Arts & Culture

Brooklyn Poetry: Lisa Marie Basile, Joanna C. Valente, and Andi Talarico

As the associate editor at Yes Poetry and Brooklyn resident, it’s vital to highlight these poetic voices in order to support literature, activism, and poetic expression.

Here are three of my favorite poems I read recently.

Lisa Marie Basile – “a hunger that has two names

All of us wading through stage curtains to find something true. There is nothing in the box, my darling, just candles. Though, we were the side-show, the lamentable trough of us bodies boy and bodies girl and bodies spirit. Our bodies were bred to lie. They said we were not of this world. We were on the Austrian news in the morning. We sweat baroque. We coughed up blood. There is nothing in the box, my love, just fabric. We were in beds besides one another, arms and arms and legs and legs wrapped and unwrapped and faking and faking. And the pink eye and the shared eyeliner and the champagne and the start again.

Joanna C. Valente – “The End Is Never the End

When he left Diane for some small
town on the northwest, she knew she’d never
see him as him again.

Maybe his voice would be
the same but his name would become
many names, no names she wanted

to recognize as his but what are names
anyway when we can’t find the trees
in the forest, when the sunny side of the street

isn’t sunny anymore, was never sunny
to begin with, just illusion by some giant
in another dimension she’s never been to.

This will be the last time, he tells her
knowing it won’t be the last time so he keeps
talking to her through a tape recorder

never sending half the tapes. He isn’t lying
to her but can’t bear to tell her
the truth about making love

in a hotel bedroom and she calls out
another name that isn’t his anymore
and maybe it never was and he can’t bear

to tell her that when they both
orgasm, finally, at the same time,
it’s no time at all.

He dreams of a day where her head
explodes into a computer or maybe a forest
full of dead trees or into a cricket’s legs

and he won’t say goodbye to her because
one of his bodies, the one she knows,
will be stuck in another time with another woman

he was trying to save and maybe that last car
ride Diane whispered in his ear, women don’t need you
to save them. Like most men, he wasn’t listening.

Andi Talarico – “Dear Jesse

Dear Jesse,
Happy 29th birthday in prison.

Dear Jesse,
I write this to you on your 29th birthday, which you’ll spend in prison.

Dear Jesse,
Happy Birthday, little brother, in prison.

Dear Jesse,
I meant half-brother. It matters.

Dear Jesse-
I don’t know how to write this letter. I don’t know how to do it.

Dear Jesse-
I’m sorry.

Dear Jesse,
I hate you.

Dear Jesse,
Her life mattered too.

Dear Jesse,
She was 23. She was 23 and you gunned her down over $60 worth of shit heroin. You did that.

Dear Jesse,
I hate you.

I hate you for making this family the wrong kind of poor. A snarl of statistics on rural poverty, a tragedy so common, so small, you’re not even a footnote in the 10 page New Yorker article on the opioid epidemic. I read it on the train to work. I read a clinical article on the pharmaceutical industry on the train to work in New York City. In my ears, airpods scanned the highs and lows of Chet Baker. The most distant mirror.

I read about your world at arm’s length. I thought of you saying-

“Fuck you, Andrea, and your perfect fucking life.”

“Give me 20 bucks, Andrea. I know you got it.”

“You’re not better than me.”

I’m not.

I am.

I’m not.

Dear Jesse,
I watch your arrest on the news. They show a picture of the dead girl on the bottom right corner of the screen. The reporter asks you what you have to say for yourself. You snarl,

“Get out of my face.”

I am.

I’m not.

I am.

Dear Jesse,
I know you’re no broken branch on a perfect family tree. Not even a tree, really, a snarl of a thorny bush, really, a tangle of blighted limbs, really. To call anything that happens here cyclical is to bestow too much order upon it. Really.

Dear Jesse,
We have different fathers. Yours was not a great man. Let’s say that. Let’s remember that when his chemicals crested or cratered, the wrong pill, say, the wrong smoke, the wrong spike, the wrong sniff, it usually ended badly for our mother. You’re too young to remember her broken arm. You’re too young to remember when he still drank. I watched him pour a beer over her head during an argument. I watched her hurl a glass ashtray at his face and almost blind him.

Dear Jesse,
I remember.

Dear Jesse,
I was seven when you were born, barely not a baby myself. I learned how to love a new human through you, your bright brown eyes reflecting everything you saw around you, new and holy through you. You, on my hip. You, taking the bottle in my hand. You, a small version of me. You, making a big sister of me. You. You named me DeeDee. I named you Young King. I wanted to give the world to you. You.

Dear Jesse,
Our mother joked that she named you for Jesse James. She always liked the bad boys best.

Dear Jesse,
Your father was one of the worst.

Dear Jesse,
I know it was right after he died that you spent your first bout in Juvie. What were you, twelve? Thirteen?

Dear Jesse,
I know that you chose violence over grief, or violence through grief, or violence as grief, or that maybe violence is a grief, or that maybe grief is a violence in that it can murder the person bearing the weight of it.

Jesse,
It is not lost on me that your drug of choice is a pain-killer.

Dear Jesse,
I love you.

Dear Jesse,
I hate you.

Jesse,
That poor woman. I grieve for her life.

Jesse,
You poor child. I grieve for yours as well.

Jesse,
The letter I send will say just this,

“Dear Jesse,
Try to have a happy birthday. You know I’m here if you need books. Love you, little brother.”

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