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Poems From First Runner-Up of the Bordighera Poetry Prize 2001, Renata Treitel's Oklahoma Baroque


Ranata TreitelRenata Treitel of Tulsa, Oklahoma, is a teacher, poet, and translator who was educated in Italy, Argentina, and the United States. She taught Italian and Spanish at the University of Tulsa and at the Tulsa Community College. She translated two poetry collections from the Spanish: Susana Thenon's distancias (1994) and Amelia Biagioni Las Cacerias (2001). From the Italian she has translated two poetry collections by Rosita Copioli Splendida lumina solis published by Sun & Moon Press in 1996 under the title of The Blazing Lights of the Sun, and Furore delle rose. The Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry generously sponsored the translation of the two Copioli collections, one of which, The Blazing Lights of the Sun, received the 1997 Oklahoma Book Award for Poetry. Oklahoma Baroque is Treitel's first full poetry manuscript. Renata Treitel was First Runner-Up for the Bordighera Poetry Prize 2001. Of her poetry, Of Treitel's poetry, Dorothy Barassi, judge, wrote: "These are brave, inventive, generous poems. They are willing to travel an open-ended route toward their own discoveries, each line driven by language rather than by preconceived ideas. I admire the intelligence of these poems, and the rueful imagination that is edgy but never smug or disaffected."


My father used to get lost in the Tulsa
  streets at right angles.  His vision was
at odds with straight lines.  In Rome
  he moved by the yardstick of theBaroque.
He could navigate curlicues and chaos, the play
  of light and shadow, the chiaroscuro, sun to moon
as in a Piranesi print. In Tulsa he missed the telling
  street signs: the gigantic marble foot on a pedestal
at the school corner--an obscene limb of a forgotten
  god--reminding him to turn left, or the fountain
by a palazzo where an aproned stone-vintner
  poured from time immemorial out of a barrel
reminding my father to turn right, or the boy peeing
  into a basin among nymphs and swans.  He missed
facades in motion and countermotion, frills,
  flowery chords, arpeggios, concave and convex walls.  
In Oklahoma, just outside towns,
  city roads lead into the expanse of Indian
grasses: switch grass and tall bluestem,
  buffalo grass and blue grama.  Just
outside towns, the straight lines blur,
  dissolve, die. In Oklahoma, the prairie edges
advance and retreat. A thousand wildflowers sway.
  Over and over, fire and rain
create the prairie: a world dreaming itself
  into being, turning and turning with the elements
and the equinoxes.  Here,far from Tulsa, in the swell of Oklahoma,
  I turn on the Baroque brain of my father,
pay attention to the sensual signs: the lightning
  the rumbling the slithering--the prairie's many Baroque
flowerings and curlicues: the tumble of light and dark,
  the exquisite tracery of filaments, the fluid, capricious
space of this Oklahoma that offers shifting visions in an alchemy
  of grasses, that challenges all boundaries: this
Oklahoma, where a convex horizon rumbles in a stampede of
  buffalo, where a sudden rush of wind sweeps up red dust.
Daughter of the Baroque: I can navigate the roadless wild.


FENNEL (prose poem)    

                      for Natasha

Too exotic for the Oklahoma of the 1960's, "What's this?" the woman at the cash register would ask raising the hairy stalk, her expression of half fascination half disgust, not the way I hoped I would ask what is collop or what are collard greens.  "What's this?"  Oh, I would praise the white flesh, the beautiful hair, the sweet perfume under the shell.  I would offer information, plead for the fennel, for its seed: fennel seed good on bread and rolls, on cakes, cookies, fish, shellfish, I would say; or, fennel seeds on apples baked with sugar, on top of apple pies, fennel seed with beef, lamb, pork, chicken and duck, whether stewed or braised, in pilaf and salads and sauerkraut and cheese. I would also plead for fennel shoots: they flavor sauces, soups, chowders, candy, they flavor liqueur, perfume oils, soaps, medications.  And blanched, I would add as an after thought, back home where I come from, everyone knows they can be used in place of celery.

