,
will appear from W.W. Norton in 2004. Masini is a recipient of
an NEA and a New York Foundation for the Arts grant. Her poems
have appeared in TriQuarterly, the Paris Review, Georgia Review,
Parnassus, Boulevard, and many other periodicals. She is a
full time professor in the MFA Creative Writing program at Hunter
College and teaches poetry workshops at Columbia University. She
has also taught at The Writer's Voice in Manhattan. She has read
her poems on campuses throughout the Metropolitan area. Donna
Masini is a life long New Yorker who grew up in Brooklyn. She
is a graduate of Hunter College and New York University. Her work
has been praised for his communicative power and emotional strength.
Her writing has been described as stark and sensual, energetic
and intimate. She deals with urban, working-class passions with
moral strength and generosity. Her poetry is both visceral and
transcendent. Donna Masini is the Distinguished Poet Judge for
the Annual Bordighera Poetry Prize of $2000
and bilingual book publication for 2003-2004.
from That Kind of Danger, (Beacon Press: Boston.) Copyright
©2001 by Donna Masini:
Mother Makes Me a Geisha Girl
is Halloween. 1962. Brooklyn.
is late October. Afternoon light
through venetian blinds.
am eight years old. My mother is
me up. My mother is making me
geisha girl, rubbing white paint
my face, my ears, down my throat.
her hands, my head
She works me over, licks
tip of the Maybelline liner, marks
black arch across my brow, adding
years, filling in what she knows
be there, the exotic
of the eye, hooking
the hairline, mole dot below
lower lip. With a slim brush
traces red into my lips, experience
in the sex. Blue shadows. Green shadows.
hand twisting the hair from the nape
my neck, she grips the bobby pins
her mouth, talks through the narrow slit
her teeth. Hold still, she says,
blot and blink.
lightens, darkens, leaves
pi 'le of my mouths on crumpled Kleenex.
1947. Coney Island. A ride
the Caterpillar, strapped by her date
her seat. The lights go down, the puckered
begins to close, the boy
his arm around her; she has waited
this moment all her life: lipstick fresh,
seams straight, her stomach flutters, she
feels the vomit rising, she smiles
thinking this is not right, the Caterpillar
through the tunnel, worms in the dark,
rising, she backing away. This she tells me
if to say the body knows. My body
not know how to move in this pink
kimono she wraps about me. I choke
the sweet cloud of her
in Paris she sprays through my hair,
at my throat. The body knows.
my mother knows works on her, working on me.
steps, intricate hipwork. I can't
like the curve of my mother. She belts
in, making a waist where no waist is.
mother shows me how to be sexy.
me my face in the oval mirror. I look
a doll, all powder and posing,
my own eyes back. How many faces I am.
hunker down into a small knot,
dark place where faces float
up like bloated fish. The girl
the mirror is crying, her mother yelling
paint smearing steamy shadows rolling
mixing red blue black green.
never knew exactly what our father did
dark basements, late into the night.
work clothes, cellar smells.
dark came out of him.
green, creased black,
in big red letters
yellow diamond stitched across his back,
the earth with rats and tar,
he knew the way out.
by the oilburners
the heat went dead
crawled into iron mouths
out fists Of oily sludge.
a man get trapped in there?
creases where grease seeped in, never came out,
soot worms under his nails,
rolled the hose from tanks to valves
alligators curled in basements.
the harbor froze he slept on the floor by his truck.
the middle of the night there was something
through the silverware
our kitchen drawer.
the gold night light, a bear,
thick fur breathing.
amimed a gun, I shot.
was my father. His good suit pressed
the hands stuck out: greasy hands,
black the creases darkened as he washed them.
didn't need anyone. He could di it alone.
humming, clanging, air banging, heart buiilding.
she goes, he'd yell,
the center of the earth, where the heat is, and rough hands,
hands. The way they touch.
;men with rough hands
snoring comes from that place,
sounds in the body makes.Our father heated people in winter
he danced our mother
the grace of a bear,
the Christmas tree
pudding black, so black,
cake of shaking oil.
remember him in winter
when I wake,
bridge hanging across the street in the snow
skidding, whispering in the icy sun.
whispers from the bedroom,
creaking of the floor, the whispers,
dark something dropping, then he snorted through the night
dripped, radiators popped.
touch him, we screamed
he came through the door,
head in his work clothes.
dark coming out.
night the glazy stare at the TV set.
Get it going. He begins to stamp ans steam.
went under, down under streets, gratings
places men went.
a man get trapped in there?
Caves. Boilers. Crawling.
I heard him humming.
Mauro Masini (1896-1988)
grandfather is watching Vanna White.
loose shirt exposes the bones of his neck.
stares from the TV to his prayerbook and back.
sinks into his ninety-two years
already another place.
turn of the wheel and he floats out,
moves forward, shimmers
a terrible fish,
voracious smile a revelation of teeth.
reach out to touch him
shoulders bird-weak, brittle.
want to build his village around him, of air and chicken
soft Tuscan earth.
face backward to speak to him.
is a wheel broke loose, spinning out,
children tethered to the spokes trying to hold him.
long time ago in a place far away . . .
his stories begin. We ate chestnutflour,
left for America with my brothers.
Old home of Italialn and Jews.
streets. West Indian now,
their legs to take in the new,
old Granada Theater a Baha'i church.
are the cracks you tarred?
man, new beard, walking the streets of an alien city.
man whirling through old space
prayerbook pages across Flatbush Avenue.
gold band slips from his finger, too thin now;
weight of its sixty-five years no longer secures him.
letting it all go-zippers, pajama tops, bowels, and
a Tuscan village a garden of tombstones, photographs-
people MASINI carved on a churchyard wall,
cotta floor, floor his father laid, tile by tile.
land he worked. The people he left.
already miss the particular and definite
of his fingers
a bag of sugar and cream,
muscular arm stirring a pot of polenta,
cheeses, the fruits, the bowl of strewwed prunes,
of the corss over a handful of pills.
Recipes. Ave Maria.
is a child now,
is younger than I am.
years is not long enough.
lifts his legs, raises
prayerbook to the TV screen,
up at me, blinking, expectant.
wheel if turning
I want to whisper, say your good-byes.
to Villa, il Volto Santo, the church on the hill,
terra cotta, mortadella, Lucca, Firenze.
Giovanni, Filiberto, Pietro, and Laura.
boats that carried you to New York and the boats you
to the 1910, Ellis Island, Oliver Street,
boccie courts where you found your old tongue
Italian Bronx where you discovered your wife,
quick hands, her superstitions and fears.
to Canal Street, dishwasher jobs
German baker who taught you:
life into dough-let it rise.
to nightshifts and train rides to Brooklyn,
Holy Cross Church, bamboo cane down Flatbush Aveenuye,
legs, unsteady hands.
to novenas and rosaries, holy cards, candles
Gloria, Hugo, Bruno, Diana.
to the oak chest.
to the courtyards you tarred
stone steps you painted,
grandchildren who chipped them with stoopball and sticks.
wheel is turning.
grandfather is sleeping.
in pace ora
Recipes. Ave Maria.
from That Kind of Danger. Beacon Press: Boston. Copyright
© by Donna Masini. All rights reserved.