Diane Wakoski: Three New Poems from a Work in Progress

Diane Wakoski and Jerome Rothenberg: A Joint Portrait
Diane Wakoski and Jerome Rothenberg: A Joint Portrait

Diane’s Personal Ghost Ranch

I imagine riding a ghost-stallion, my
hair in braids, pinned on top on my head,
just like it was when I was seven, and sitting on the
school bus, with yellow ribbon-bows on a comb,
tucked under the braids to make a little crown. 

I imagine that on the Ghost Ranch I
will meet the Bluemoon Cowboy,
his silver-toed boots, glinting
under my bed.  Read me a story.
Read me one with poetry.  Please. 

On my ghost ranch, we will occasionally feel
the moonflower spirit of Georgia O’Keefe, but actually
she won’t be there.  She’s moved back to New York City,
to Brooklyn, where it’s hip and cool and edgy. 
My ghost ranch is too quiet now,
and my ghosts way more misty than she’d crave with her bone sonnet vision;
we all give ghost sighs of sadness for ourselves because we know

Georgia never got old.
Her body parts are still mushroom-fleshed,
orchidious, and voluptuous enough
to live successfully in Brooklyn. 
She sends us
Marianne Moore’s spritely but mourning ghost
because, of course,
the Dodgers aren’t in Brooklyn any more.
 
At my ghost ranch, Miss Moore wears a crown
of moonflowers.  “They are actually ‘datura,’ she
would tell me. 

Sea Thrift & Gorse

                         “I saw myself in watery sunlight, divested of all obligations
                         and connections, walking without luggage along a narrow road
                         by a sandy bay, with sea thrift and gorse and a solitary pine.

                                                            From Sweet Tooth, Ian McEwan

 As if the sea is not the most extravagant
of all distributors, scattering everything that falls
into it!  Sea Thrift: an oxymoron, not like a pinched, Spartan bookkeeper
but growing exuberantly pink and sweet in marshes
or rocky gardens. 
                                                                                     And Gorse,
yellow ragamuffin gypsy king, taking over
wherever it grows.  Yes, it’s life’s dessert:
to romanticize oneself as Sea Thrift and Gorse.
Life’s sugarplum.Its yellow jellybean.
 
Names that are wishful, even deceptive, the satin slipper pinkness
of Sea Thrift, the melting-butter yellow flower
of Gorse cradled in brambles, or the royal cloaking purple cascade
of late spring Wisteria all suggest that    to name
displays our urge, not to be honest but  to  transform
the plain or ugly – a beautiful name, if not a beautiful body. 

My name, Diane, declares
Moon Goddess, it too an oxymoron
as I control nothing,
not tides, or madness, not lovers,
or night blooming flowers.  My name,
like so many names,
extravagantly, ironically, belies my organic or
celestial natures. 

I read novels and watch film
to become invisible, I suppose because I am not beautiful.
Instead, I am grasping, urgent,
the way wisteria vines twist around
spruce columns
holding up a covered deck, becoming
trunk
instead of sinew,
and gripping terrace wood
until it disappears without seeming even to splinter. 

Call me Diane, I say, wanting you to think of moonlight, not
not of a vine that crushes.  If I were a jellybean, I’d be the
green one that nobody likes.
 

The Diamond Dog Follows Me to the Court of Ponce de Leon

They announce me as a princess,
my little Diamond Dog tapping beside me,
unleashed, and I am wrapped and shod in silk tissue,
Curtained as if by dragonfly wings.  And someone says,
“Enough, give her the gift.”
 
I am from Southern California,
the desert, yucca-belled, adobe-roofed, bougainvillea-cascaded, ice-
plant barricaded, so water is the gift
anticipated.  Lizards, a coach drawn by lizards: my favorite
detail from Cinderella’s transformation, but now I offer
my hand, waiting for a glass of water
so clear it will hold Youth, it will taste like
orange blossoms.
 
First they call the Diamond Dog
and he runs to the king with a red crown.  Then,
they unwrap my dragonfly silks
and ask me to step out of my rose petal shoes.
Naked, I wait for my gift.
 
The shower.
The Waterfall.
The geyser or
A sprinkle of drops,
A glassful?

But the gift is not water; it is
invisibility.  Not Youth,
but infinite age.
 
I vanish in the court of Ponce de Leon.
No one believes the Fountain exists, but if it doesn’t,
what was the gift?
 
[NOTE.  It is now a few months over fifty years since the publication of Diane Wakoski’s first book, Coins and Coffins, by Hawk’s Well Press, the small press that I had established in the late 1950s along with Diane Rothenberg & David Antin.  Newly arrived in New York Wakoski was the first poet from the outside to truly join us, bringing with her an extraordinarily developed sense & practice of a poetry of the everyday that, in Robert Duncan’s words, “might be fantastic life.”  It was in this way, as I later wrote of her, that her work, while striking a note of the autobiographical — even to some ears (but not hers) the “confessional” — asserts the truth of an imaginal life that moves (at several of its remarkable [cosmological] peaks) toward what Keats spoke of as soul-making or world-making & Wallace Stevens as a “supreme fiction.”  Wakoski, then, in her own words: “I feel a body of poetry has its own separate and organic life, just as a human being does.  Conceiving of my poetry as a living organism, I began to conceive of it as a life.  Of course, what it was representative of was my fantasy life.  It drew from my own real life, but it began to have its own identity, its own life, and I felt that any life must have in it other people.”  And again: “In some ways I think of myself as a novelist in disguise, a mythologist — at least a storyteller, or a user of stories." Or, in a still larger frame — & as an indication too of what's stacked up against it: "Poetry is our history. / We study the stars / to understand temperatures. / Life and death are the only issues; / we often forget that — arranging our furniture, / washing our cars.”

                More of her recent poetry, which continues & progresses in the same vein, was posted earlier on Poems and Poetics & can be found here. (J.R.)]