Like the movie of the same name, the poems in Rancho Notorious are peopled with a colorful cast of characters, all born of the fertile imagination of Richard Garcia. Through narratives, lyric poems and dramatic monologues, Garcia’s characters demonstrate that the idea of self is fluid, one identity easily swapped for another. These are poems with heart, poems that believe that the construction of memory, however fragmentary and inconclusive, is also an act of redemption.
Richard Garcia was born in San Francisco in 1941, the son of a Puerto Rican father and a Mexican mother, and is the author of The Flying Garcias, a collection of poetry, and My Aunt Otila’s Spirits, a bilingual children’s book. He lives in Los Angeles, California.
About the Author
Richard Garcia is the author of three books of poetry: Selected Poems (1972); The Flying Garcias; and Rancho Notorious (BOA Editions, 2001) as well as My Aunt Otilia's Spirits, a bilingual children's book (1978). His poems have been published in more than thirty mainstream and avant-garde literary magazines, including Antioch Review, Colorado Review and Ploughshares.
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A Diver for the NYPD Talks to His Girlfriend
* * *
I can't even see my hands in front of my face through that darkness mud, raw sewage, black clouds of who knows what, gas and oil leaking out of cars that have been shoved into the river. But my hands have learned to see, sliding sideways down wrinkled concrete, over slime-coated rocks, broken glass, plastic bags, barbed wire, as if there were a tiny eye at the end of each finger. There are sponges down there shaped like puffed-up lips, with silky tentacles that retract at my touch. For some reason, grocery carts are making their way to the river bottom. Did I tell you about the body wrapped in plastic and chains, and a pile of pistols, rifles, enough to start a gun shop? Once, looking for a missing Piper Cub, we found it next to a trainer from World War II, both parked side by side as if waiting for permission to take off. People throw strange things into the river, I don't know, some kind of voodoo jars filled with pig eyes, chickens with their throats slit stuffed into burlap sacks. Everything TVs, couches, lamps, phone books is down there; if we ever grow gills and live underwater we'll have whatever we need. Today it was a fishing boat missing for five days, easy to find now by a certain odor seeping through our wet suits that we call corpse soup. Fishermen were sitting in the cabin, bloated hands drifting as if they were swapping stories. We tied them together and rose toward the surface in a slow spiral. Once, I was feeling around in darkness for this drowned lady; I wasabout to go back, to call it a day, when her arms shot up and grabbed me tight, tight around my waist. Even when we're out of the river there's more water. Bath, shower, bath, shower, disinfectant, rinse but I never feel clean. Everything seems dirty: the crowd in the marketplace, car horns, alarms, the barking of dogs.
* * *
Nobody came to the concert at the palazzo Which was good, since the string quartet failed to show.
Later that night, a naked woman entered the palazzo. She laid her head on her arms and tried to sleep. But it was so quiet there, her thoughts kept her awake.
Finally, toward dawn, she slept and was visited By distant, wealthy relatives from America Who wanted to buy the palazzo and its famous gardens.
The palazzo had been built three centuries before by a count Who had three misfortunes: he was a dwarf, a hunchback, And married to the most beautiful woman in the world.
One day she ran off with his brother, A handsome fellow, known for his rakish ways. Enraged, the count murdered them both And built the palazzo to enshrine their inner organs.
He ordered an elaborate garden built around the palazzo, A garden in which each tree and bush Was deliberately twisted into hideous shapes.
Vines spiraled around the columns of the palazzo, And there was a fountain of a grinning satyr Squeezing a voluptuous woman from behind While water spouted out of her mouth.
When the relatives flashed their checkbooks, Wings filled the sky and carried off the palazzo to America. In America the palazzo was small, just a gazebo.
The relatives felt cheated. Even their neighbors, Who had never been anywhere, had bigger, better palazzos.
