Bordighera Poetry Prize
Runner-Up of the Bordighera Poetry Prize
2001, Renata Treitel's Oklahoma Baroque
BAROQUE FATHER IN OKLAHOMA
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
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."
FATHER IN OKLAHOMA
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
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.
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.
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.
GK, geranion, name of various plants the fruits of which was thought
hold a geranium universe in my head:
to resemble a crane's bill, deriv.of geranos CRANE)
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.
© 2001 by Renata Treitel. All rights reserved.