Sometimes life hands me gifts in sly ways.
A few years ago, I sat in the sunlit reading room at the Schlesinger Library at Harvard, worshiping at the shrine of the M. F. K. Fisher papers, pulling blue files out of green storage boxes, luxuriating in the correspondence between that brilliant writer and Julia Child, little knowing that the moment would become a bridge, leading me to write an essay about it.
And that essay demonstrated the power of serendipitous encounters, because a poet in Massachusetts read my words, lead there by a search for M. F. K. Fisher, a friend of his. And I have learned since that first message that Leo Racicot is a poet to be reckoned with.
Alone in the Yard: Buddhist, Beat & Otherwise, Leo’s book of poetry – albeit small, slim, spare – proves the power of metaphor, crisp and true. Breathtaking and beat – as in beatnik, San Francisco Renaissance, each poem resembles a jewel glittering on the page and pulsating in the mind’s eye. The poems swell with allusions and references to the literary and spiritual greats of both West and East. The poet claims that he’s not writing about food, but his poetry often renders choice phrasing extolling the beauty of food in his world.
It begins with hope:
Then I could see summer hurrying
to be green again.*
Alone in the Yard captures universal longings birthed by loneliness, passion, and the Divine. Take “That Jewel They Call Joy,” a meditation on Bach:
And did you hear it?
The hammering in my heart,
the unwrapping of a pomegranate’s magic,
each seed a head bleeding from a rosary.
Did you hear it?
I love slinking through the pages of Alone in the Yard and catching glimpses of moments, sensations wrought by inventive twists of words, as in “That Summer Without Sun”:
I remember how I loved looking at your picture
after a long day,
your eyes the color of the teas
of all Ceylon.
How many times have I sat in a chair, at an empty table, staring at a picture of a dear face far away or forever gone? Thinking of days blown away by time or merely neglect?
And after wandering to far-flung places, the poet searches for his grandmother in her kitchen, in “Nana,” saying:
When I did finally reach my grandmother’s,
she wasn’t there,
the billows and breezes in the kitchen
were her for me
more than she was her for me,
and at some point, it must be,
she locked herself out of her own mind.
And I recall my own grandmother, locked away by the dementia that claimed her reason and her soul.
The poet writes of dining with Julia Child,*** summing things up with
but what the heck it was dinner alone with Julia Child -
just the two of us -
and isn’t that Life
to want to keep something lovely going
on and on and on …
Every page bleeds like that pomegranate seed, the sheer emotion at times hard to bear, because the poet’s words draw out the hidden pain, like salt tossed on a weeping slice of onion.
But Alone in the Yard ends with hope, carried through the turbulence of life expressed in the poems:
That summers hurry
to be green again.**
As long as there is green, the cycle of the seasons, of life, continues.
And I take solace from Leo’s way with words, as life shreds and pummels me and- and does the same to each of us.
I leave plenty of road behind me.
I see plenty of road ahead.
The way back is long
and I am afraid
I wish it could be otherwise.
I wish I could have stayed here.****
*From “The Summer Without the Sun.”
**From “Dream, in Winter”
***From “Julia Child Hates Me”
****From “I Wish”
© 2013 C. Bertelsen, including all photographs.