In Memoriam: 1938–2012
Founding Editor of Poetry International, Fred Moramarco (“Federico”
to his friends) was a poet, Professor of Literature at San Diego State University,
former Chair of the SDSU Department of English and Comparative Literature, and a
literary critic, as well as a producer, director, and actor.
He co-produced the award-winning Hannah and Martin at the Lyceum Theater
in 2006, and performed at the Old Globe, the San Diego Rep, Sledgehammer, Diversionary
Theatre, and with other San Diego theatre companies.
He was the author and editor of several books including Containing Multitudes:
Poetry in the US since 1950; Men of Our Time; and Deliciously Italian.
His most recent collection of poetry, The City of Eden, was published by
Laterthanever Productions, and the following poems are from that collection.
Always there are things left behind, some earrings, or stockings,
a pair of underwear or two, photos that are hard to look at, that
pinch the soul with each glance; there are usually cards and
drawings, handwriting that makes you wince, little love words
only the two of you remember. You look up and there’s a mirror
surrounded by a heart that shows you your face, loved. In your
pocket, a key-ring with her name, in your dining room, a silver
corkscrew and brush, on your bed, a stuffed animal you sleep with.
There are candlesticks and vases, jars of lotions, potions and elixirs,
matchboxes from bistros where you sipped wine, said beautiful and
terrible things to one another. Gifts never given, letters never sent—
All things left behind that one by one fall away into the strange
terrain of a life not lived.
I’m driving along Interstate 8, it’s 12:20, a Monday
and I pop the new cassette I bought for $1.64
into my hot new state of the art in-dash stereo
so I can hear what kind of Billie Holiday songs
could possibly be on this tape for only $1.64,
and out of the speakers comes the shrill
unmistakable sound of her voice, soaked in booze and
wavering out of control, just this side of oblivion:
I make a date for golf and you can bet your ass it rains,
and she pronounces “ass” “ash” slurring the phrase into
the laughter that follows it and I’m aware that this is
no regular tape, but some bootlegged rehearsal session
late in Lady’s life, sometime in the ’50s and she’s reminiscing
with the piano player about her early days in the music biz
singing with Charlie Johnson’s all-negro band
and I can’t quite believe what I’m hearing for $1.64
when she starts again, no fooling around this time,
I make a date for golf and you can bet your life it rains,
and I’ve lost track of where I’m going by now
as she settles into the melody with her old friend pain
while I turn onto Interstate 5 heading up the California coast
a long way from the Five Spot where everyone and Frank O’Hara
It seems too crazy, like one of your mad, funny poems,
that you’re not with us any more, not here to point out
the thisness of things, like mountains, circuses, and fresh air.
You were always the court jester of poets,
toppling pretension from its granite and marble heights.
“Look,” you would say, about this or that,
“how absolutely strange, marvelous, and ordinary it is,
like everything else you will meet on your daily rounds.”
You noticed the blueness of blue, the curvature of the round,
the still beats of silence within seconds.
One of my favorites of your lines is
“To learn of cunnilingus at fifty
argues a wasted life.” This from your poem,
“Some General Instructions,” which pings in my head even today.
Ah, Kenneth, the obit said it was leukemia and you were 77.
Hard to imagine either.
You, a frail old man, eaten by blood cells.
I rarely saw you when you weren’t laughing, darting here or there.
I remember we wrote a sestina in your class,
each student writing a line as the poem went around the room.
I wrote the last line of that poem, and remember it forty years later
because you thought it was the perfect ending:
“Who would have guessed at such a meaning for summer?”
And I say that again, for this summer, when you’re no longer here:
Who would have guessed at such a meaning for summer?
It’s only visible at the edge of things—
a movement in the corner,
the sudden shimmer of the sun
at the end of its showy cartwheel
sinking into the soft mystery of the sea.
The motion of every body and every thing
surprisingly there for an instant
in an eye gliding across the planet’s rim.
Your image in my mind, mine in yours
on the freeways of California
on the streets of Bombay—
the spectacular wholeness that links our days
together in a single invisible surface.
It’s all there for our inspection—
any day, any time, any place.
Last night, cleaning out the desk
I found an old address book
bent and battered, pages yellowed, curled,
the cover a mottled blue,
stained with ink, wine, coffee,
who knows what else?
It had been there in the corner of a drawer
for years now. I opened it with care
half-imagining that small, exotic birds
would fly out of it, chirp for a moment,
and fall dead at my feet.
I fixed on a name: “Biancamaria Tedeschini-Lalli”
and suddenly Italy, 1972 seemed present in the room:
faces of students, scenes in streets, the decor of pensiones,
the clock tower in Venice, my son Stephen, then 4, in awe of it,
an Italian friend, Osvaldo Croce,
piggy-backing my son Nick across the Piazza San Marcos,
the nostalgia so thick now, I can’t see the present.
I turn the page to “Lee Saitta,”
my sister, an X through the name,
dead—how many years now?—in Salt Lake,
and “Ben Santoli,” my old sidekick,
dealing cards in Vegas for decades,
out of touch with him since the ’70s.
I can’t flip through much more of this—
closing the book, I think about throwing it away,
but put it back instead in the corner
of the drawer where it came from, carefully,
like a rabbi returning the torah to its sacred place.
A scripture reminding me who I am.