The poetry of Lee Passarella has appeared in Chelsea, Cream City Review, The Formalist, Antietam Review, Mediphors, The Literary Review, The Wallace
Stevens Journal, Snake Nation Review, Slant, Italian Americana, Tar River
Review, The Writer's Journal, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and many other
periodicals. More work is forthcoming in The Ledge, The Louisville Review,
Rock & Sling, and Chiron Review. Passarella's long narrative poem
based on the American Civil War, Swallowed Up in Victory (White Mane
Books), appeared in 2002. In 2004, Passarella was a finalist in the Dallas Poets
Community annual poetry contest and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. In 2006,
his first poetry collection, The Geometry of Loneliness, will be
published by David Robert Books. Passarella teaches English at Georgia Perimeter College in Lawrenceville and
acts as senior literary editor for Atlanta Review magazine.
I didn't think about it much that day
I found the spot of blood on the floorboards, dried
into a filmy cup that curled its lip
of pale red celluloid, at bottom held
a bit of still-wet blood. My mom or dad
had cut themselves is all, I must have thought,
until my mother came home red-eyed, voice
a trapped thing clawing to get free. She had
been bleeding for a month or more, and now
her doctor took a biopsy to tell
if she had cancer.
We would wait almost
a week, depressed and comfortless. The cup
that wouldn't pass kept filling and refill-
ing in my mind, the little cup that held
so much unhappiness. That was my first
big scare—although it ended well enough.
The doctor called, herself, to say that Mom
would need a hysterectomy; benign
but bleeding cysts was all that had been wrong.
My mother later said she knew she'd be
all right because the night before we got
the call, her bedroom window had gone white
with light like none she'd ever seen, and then
she heard her own dead father's voice. He told
her not to worry, that she wouldn't die
and leave her child. It hadn't been a dream,
the voice so real.
And now I wonder what
if anything spoke comfort to her in
her final illness a decade later, when
we all cajoled and coaxed her she was get-
ting better, that the stroke we thought she'd had
was past and she was on the mend. Who spoke
to her when seizures came again and she
sat rattling all to bits—a runaway
machine whose crazy motion sheared the bolts
that held the thing together? When they took
an angiogram, and her blood betrayed
the terrible death she was harboring,
bizarre complicity that cancer is?
or when the window failed to catch the light
a second time—just staring back at her
out of the dark, through eyes she vaguely knew.
Originally published in The Formalist
The Passing of G. F. Handel
Like most, it is a lonely end.
His cook, who (he'd said) knows
more of counterpoint than Willibald Gluck,
is sadly looking for other employment.
Though der Koch believes that none
will be as appreciative of his talents
as sein lieber Meister. (The meddling doctors,
in truth, had taken much of the savor
from the old boy's salt in these last years.)
His favorite soprano, too, has her livelihood
to seek, and looks to Mr. Arne
and Dr. Boyce. They do not disappoint.
Besides, there is a new wind in the reed.
First of all, there is this Gluck,
who gives his singers less of busy stuff
to do—those coloratura wastelands that
stretch in endless arid leaps and shakes and runs—
more of work that's from the heart;
he will be heard again in England.
And then, there is one Herr Karl Abel,
master of both the gamba and clavier,
said to be the next great comet in London's
musical skies. Which, after all, are bright!
His manservant bathes and shaves him
this one last time, lathers the brush,
strops the razor, listening between
the dry strokes for the "Dead March"
out of Saul, the mighty fallen.
While at the Court Theater in Vienna,
Gluck rehearses a comic opera
by another hand, and daydreams of
Orpheus among the shades.
Originally published on the Handel - Händel - Haendel - Hendel Web site
The Jar, Part 2
With apologies to Wallace Stevens
Southeast of Knoxville, where I-40 curls
its scaly length around the tree-furred rocks,
it's like some spooked snake's liquid-swift furling
glide among a field of boulders pocked
with lichen. Here, you ride the snake's broad back,
its single purpose, while the mountains frown,
indifferent as the gods. The pine and oak
up near the crest seem trivial—are grown
a petri dish concoction. Any sort
of jar would be as lost there as a painter's soul,
no matter what its girth, or what its port
in air. A body hidden on the cold
north peak would sleep till June, under the snow.
Now ahead, around that curve, I'd take it slow.
Originally published in The Wallace Stevens Journal
Kite Flying at Brigantine
We loft our red box kite in sky so clear,
Sun bleached, it's livid, like a hurt—rope burn,
A knee skinned down to dermis.... (Now I spurn
The "great outdoors," though once I didn't fear
De rigueur summer ills....) Kite's paid out near
A thousand feet seaward, only to yearn
For more. You race down to the store, return
With one last spool. It's harder yet to steer!
In fresh-gale winds, ardor unsatisfied,
The thing breaks loose, and learns that freedom's good.
We've lost our kite! Still, that's all right with us.
We stare till our eyes burn, until kite's plied
Its higher course above the sea, red dust
Speck where bold swaths, broad as a flag, once stood.
Originally published in The New Formalist
Bellerophon in the Outback
Poseidon knows, he isn't half
The man he was before the gaffe
That made his nemesis, old Zeus,
Spook Pegasus, and turn him loose:
His hair and beard, both bird-nest wild,
His right arm hangs limp at his side,
As worthless as a Gorgon's tear.
The left arm hugs his warrior's spear,
Old habits dying slow (his brains
And legs both lame). Sightless, he canes
His way to where he's going.... Where
Is there to go? And should he care?
He's seen the Summit, after all—
Last sight, in fact, he can recall—
Vast courts gold-topped, like cumuli,
Sweet Siren rocks where dreamers die.
Originally published in The New Formalist
Saturday Morning Chez Baudelaire
J'entends déjà tomber avec des chocs funèbres
Le bois retentissant sur le pavé des cours.
Behind the house, under rain,
they argue over aged bread
from the freezer—twenty,
thirty starlings wearing
their herringbones, shingled
gray and charcoal like light
failing under winter skies;
their reluctant friends the grackles—
beacon eyes, headsman hoods
opalescing in the half light,
like puddles on macadam; only
dour blackbirds shiver at the feeder,
lonely in the rank the chevroned
wings confer. Their many-voiced
complaint drives me for cover;
I grasp the thigh beside mine,
feel for the soft, inner warmth
of coursing blood against
hard truths they'd have me visit,
the dull knives of their song
skinning my ears, opening
memory like a vein.
Originally published in Chelsea
The Air Plant
Like most people, you are not
beautiful or useful. You survive.
The dry wires of your roots
only keep you from washing away
in your rainforest. The leathery fingers
of your crown are pale, shale-gray,
uncomely, unlike the bean-green
of the pineapple or the bromeliad,
your lovely cousins. Sea lily, brittle
star, you have been where it is warm
and green as any reef. And now
you live where there are seasons.
The boys from Maracaibo
and Valencia have come to take you
from your tree house, to live
with the gringos, in el norte.
We have all been like you,
reinventing ourselves from the ashes,
living on so little it is like a lie.
I am told you could live that way
for ages. Not you precisely,
but the "pups" you will suckle
on your withering tits, outdoing
even the black widow in suicidal
self-promotion. We'd all
like to go like that:
taken in the act, still high
with the sex, or big with seed
that will split us with its roots,
that will drop from us like blood.
Originally published in Snake Nation Review