The writers and editors at NJ Spotlight like to take advantage of the August slowdown to ease back on the throttle themselves and spend more time with family and friends. While we’re recharging, however, we’ll be posting an excerpt from a book or author with a New Jersey connection every day as part of our Summer Reading series. We’ll be back rested and ready on September 4. Have a great Labor Day and keep reading.
In his poem “The Testing Tree,” Stanley Kunitz wrote, “It is necessary to go/through dark and deeper dark/and not to turn.” Emari DiGiorgio is not a poet to shrink from darkness, not in “Tender,” with its play on the meaning of the title,” in which a father dickers with a “vendor” over the price his daughter will fetch (with its startling, painful last line). And not in “The Firing Point,” written in memory of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, in which the poet says, “I want to walk through that school, tap each child/on the shoulder, fold their souls into strips of accordion/pleated paper …”
But to consider DiGiorgio only as a poet of darkness (of violence against women, say, or of our disastrous incursions in southern and western Asia) would to be to miss the honest, ironic confusion of trying to buy a toy for her son, “When You Ask for the Sherman Tank,” and the joy contained in its ending. And it would mean missing the truly tender evocation of her mother in “Snow Moon over Ocean City, NJ” or the wonderful comparison of the poet’s attempts at tomato sauce, compared with those of her grandmother, who stood “on a cinderblock in the backyard to stir a cauldron of boiling /tomatoes to can a year’s worth …”
A father takes his daughter to market,
asks how much she’s worth. She sits
on one side of a scale, while the vendor
loads cases of pomegranates
on the other. No, the father says,
I sent her to school. The vendor opens
a toolbox, takes out a light bulb, checks
the filament before screwing it
into her ear. Okay, he says and starts
stacking timber and nails on the scale.
In the next stall, a young woman earns
her weight in sea glass and silk. The father
gestures toward her, wants to know why
his daughter isn’t worth so much. That girl
is a whore, says the vendor. The father turns
to his own child. And my daughter is not?
Of All the Things a Body Might Become—
An anvil, a bottle of bleach, a basketball—yours becomes a container, the
kind you might receive at the holidays, filled with shortbread or caramel
corn. So hard to get the lid off, you’d ask for help, or crack a sweat in the
pantry to sneak a sweet treat.
They made good banks, the canisters, safe-keeping cylinders. You fillled
yours with matchbooks, a lipstick, feathers, broken brooches, an arrowhead,
a camisole your mother threw out, the tiniest conch you’d ever
found, a prayer card from your great-grandmother’s funeral.
The man hushes you, his fingers trail your jaw as he tries to pry you
open. He works on one side then shimmies the other. You feel a blast of
cool air along your insides as soon as he cracks the lid. He takes a book
of matches, fingers each one and pockets the pack.
No one notices at the multiplex cinema. Your vest and bow tie don’t fit
anymore. Your manager warns you: Please wear your uniform tomorrow.
This is the last time I’m going to ask.
After work, the man asks you to come with him. There’s a party. His
friends are there. He’d like you to meet his friends. You’re in his car.
You’re in the living room of his friends’ apartment.
They put on some music. You feel the rush of air down the length of
To take the arrowhead from one man’s palm. To singe their fingers or
faces with each match struck. To recite “The Lord’s Prayer,” as if it were a
curse. This is the last time I’m going to ask.
Because studies show a rapist will grab
the bosom first. Here is a bra with enough juice
to jumpstart a Greyhound bus, a woman
who can stride the streets of Chennai with confidence.
Watch her pay her bus fair. Note the spring in her step,
how clutch would be the wrong word to describe
how she carries her canvas tote. Because a can of mace
is never enough. Because a man cannot help himself.
The shine of a woman’s hair. The gash of mouth.
Because she’s waiting for the 1J, her sister, the market
to open. Watch him imagine her body, curbside,
having fallen from a wagon or some neighbor’s tree.
How she’d fit in his palms. Body as banknote, earthen pot.
Because a woman must protect herself. Because a smile
is provocation. The team is working on a suitable fabric,
so the woman can wash it like an ordinary garment.
So she will never get a shock herself.
The Firing Point
I want to walk through that school, tap each child
on the shoulder, fold their souls into strips of accordion
pleated paper, release them bullet-free: the fast flash
of monarch wings in flight. I want to press my finger
to my lips as we line up in the hall hand in hand
and walk into the bright December light. I want to tap
the fallen teachers too, then stand in a circle
around the young man who took his own life. I want
the children to decide. What’s right or wrong
or fair? If each could save one life, would his be it?