* * *
After adventures and misadventures we came to a kind of temple, Greek or Roman, where it seemed pain was exalted into fine art. What else to think about that naked man who greeted us silently? More than naked, flayed. The temple was set on an enormous plane incised with a grid of interlocking lines. Numbers were stamped on the flayed man's muscles, which made me wonder what if, my love, I had to eat your flesh to survive? I numbered you in my mind: one, the cheeks of your face; two, your throat. But let's not talk about that. Remember how he raised his arm as if a grand event was about to begin? We heard water flowing through a pool and the strumming of light that seemed tied to each pillar with strings, watched shadows of pillars advance with mute intention. Let elders in neocolonial mourning garb pass judgment on our nightmares. Let ballerinas swing on trapezes balancing swords on their chins and shapely women in tights that exalt their nakedness twirl from ropes. We've been to a circus of statues and ghosts, peered into a chamber where constellations were painted on the ceiling to ease painful inquisition. In the center of this chamber, on a pedestal, a basin that held a lover's heart. Not your curved, cello-like loveliness seen from behind as you lay on your side, but a beating, steaming heart. Carnal, I would call it. My Sweetmeat, could I have trusted you if I slept? Would your breath piercing my ear have caused blue sky to blacken with wings? The temple was just a tiny, insignificant detail of the galaxy. The chamber was a small version of the temple. It was supposed to be our world. But with eyes closed we could hear that it was a long time ago. Whirling bike tires of a paperboy over wet pavement: a bandage ripped from skin. Clicking of a milkman's basket: instruments, sharp, sterilized, laid out carefully on a tray.
* * *
I am in bed trying to lull myself to sleep imagining various methods of murdering my neighbor's dogs. Asleep at last, I enter a tearoom in the nineteenth century, appropriately dressed in a greatcoat and beaver hat, and find myself attracted to a young woman. Her name is Thalia. She has auburn hair, braided and coiled, and I imagine that undone, it must reach almost to her knees. I have a rival for her affection, my friend Raphael, a dandy who dresses like an artist, loose white shirt, ascot and beret. The three of us sit together often, and she delights in our efforts to keep her amused. After what seems like a month of afternoon teas, Raphael and I learn that she has married a baker who joined us once a rather course and unattractive fellow, we thought at the time. But she continues to take tea with us, looking up demurely from her cup at Raphael. One day, sitting in the tearoom by myself, I have to take a leak, so I rise and make my way through the crowded, noisy room. A man calls out to me, and everyone is silent. "I loved that story of yours that appeared in the Journal, 'Wasted Lives,' especially its ending, a young man lying on the madam's bed in a brothel, sobbing." Thalia, who hasn't noticed me in months, looks up at me with renewed interest. But I don't stop to speak to her because I really have to pee, and my neighbor's dogs are barking again. Back in bed, I close my eyes and return to the tearoom. Not much has changed. Thalia has not been seen for a long time. Some people think she emigrated to America with her family. "I wonder," says Raphael, "if she ever thinks of us?" At least, neither of us has aged much overnight, which in the tearoom can be a long, long time
Table of Contents
|A Diver for the NYPD Talks to His Girlfriend||3|
|To My Ex-Husband||11|
|Nobody Here but Us||13|
|Just Like Saint Peter||15|
|The Golden Ones||17|
|Confessions of an Exhibitionist||18|
|A Death in Larkspur Canyon||20|
|The Laws of Salvage||22|
|Men Without Women||25|
|His Wife, Folded||29|
|What Passes for Sleep||31|
|Intimations of Ratoon||33|
|The Detective and the Curio||39|
|Odds Against Tomorrow||47|
|Certain Images, Excluded from My Poems, Form a Parade||55|
|Legends of the West||58|
|Star Motel, Truckee||62|
|Famous People Hunting and Dancing||69|
|After Reading a Recently Declassified Manual on Interrogation||74|
|Note Folded Thirteen Ways||76|
|Ballad of the Blue Truck||78|
|Toward the Blue Peninsula||89|
|Not Joan Baez||90|
|Journal of the Lost Years||94|
|About the Author||99|