Poet's Sampler: Emily Fragos
Emily Fragos is a thin-skinned, tough-minded poet of this world. Her
sensual sensibility is unrestrained by conventional perceptual grids.
Her poems take us by surprise.
Sound counts in these poems--all of which come from her remarkable
manuscript, Little Savage. Her verbal acts are informed by a
music like a second language: with a player's skill at an instrument,
a composer's concentrating election of notes and echoes, a listener's
joy in attention. Sometimes, as in "Il Maestro," music is subject, object,
and context, evoking the devastating minor voice of the poem's speaker.
Sometimes, as in "The Path," a thread of melodic line unites a poem
abounding in mental leaps. Always, matter and manner are one.
Fragos's trust in language is fruitful, and justified. No word she
writes is an advertisement for herself. The out-going empathy which
moves her now and then even allows her moments in which persons, acts,
things, and self are poised as if reconciled. We are enlarged by her
resonant verbal imagination.
Poems by Poet
Il Maestro del Violino
The Art of Insane
There is so little to go on: a pale
trembling hand as I stand over you,
my finger tracing the words on the page,
a foreign language you are learning
for a journey without me. You will do
fine, I say. You will wrap your tongue
around these sounds and be understood,
be given what you desire: a loaf of bread,
change for your money, an antique doll
with violent eyes. Paintings are hanging
on walls, behind glass, waiting for you
to admire them. Their plaintive beauty
will move through you and you will walk
back to your hotel through the park
I know well. I spent years there walking
its bridle path, a gray cat in my arms,
moving toward you, blind, in another life.
first published in The ThreePenny
Il Maestro del Violino
Those afflicted with incurable diseases would go to the Incurabili,
founded in Venice in 1522. There, hundreds of abandoned children were
provided with music lessons and were taught to perform at Mass and at
Somewhere behind the huge thick doors
deep within the bowels
of the Incurabili on the Zattere a long
paved street facing
the Giudecca and named for the rafts
that unload their wood there
we live until we die and are taught
our lessons by Maestro
Matteo Puppi who plays violin by day
and composes admirable
sonatas by night of full harmonious
music for us to play.
Sweet-faced angels he calls us and
once a lovely man
he called friend with hair the color
of carrots and eyes as green
as Chiaretta's parrot came to hear
us play his concerto
and pronounced us marvels of great
facility and expression.
Signor Vivaldi patted me on the head
and sparkled like a star
so bright in the sky that he
turned night to day.
Those of us still pretty enough
to leave give concerts
in the open air and return to tell
of shrieking gulls and
large faces and the warm breeze
that blows across our
bare legs and arms as thin as reeds.
Francesca conducted our
chorus with sound flowing like water
the light glinting off
this voice and then off another.
When she died, I played
my instrument in a monotonous frenzy
all high-pitched and piercing
and made Him hold his ears in pain.
My cat Gatto is fat
with the rats he catches every day
strolling about the dark
halls with a skinny tail hanging
from his mouth.
One by one we pass away and are buried
under signs in the garden
behind. We can see the markers from
our windows and speak to our
friends who listen from above. We
appear only as first names
and the instruments we played: Francesca
del coro, Luciana organista,
Luciete dalla viola, Anna Maria and
Silvia del cello. Me, I am
Sofia del violino. Once I saw myself
in a clear puddle of rain
water. My teeth are very crooked, I
know. We are none of us
startled by the other. We are all
the same. To Heaven.
first published in The American
I once outran my own body
like the sprinter accelerating down the track
until the point reached within
when he can no longer be contained
by this world or be impeded
by these limbs.
And he must come to full stop
pulled up and dissolved
into pain on the track.
I once wanted someone and no one else
and yearned and turned
my body inside out and still
I could not have my desire.
It grew and like a monster
split in two
and each half grew and strained
and split in four
and my body could not hold
I woke from wild-eyed dreams
with tired legs incapable of flight.
I woke with a delicate retina
detached in the vanishing light.
The Art of the Insane
The good doctor Prinzhorn says it was the patent
that snapped me in two like a twig,
that shattered my lovely personality, so to speak.
I nod my heavy head.
Have you seen my machine, perpetually moving,
whirring, breathing? Made it out of cloth
and mud and dirt and spit and excrement.
Dear Diary: Dubuffet and Klee came last week
to copy my faces. Eager to meet me, touching
my creatures with their long, skinny fingers.
They smeared my orange chalk, calculating
what they could steal . . . And if anyone asks,
I am taking my pig Rafi for a walk.
With her hooves of long curls like a little girl's
mop, or Persian slippers, excellent for flying,
we are wind gone. We are kingdom come.