Perennial, relative of carrot and anise, a Mediterranean vessel more sealed than an onion, more sealed than a woman's body, grooved, tough outer layer, the hard knot a toothless woman fears under her gums.  It's the Florence fennel, finocchio, (rhymes with Pinocchio)  that seizes my fancy. Finocchio wants to be eaten al dente; or if cooked, it's better baked like in Fennel Parmesan; or, neither raw nor baked, it can be immersed in olive oil with garlic and salt, the dish Florentines call fennel in pinzimonio, sharp-tongued Florentines--always ready to seize the bizarre, always ready to let vulgar usage deform in order to describe--as when they say, "That man is a finocchio,‚Äù and then they are unkind twice.

"Fennel!" exclaims Natasha, the connoisseur, intent on the pleasure of each ingredient.  From Fénelon to Faneuil Hall, the long drawn 'f' feels soothing, a felt-tipped pen on paper or a slow-circling falcon on a lazy afternoon, 'f' soft like flannel or like alfalfa tufts a horse lifts from a Vermont field.  Fennel.  I taste the sound.  I hold it like a sigh between my lip and teeth, the sound I release softer than 'shhh'-someone-sleeps, precursor of 'n' when I bounce my tongue, hold the tip against the ridge, and wait for a liquid 'l' to fill my mouth.

Sometimes my tongue trips on a vowel.  From fennel to funnel, a slight breach or a sudden fracture through which I fall like water down a canyon.  I fear the gorge will crush me, food forced down the throat to fatten a Christmas goose, but I save myself as we all do if we open our eyes, foie gras melts in my mouth, an open flue through which smoke curlicues rise, I am an Apache, I read the signs, I sniff fumes from a cooking pit, stagger into a new language.  Fennel.

Finocchio.  There returns the memory of something good, something happy, clean.  Another point of view.  My first English teacher spoke clear words, simple words as one employs with a child when one wants to be understood. "The body of a woman is open, she would say. "Women should not wear skirts.  Anything could enter."  Suddenly I am by the Blasha Glass Flowers.  A bumble-bee, a huge bumble-bee--ten,twenty, fifty times its size--hairy legs on a huge yellow fennel flower.  Here it is: the mystery of pollination made clear, simple: fruit gestates and is born after the latent labor.  And so, new life.  And as for the fennel, in the Oklahoma of the 1990's, everyone loves fennel like a long lost, newly found language.

(Italian Americana)


   (From GK, geranion, name of various plants the fruits of which was thought
    to resemble a crane's bill, deriv.of geranos CRANE)

I hold a geranium universe in my head:
on window-sills in narrow streets of Rome,
on iron-black balconies above the dark lanes
of Venice where cats come at night to piss.

I hold Oklahoma geraniums. Geranium bodies
Matisse painted on canvas, skies in fiery prairie
sunsets, oranges: the red Sicilian oranges
grandmother ate in the luminous Venetian mornings.

Where I live, geraniums are keepers of doors.
They welcome arrivals, watch departures,
wave flags.  I love above all the flowery red
clusters, the soft hair of the leaves,

the pungent smell like the one I recall
in my grandmother's garden. I love
the dark lines that waver inside the scalloped
platter and, when fall comes, the long

slender beaks of their carpel.  My grandmother
grew geranium on the wire fence,
trained them tall by the side of the house
or in vases with zinnias set in full sun.

I grow them by stuccoed walls
under my Mediterranean roof,
in terra-cotta pots with cherubs and
garlands of flowers on the side.

I like the quick snap at the root of the stem
when I remove a dead crown.
The little click tells me there will be more heads.
In the summer, I hold the round stem

between my thumb and finger.
I never let my geranium go to pod.
When I bring my ear close to the geranium
I hear the cry of the crane as distant

as the ancestral root pulling open a door,
drawing me into the world of flowers and birds
who lend their bodies to each other
giving themselves to raging joy.

(Cimarron Review)

Copyright © 2001 by Renata Treitel. All rights reserved.

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