I want to have kept my daughter home, permitted her
pecan ice cream, waffles—if I knew that breakfast
was to be her last. I wish that as soon as the gun
was visible, she thought of feeding geese, and when it was
pointed at her, the trigger pop sent her straight into sleep.
Outside the firehouse, aching, angry, a struck match,
I want her back. I want that man to suffer, want his mother
to lose her child, and when I learn that she lost him,
his whole life, I want to hold a gun in my hands,
to tear open a paper target, until wind whistles through,
until I empty the chamber, between the eyes,
into the same spot I’d kiss my daughter every night.
When You Ask for the Sherman Tank
I don’t want to give you miniatures of war:
an apache copter with a gunman to scale.
To park a carmine Ferrari on your shelf
promises a key to the Old Boys Club,
where fathers plan cruises over Belgian ale
and thick cuts of sirloin. I search the shelves
of AC Moore for a click and lock kit, a model.
But even the Visible Man is skeleton and sinew,
no apparent soul. Perhaps I’ve got it all wrong.
I should give you something larger: a whole sea,
a mountain, a galaxy. At Wheaton Arts, I watched
a stick of glass orange as the rod spun through fire.
It wasn’t anything yet. I’d like to give you that.
Child: another model, in perfect scale.
Darling, the music of engines is a dirge,
when what I wish for you is sonata, some
small piece of happiness that you may carry
as I have no say where you might go.
Snow Moon over Ocean City, NJ
And the hungers are out.
Boardwalk shops shuttered for the season,
wind rattling padlocks and roll-down doors.
Here, in the bone moon, where I roam
snow-swept dunes, you appear: spector
of summer kitchens past, dragging
your chains–heavy clatter of cast iron pots—
through marram grass. Canning rings tumble
from wrists like bangles dropped.
The unmistakable walk of a fused ankle.
When you died I claimed the inoperable artifacts—
Royal standard typewriter and folding
Singer sewing table—when what I wish I took
were the letters bound and boxed beneath
the stairs, an unfnished afghan, some sense
of your penmanship and voice, something
to draw close. You haven’t come to haunt me.
You shuffle toward water’s edge where foam
swallows drifts whole, leaves the shore pocked.
In this light, I see straight through skin, your veins:
fraying cross-stitch of blue and purple asters.
When Emari DiGiorgio Vacuums
is an introductory clause as unusual as the last time I saw
legs like that because Emari DiGiorgio is a tough name.
It’s not Dean Young or Sharon Olds. People stumble
over so many vowels, stress the wrong syllable: like emery,
the nail file, or university. Then why not spell it that way?
Emari DiGiorgio doesn’t vacuum the hardwoods because
it never seems as effective as sweeping and her vacuum
has lackluster sucking abilities. Most of the sand and cat hair
just blows from one static-charged corner to another.
But she doesn’t sweep often either, the too-easy task
the first she’s apt to ignore, and no one else’s sweeping.
Not the husband who’s bathed the baby and now waits
with the BBC news anchor while Emari DiGiorgio cooks
eggplant parm from scratch. Taking care to not mandolin
thumb and middle finger as she pulls the butt of eggplant
over V blade, eking out two more slices to egg dip,
breadcrumb, and fry with olive oil. She didn’t grow
the tomatoes, onions, or garlic simmering, the purple beauty;
she has the convenience of dried spices in a jar, a log
of mozzarella from Pathmark. Unlike her grandmother,
who’d say Must be good whenever she speckled her breasts
with whatever she made, though the odds of her missing
those prodigious knockers were as unlikely as her making
a shitty meal. When Emari DiGiorgio makes pasta sauce,
there’s enough for one maybe two meals. She doesn’t stand
on a cinderblock in the backyard to stir a cauldron of boiling
tomatoes to can a year’s worth. When Angelina Ferrucci died,
the family parceled out the last sauce stacked under basement
steps. These were her cameo brooches. When Emari DiGiorgio
fries eggplant, the only sound she hears is the voice in her head
telling her to not leave fork on pan, to not brush either
with right wrist, the voice listing other tasks some related,
many unrelated to dinner.
Excerpted from The Things a Body Might Become Copyright © 2017 by Emari DiGiorgio with the kind permission of the author and Five Oaks Press.
Read more from the 2018 Summer Reading Series.