June 2022 Poetry Feature: Gabriella Fee

Please welcome GABRIELLA FEE to our pages.

 

Gabriella Fee’s poetry appears in Michigan Quarterly Review, Washington Square Review, Guesthouse, Sprung Formal, Levee Magazine, LETTERS, The American Literary Review (2019 Prize for Poetry), and elsewhere. Their co-translation of Giovanna Cristina Vivinetto’s “Dolore Minimo” won the 2021 Malinda A. Markham Translation Prize, and is under contract with Saturnalia Books. Excerpts appear in The Journal of Italian Translation, The Offing, Copper Nickel, Smartish Pace, Alchemy, and Italian Trans Geographies. Fee holds a BA from Wellesley College and an MFA from the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University, where they received the Elizabeth K. Moser Fund for Poetry Studies Fellowship in 2021 and the Dr. Benjamin J. Sankey Fellowship in Poetry in 2022. They’ll spend next year as a postdoctoral fellow with the Alexander Grass Institute for the Humanities at Johns Hopkins University.

 

Pilgrimage

When April comes I lie down in the shower.
A root in drought drowning in one hard rain,
I bathe my every vein in Jameson.
Death springs from me like a hothouse flower.
My mother swaddles me in terrycloth
and vigils me for three days in her bed.
Pillbox. Rice and lentils. Kettle. Psalm.
She dims the lights as though I were a moth.
She combs my hair. Why do I have to live?
My mother answers just the way she did
when I was five and wouldn’t brush my teeth.
You’ll do it because that’s the way it is,
now open wide and let the whole world in.
Three days she holds the dying out of reach.

 

 

 

Three days she holds the dying out of reach
until I can’t remember how it’s done.
I’ll need a borrowed theater to rehearse.
I’ll walk six hundred miles to the beach.
High SPF, a head lamp, pepper spray,
a Gore-Tex jacket, almonds, blister tape.
Death oversees my packing, tugs my hem,
as I cram every pocket with first aid.
I finish light, with a fourteen-pound pack.
A folded map charting the north of Spain.
Tampons. Socks. A guidebook, but the sparest.
A stone that fits the contours of my hand.
At Logan I enjoy a madeleine.
6pm Merlot. Night flight to Paris.

 

 

 

 

Night flight to Paris. 6am Merlot. 
Loud German tourists on the RER.
Some pigeons cloud a statue of Rodin.
They lift off as I pass, then drop back down.
Tarte citron at Natalie Barney’s grave,
sailboats in Jardin de Luxembourg,
my favorite listing portside, lilac blue.
Rue de Lille to lunch at the Orsay.
Spinach quiche. Espresso. Kouign-Amann.
A postcard I will likely never send
of Cassatt at an easel by the sea.
A tête-à-tête with l’Origine du Monde.
An evening train — 8:30 to Bayonne.
Thirteen hours to cross the Pyrenees. 

 

 

 

 

Thirteen hours to cross the Pyrenees,
the first two pre-dawn chilly, soft with dew.
5am start. My heavy boot a bass-
line to Basque morning, to the melody
a heifer lows as I disturb her sleep –
bell, bellow, crunch of gravel. Slingshot
longing of the dove. A foundered pony
in a field of grass. Rising fields of wheat.
The sun and I ascend. The mountains shift.
Pools of shadow lift and burn away.
A stranger leans against his poles to rest.
Asphalt smooth as a serpent’s back. I drift
right and left across it. Meet the day
ahead though I have lost what I loved best.

 

 

 

Though I have lost the one I loved the best
– not first or longest but above all else,
the love most killing, burning, best expressed,
and in that losing, lost all sense of self –
I’ll go on living metronomically,
and live by ticking, counting left foot, right,
until my clumsy, unloved body’s free
in time if not from it. I’ll pack my sight
with world to staunch the wound the world has left.
I hear a shriek. A raptor’s hunt concludes.
First night in Roncesvalles, in the woods.
Where flies my life’s best hope of happiness?
The window’s cracked. A pale moon slats through.
It’s only when I drink that I feel good.

 

 

 

“C’est juste que quand je bois je me sens gaie,”
says Angelique, who kisses me because
her transplant surgeon’s name was Gabrielle,
insists, “J’suis pas comme ça, mais tous pareil,
je respecte bien la synchronicité.”
The tarnished bronze medallion at her neck
tastes of dull iron, rainwater, and sweat.
It says Saint Gabriel, priez pour nous.
How rare to be the angel that’s required!
She teaches me the French for blister gauze,
and as we drag our boots to the Hôtel
Pampelune (like running bulls grown tired),
she dumps her pack and lights a wet Gauloise.
“Mais si j’étais, je te trouverais belle.”

 

 

 

Mais, Si j’étais, je te trouverais belle’s
no sustenance for journeys long as this,
and next day’s sun incinerates that kiss
along with sixty miles of broken French.
What lingers is the angel in my mouth.
I crave its metal pucker all the way
to Muruzábal. Hours of blue-green hay.
Aortic whoosh of turbines to the south.
I’m tired of how often I become
another’s revelation, the AFib
rush with which my heart is abdicated.
That night I dream my longing is a plum
— black, heavy. I pull it from my rib,
eat it (flesh and pit), and find I’m sated.

