Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Citrus City

About a year ago, I brought some students to a poetry workshop sponsored by Dodge. While there, one of the poets read this poem that the entire audience loved (and anything that impresses a bunch of teenagers must be great!). I searched and searched online but was never able to find the poem or remember the poet's name, so I've had shades of this poem in my head since them but not been able to truly appreciate it. A few weekends ago, I was at a poetry reading and, sure enough, there was that poet again! So this time, I spoke to him briefly after the reading and got a copy of his book. The poet's name is Patrick Rosal, and this is the poem that I remember:

By Patrick Rosal

When I walk down Second Avenue
the first
sun-spent day of spring
and the scent of dropped
flowers spilled bottles of OE and mints
begins to burn from the asphalt and people
strip to the waist reminded of some first urge
to be naked against the city air
(eight million breaths
at any given moment)
I see a boy devour
the last slice of an orange
and my mouth waters
so I buy one for myself
at the closest stand The citrus drips
down my wrists
from the corners of my lips
and I realize it’s been some time
since I’ve seen anyone
eat an orange outside
I look into the eyes of Manhattanites who
look me in the mouth
and I think: perhaps she
tastes the same
tart under her tongue and maybe
she will head straight for a fruit stand and buy
a navel to eat on the street too
and someone
will see her or two people will see her love her skirt
sprayed with the minuscule burst of juice
so they buy lots of oranges
eat one on the bus heading
uptown (toward all those oranges
in the Bronx) and the person stepping off
at twenty-third walks crosstown to Chelsea
surrenders his organic nut bar
stops at a fruit stand
and maybe someone en route to Chinatown
bumps into the guy from Chelsea
and remembers his
first orange
at a picnic
as a child
on a beach—
in the Phillippines—
in August
So he buys two oranges
Goes home to his lover
whose drape of sweat
smells like the day
and since he’s already eaten one along the way
they sit across from each other
and share
the remaining one:
its packed flesh a brief but cool
reprieve from their apartment
steaming like an engine
and this is how a whole city’s
eating oranges:
the first sun-spent spring day—
an orgy of them

I'm really glad that I found this, because this really is a great poem. Usually, memory makes things better/worse than reality, but in this case I think I was completely justified to search for this poem. The idea that the entire city is connected by the eating of an orange is a truly beautiful one.... ah! It's so refreshing to read.

I can't say that I quite understand the spacing of the lines though. I don't know if the format is going to show up on this blog or not, but the lines are spaced out somewhat randomly. Random lines are indented to the right end of the previous lines, and that gives it a very wide-open feel. I like that it slows things down and leaves a lot of space, but I'm wondering what the reasoning is for Rosal to have chosen the specific lines to indent that he did.

I haven't had a chance to really digest the book, called Uprock Headspin Scramble and Dive. I like to read something many times before deciding if I like it or not, so I'll reserve comment on the book as a whole; but I will say that I am definitely looking forward to finding out if there are any other poems as emotion-inducing as "Citrus City" in Rosal's collection.

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