The Poetry of Joseph Zaccardi








Joseph Zaccardi


Render by Joseph Zaccardi (Poetic Matrix Press, Madera, California: 2009) 87 pages, 74 poems, superb kinetic cover design by Kate Peper, $15.00.

When society was still polite, kind folks would ask a poet or singer or pianist to please render a selection for everyone’s pleasure. Zaccardi’s poems are exquisite moments from his life that he renders with immense care and respect for his reader. The poet’s memory is unparalleled: those details bring so much life to every poem. Memory can be a superb and understated artist: Zaccardi’s memory is a fabulous library of moments that should not be forgotten.

Render is a fiendishly difficult book to review, because the reviewer wants to share every poem with the reader. I have selected poems from each of the four poetic sections that express three of the poets themes: understanding as a gift from the genius loci of home, Vietnam and life reconciled, and the ravishingly profound unity in all experience. My humble responses to these splendid poems do not pretend to be definitive or all inclusive, but I hope they move the reader of this review to experience Render and rejoice.

Section I: Lessens threads the difficult of life’s needle. “There is a River” invites us to a sacred place to which we must open our hearts.

The poems concludes:

She showed me her white

jade Buddhas. And said, I should listen

to the stars out in her small garden because

they could sing. There was a cot to lie upon,

around us bamboo and boxes of lilies, some burnt

orange, some white, some darker. And one

that was green with white pistils.

There was fragrance and river sound. I know

we both cried, and if either of us slept,

it was pretend.

The poet’s most difficult assignment is to be big enough to be small. “Cam Ranh” finds the poet sleeping on the barracks tin roof in Vietnam 1970, first part of poem:

A green fragrance

I can’t put into words. And I am so small.

Everywhere there are rivers and mountains.

and in California 2005, the poem’s all embracing resolution:

I can remember some beauty in the rotten

war and know I’m adrift, not done writing

when it comes to me. It rained. I kept

my eyes closed and laughed, stayed

there, let the water have me.

How could I have forgotten?

The importance of home as the basic gestalt from which to deal with experience first appears in this absolute little poem, “Blues,” which I quote in its absolute entirety:

The week is filled with rain, with breaks

now and then. Blues, coming from a Hi-Fi

blocks away layer the neighborhood

with alto sax. I stand facing west, the wet

coming on strong, the day lessens,

the hour gains. Now someone who likes

trombone turns up the sound.

Section II: Parables teases the reader with understanding just out of grasp. “Glass House on a Side of a Hill Overlooking the San Geronimo Valley” talks about truth and honesty and the all important moment. The poet is again home meditating and so his meditation wraps with the poem:

And now a blue jay flies down from the blue

spruce to my deck, steps close to the glass wall. She does

not see her sharp eyes in reflection, nor her beauty.

She lives on the outside of where I live. She sees only

a golden striped spider, silent and waiting in a web

at the nexus of beams. Another time, teacher said:

Look into the hearts of things; don’t put trust in words only.

The blue jay hops up to the rail, then flies off

toward the hills.

Grace” is a subtle masterpiece and one of my favorite poems rendered in this collection. This poem chronicles Vietnam, the illumination of home, and the amazing unity of experience with true compassion.

I remember a crash site. In the wake of a gunship

there is quiet, and the trees moving are quiet.

Memory, the wreckage of what war leaves,

falling in its darkness. I’m thinking this while cutting

pasillas, scraping out seeds with my thumb.

And I am chopping onions. Oil heats in a skillet,

my eyes burn from the vapors. What can I say

of a world that honors its dead by preserving its ruins.

Now there is the smell of onions caramelizing,

peppers softening. There will be food on the table,

and patches of light from the fading day

coming in through the window, the blending of things –

the food I put in my mouth, the grace I say.

Section III: Lessens explores the unnerving complexity of the ever present threats to life’s affirmation. “Come Back” presents an uneasy visit with a fellow soldier on a hot, muggy summer day. The sharing ends when the two friends sing a Jim Morrison song and the one visited runs out of breath and asks his friend to return tomorrow. “Portrait” reveals an old family photo. “Only now so few remain.” The step that squeaks and the old porch furniture are cherished. The comfort comes in the continuity of memory, “…we remembered ourselves.” “Forever” focuses on the unreal moment at the death of an old friend who once shared “the miles of beach at Sandy Hook.” In urgent care they talk about the beach:

The heart monitor’s green line escaping. I ask

him to tell me again about the raindrops, the forming.

His breath coming deeper. He submits

by explaining forever with his breathing,

then not breathing.

Section IV: Learning lets the reader know in no uncertain terms that this is what you get in life: like it or not. It’s about making the most of the whole smear: take it or leave it.

October 10th” is the ultimate empowered at home poem: a new roof is being installed. Finally the job is done. The poet moves into ecstasy

Nearby, dogs hoarse from barking, lie exhausted.

I spread my arms wide, like a tree in this new peace,

this degree of silence, and sing off key for rain

to come. I’m dancing now, lifting one knee,

then the other, stomping on the deck,

raising a racket.

Two Bird Café” is something most dear to the heart of every writer: a café that was really loved and now is gone. The poem drifts to a conclusion of unitas and understanding:

I want it to be as it once was: want the wisteria,

want the waitress who, by the way, wore a bustier,

and beads in her long curly hair, smiled.

I live between two memories, one always changing.

And I still have two seed pods that were satiny,

now darkened, hard, and a paper placemat

I wrote on and took with me, because it was a first

draft, because it was better and could take off

in the wind, if I didn’t hold.

Render ends with its own “Afterward” moving toward summation and all that makes life endurable and joyful.

We spend half our lives burying, half

tending. Careful to prune only after

the last chance of a cold snap. We save

and savor, and at the same time burn

what we want to lose. It is the circle of things.

These words owe their lives to paper,

invention of the paper wasp. Conjure the bite,

the pain. What follows: the beauty?

Zaccardi’s delight in reconciling his place in the world offers the reader the delight and understanding in the poet’s eloquent song of himself. Like Whitman Joseph Zaccardi is a staunch egalitarian: not just with his fellow humans, but with all things in this evolving and lustrous creation.

Reviewed by Marvin R. Hiemstra

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Copyright ©2015 Joseph Zaccardi