01 June 2007

Featured Poet: Tony Trigilio

Tony Trigilio's newest books include a collection of poetry, The Lama's English Lessons (Three Candles Press, 2006); a book of criticism, Allen Ginsberg's Buddhist Poetics (forthcoming, July 2007, Southern Illinois University Press); and an anthology, coedited with Tim Prchal, of literature on the immigration experience, Visions and Divisions: American Immigration Literature, 1870-1930 (forthcoming, Winter 2008, Rutgers University Press). His poems have been anthologized in The City Visible: Chicago Poetry for a New Century (Cracked Slab, 2007); Digerati: 20 Contemporary Poets in the Virtual World (Three Candles, 2006), and America Zen (Bottom Dog, 2004); and recent poems are published or forthcoming in journals such as Big Bridge, Black Clock, Denver Quarterly, Diagram, La Petite Zine, The Laurel Review, MiPoesias, and North American Review. He teaches at Columbia College Chicago, where he also serves as Director of Creative Writing--Poetry.


American habits,
sleeping in.

military parade,
all the workers.

I visited
the Zigers,

We dance
play around
till 2 in the morning,

chanteuse Anita.
Sunk in the glint,
her slip,
almonds in the ashtray,
the spell of vodka,
my head dropped sideways,
radiator hackling,

her voice
a dignified thing --
the man who stepped
quickly past us
this morning
as if balancing
a plum on his nose
when he heard
my accent.

Ziger advised me
in a way
that comes back,
to go back,

first voice
of opposition
I understood.

Ziger respects
the world --

says numerous things
and mentions
things numerous
I do not know --
I start to feel
inferior, difficult,
it is true!



On the dance floor, they dip like swimmers.
The people.
I perch, the foreigner -- distant, unreal,
a saint looking down
from the rafters of the Palace of Culture.

They swivel, run away from their own bodies,
catch the light like fireflies.

In the future, houses get bigger,
their men keep themselves alive
till their children are born.

Nothing rises unless someone gashes the soil.

I’m bored -- no nightclubs or bowling alleys,
only trade union dances.

U2s fly in circles, protecting
milk truck routes in the suburbs
from the Red Army --

anyone can put in school books
that tea was dumped in the harbor,
anyone can skim the grass with blab
and call it revolution.

Their shoulders dark, touching
dialectic sway, waltz time.

It’s obnoxious, the future is a style.

The savior appears as the belly
of an army in the last stage of history,
seer and seen the same,
the people go forth
in the hurry tumble of waves,
become what they behold.
A hawk, bloody wing-print
on the rafters . . .

The girl I tried to meet
when she came into the hall --
her dress, red Chinese brocade,
puff French hairdo รก la Brigitte Bardot.
White slippers.
This is not Ella.
Eyes burnished, an exile’s. Lips drowsy.
Tells me her name is Marina.


Oswald Translates The Queen of Spades Playing Cards with Ella

The Russian names
for things belong to her.

I am ready to do anything
for your sake.

I am ready to be I vow
not only to be your husband,

a servant
in different indefinitely forever.

Ella deals a hand.
A gambler is a beggar

for perfect love,

thinks he can pull
the magic card

from its fix
in the limbics.

One card you can't play
by the rules.

I love you, love you
immeasurably. I cannot imagine

life without
you. I am ready right now

to make perform
a heroic

deed of unknown

for your sake.
But do not

wish to restrain your
freedom in any way.

I am ready
to conceal my feelings

to please you.

The women of Minsk
twirl their skirts --

we are a society
of rich men

who never lose
our heads

but go on

I am willing
not only to be

your husband -- I am
saddened by sad with

your sadness
and I weep

with your tears.
How feeling. How remote.

Ace beats Queen.
She winks at me.

Marina's pregnant
and Ella makes

my stomach hurt.
She can
't understand me

because of my accent.

I am ready right now
to perform a heroic deed

of unprecedented prowess
for your sake



Punched out, lids sunk in whirlpool, Oswald
heard that day about a visit from Hosty,
the FBI agent, who questioned Marina
about their marriage, why she lived with the Paines,
the Castro leaflets, the Book Depository.
She didn’t give him her husband’s address in Dallas.

She didn’t know he lived in that boarding house in Dallas
under an assumed name, O.H. Lee, not Oswald.
He visited weekends from the Book Depository,
but the rest, even his own name, was mystery. Now Hosty,
sniffing some kind of trail, phoned Ruth Paine
for the address he couldn’t get from Marina.

Hosty noted: "He keeps secrets. Worked radar as a Marine,
learned Russian fast -- too fast? -- lies low in Dallas,
keeps a Soviet wife (forbids she learn English) at the Paines'
in Irving. He’s a defector. Can I be sure Oswald
stopped agitating for Cuba? That he’s really a laborer hoisting
cartons -- just a warehouse clerk at the Book Depository?"

Oswald wrote down the phone number for the Depository
so Ruth could give it to Hosty. But he told Marina
to memorize the agent’s license plate next time Hosty
came to call in Irving. That’s when the Dallas
FBI got their own visit: a tired, angry Oswald --
worn down, wave after wave upon rock, the pain

of sticky warehouse work, his dependence on the Paines.
Shit labor with school books. His paychecks deposited
in a dry well hiding O.H. Lee, A.J. Hidell, Oswald,
all his fake names, and Alik, of course, as Marina
warmly used (since Lee sounded Chinese). Dallas
in 1963 beat him: a nest of John Birchers, fickle host

for an FBI double-life. He delivered the "Hosty
Note," fabled to have said: Stay away from the Paines
or else I’ll come for you. I’ll blow up the FBI and the Dallas
Police. I’ve done what the Bureau asked at the Book Depository.
From now on, you better stop harassing Marina.
This will not end in tragedy for me. Signed, L.H. Oswald.

When Ruby did his part, Hosty shredded the note he’'d safe-deposited.
He painstakingly lied under oath, said he questioned only Marina --
said he never met Dallas FBI informant #179, L.H. Oswald.



After failing to obtain a Cuban visa in Mexico City, Oswald crosses back into the United States at Laredo, Texas.

Wrist scars, bad hospital food and I wanted to be a Soviet citizen.

All over the headlines in Forth Worth. Famous U.S. Marine defector works at a radio factory in Minsk. In the hospital, violins.

They scrambled the U-2 codes. I joined a hunting club.

German girl, seat in front. Sign up ahead: Importation of fresh produce into the U.S. without a valid permit is prohibited.

Marina says you go hunting in Russia, you catch a bottle of Vokda. I shot a duck once.

Take the banana from my bag. Spot of yellow in my eye, black-pocked, soft. Sweating cheek against my palm. I’m not a smuggler.

Delicate, the swale of my heart. Neck is wet. The German girl -- her hair a handful of hay washed up on white sand.

I wrote: I think to myself, "How easy to die" and "a sweet death (to violins)." Rimma finds me half-dead (bathtub water a rich red color). Somewhere a violin plays as I watch my life whirl away.

Night of the violins, a Soviet folktale: a man shoots a duck but comes back with a banana. That’s crazy.

The puffed-up cloud in my sleep -- the petty official who tried to send me back to America. Balding stout, I wrote. Tells me, "USSR only great in literature."

Pushed away the drone, the heat inside my head, the temperature of Rimma’s face. My undershirt was spicy, wet.

[Note: Poem adapts source material from Lee Harvey Oswald's Soviet journal, titled "Historic Diary," which he kept from 1959-1962.]

©copyright 2007 Tony Trigilio

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