 

 

 

Eating all day, I am never sated.
Tortilla española, pintxos, más.
Pulpo gallego y carne asada,
y cocido montañés et la glace.
One night in an albergue near Grañón
I cannot sleep at all for want of meat
and so strike out again before the dawn
in hope of finding somewhere open late.
A full moon cools above me like a cake
and tilts its light like white wine in a glass.
My mouth is open. What will be in-drawn?
The salt-lick stars. My teeth begin to ache.
The Maillard darkness of the empty path
continues down my throat and carries on.

 

 

 

The road is like a throat and carries on
from Rioja Alta and Navarra
to Belorado, Burgos, Sahagun.
Clods of red dirt. Lunchtime wine with Sara,
who says “ampolla” when I ask the word,
then, “Perdí mi trabajo el pasado
marzo. Ahora, nada.” Her speech is slurred.
At a passing bar we play the lotto. 
My slot machine comes up a cherry short. 
Tendonitis. Three-hundred miles of blisters.
Each step I take I take on powdered glass.
A day of rest. A friendly new cohort
of Germans in the hostel. Those Berliners
singing: Alles Gute zum Geburtstag.

 

 

 

“Alles Gute zum Geburtstag, Vivien,”
then, “rote Blumen, gelbe Blumen, blaue,”
to show her these three days I’ve listened
when she’s used her pole to point things out.
Vivien teaches German, cannot have
ein Kind of her own. Four rounds of shots –
Repronex and Novarel, a last chance
fifth which left her sick. Her savings gone, 
she’s come here to resign herself to this:
“The path is full of many kinds of love.
Blaue Blumen, gelbe Blumen, rote.”
She teaches dative, nominative case,
what green is on the ground, what birds above.
Forsythia, red blooms I learn by rote.

 

 

 

Forsythia, bright poppies, blumen rote
give way to blooming cacti, parched Meseta.
Enzo sings a Lehár operetta
in scrub grass grazed by sway-backed, bleating goats.
I sing at him, “Che cazzo stai facendo?”
at dinner when his hand slides up my thigh.
He raises both hands, huffs, and feigns surprise.
At crack of dawn, while Enzo sta dormendo,
I’m out again with frequent glances back
at the blinkered, pitch-dark, winding trail.
Is this the “free, enfranchised and at large”
that Wordsworth felt? My body’s a sprung trap,
my freedom rimmed with fear, my aim assailed.
Don’t fucking touch me. Why is that so hard?

 

 

 

The monks in Rabanal have a soft touch. 
I sip their cloistered silence for three days
when, close to Cruz de Ferro and the pile
of stones that pilgrims shed, I can’t unclutch
what at the Quaker Meetinghouse on Storrow
I troweled from the chaplain’s tulip bed,
worried in my hand four-hundred miles,
and polished smooth with love of my own sorrow.
I should have loved a thunderbird instead.
The Brothers in their vestments sway and chant.
They offer me the eucharist in Spanish
as I run through the poems in my head
and think about my life, but think it slant,
the life from which I’d felt I had to vanish.

 

 

 

The life I’d found impossible to bear,
whose sharp edge cut the inside of my hand –
I drop it in a pile of cast off lives,
then stop for churros at a roadside fair
with Elena who says, “All feet feel fine
in the final hundred miles. Blisters clear
for most.” And though mine don’t, Galicia’s
laced with rivers in which to soak, bagpipe
players tuning on their stoops, falling rain
in woods so thick it never hits the ground.
Near Sarria, absorbed in steep descent,
I see a bolt of lightning cleave a plane 
tree, ditch my metal poles, and hurtle down
the hill through shrouds of rain. It isn’t fear.

 

 

 

It isn’t far, despite the shrouds of rain,  
to Santiago, where a mass of pilgrims
processes through a gaping gothic mouth.
Orbs of incense swing from apse to knave.
Three days I keep on walking to the sea,
through eucalyptus trees, to Muxía.
The ocean ambles slowly into view,
pronounces me on time, kisses my cheek.
My death runs past me, leaps into the surf,
then glances backward with a child’s hope
that she’ll be followed. I set down my pack,
rest against it on the sand, watch her
dive through cresting swells and try to float.
She turns to see I see her. I wave back.

 

 

 

April, lie beside me in the shower.
Death, too big to carry, take my hand.
Give me winged sleep, give me dark wine’s nighttime
and hours like minor gods and stronger knees
for this next stretch. The rest, the map of love
stuffed dog-eared in my pack, is just a draft,
— hic sunt dracones — beauty flashing in
the trees, a plum’s juice running down the arm.
I’ll know the road whose risen throat sustains 
one note from birth to death. It stammers with 
forsythia and empties out to sea.
World, use your teeth then touch me softly
with both hands; help me heft my fourteen pounds:
my life, my little song, my shroud of rain.

 

June 2022 Poetry Feature: Gabriella Fee

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