Fasano: “I’m still searching, and I hope I always will be”

Poems

THE MOON

I, too, am tired of it. And yet, like an old love,
it comes to us, illuminating the bare walls

of our houses, catching its hems
on our thresholds, carrying its little cup of blossoms.

We are done with it.
Aren’t we done with it?

We have told ourselves
only grace can change us;

we have told ourselves
the craft is not the magic;

we have told ourselves
the myths are in our hands.

And yet, Issa wrote to us, and ever.
Let us walk out to the summer grass

and be there. Let us look up through the deepest leaves
and open. Let us wait, then,

while the ancient things
are woken, because haven’t

we always been lonely,
haven’t we looked up

into the wild skies
and asked, too, to be luminous

and ruined,
and risen like this cold stone in the darkness

and changed in it as radiantly as we can?

Originally appeared in South Florida Poetry Journal


THE FIGURE

You sit at a window and listen to your father
crossing the dark grasses of the fields

toward you, a moon soaking through his shoes as he shuffles the wind
aside, the night in his hands like an empty bridle.

How long have we been this way, you ask him.
It must be ages, the wind answers. It must be the music of the wind

turning your fingers to glass, turning the furniture of childhood
to the colors of horses, turning them away.

Your father is still crossing the acres, a light on his tongue
like a small coin from an empire that has always been ruined.

Now the dark flocks are drifting through his shoulders
with an odor of lavender, an odor of gold. Now he has turned

as though to go, but only knelt down with the heavy oars
of October on his forearms, to begin the horrible rowing.

You sit in a chair in the room. The wind lies open
on your lap like the score of a life you did not measure.

You rise. You turn back to the room and repeat what you know:
The earth is not a home. The night is not an empty bridle

in the hands of a man crossing a field with a new moon
in his old wool. We abandon the dead. We abandon them.

Originally appeared in the Academy of American Poets’ poem-a- day program,
reprinted in Inheritance (Cider Press Review, 2014)


ODYSSEUS

Think of the moment before the moment.
Before recognition. Before the nurse saw
the boar’s scar coursing down his thigh
where the world had first entered him
in the forests of childhood. Before
Penelope. Before his battle for her heart.
Think of his moment alone on the beach,
his sailors running up to the village
where girls stood wringing spices
from their hair. Think of the gods saying to him
you do not have to praise ruin anymore;
you do not have to praise what is lost.
How you imagine him is how you enter things.
He is kneeling. Or he is weeping. Or he is turning
toward the sea again, thinking of the great deeds
of the hopeless. Think of him lifting the sands
and touching them to his tongue, to see
if it is real. If it is home. If it is time. Think of the moment
before he knew he had stepped out of the myths
and into his life. Whether that means to you
that he would sing, or mourn, or be lessened.
And his patience when he rose up again
and took himself the long way
toward his kingdom, not knowing
if it had all changed, or if love
had lasted, or if anything can last.
Think of him as though he were your life,
as though you had sat waiting at a loom
for long, dark years, weaving and unweaving
what you are. Think of your life returning to you
with eyes that had seen death. And whether
you would look away if you saw him
pausing a moment among the gardens
and the horses, listening to the song
of each thing, the common things he had forgotten.
Think of him hearing your voice again,
hiding his face in his hands
as he listened, hearing a music
of losses and joys, pestilence
and bounty, a beauty that had prepared
a place for him. And whether you would have him
be changed by that, or return
to what he was, or become
what he had come this way to become.

Originally appeared in RHINO, reprinted in The Crossing (CiderPress Review, 2018),
winner of the WordView Contest from the UK Poetry archive


ORPHEUS

How horrible to let your song awake
in a savage place where no one’s life could hear.
I knew that it would happen from the day
I woke alone, when no one else was near

to soothe this brutal heart with gentle things.
So then I sang what’s brutal in the world.
I sang it clear, as clearly as my gift
permitted me, and loved the humble work.

And then it came my time to praise the gods
of light, not darkness, all that makes us wise,
all that triumphs, all that can’t be lost,

but still I’m half in love with what is wrong,
with all that ends, with all I can’t make right—
and the moon that is the master of my song.

Originally appeared in RATTLE, reprinted in Fugue for Other Hands (2013),
winner of the RATTE Poetry Prize


MAHLER IN NEW YORK

Now when I go out, the wind pulls me
into the grave. I go out
to part the hair of a child I left behind,

and he pushes his face into my cuffs, to smell the wind.
If I carry my father with me, it is the way
a horse carries autumn in its mane.

If I remember my brother,
it is as if a buck had knelt down
in a room I was in.

I kneel, and the wind kneels down in me.
What is it to have a history, a flock
buried in the blindness of winter?

Try crawling with two violins
into the hallway of your father’s hearse.
It is filled with sparrows.

Sometimes I go to the field
and the field is bare. There is the wind,
which entrusts me;

there is a woman walking with a pail of milk,
a man who tilts his bread in the sun;
there is the black heart of a mare

in the milk—or is it the wind, the way it goes?
I don’t know about the wind, about the way
it goes. All I know is that sometimes

someone will pick up the black violin of his childhood
and start playing—that it sits there on his shoulder
like a thin gray falcon asleep in its blinders,

and that we carry each other this way
because it is the way we would like to be carried:
sometimes with mercy, sometimes without.

Joseph’s conversation with Douglas Cole

What inspired you to start writing poetry?

I didn’t feel I had a choice. At some point the truth I was hearing in me and the truth the world offered became different, so I had to search for the words that might reconcile them again. I’m still searching, and I hope I always will be. All I know is that every day is a beautiful, ruinous encounter with the immensities, and sometimes it’s almost too much. But my wife, my son, my family, my students, nature, and my work make this world an achingly beautiful place in which I want to stay. Why do I write? If I can say a few things clearly before my time is up, a few things that might help a single other soul, I will be at peace.

Which poets have influenced you? And what did you learn about the process and the forms of poetry from the poets you love?

Everything influences me. Let me pick six writers randomly from the shelf beside me, all of them well-worn and dog-eared: Gerard Manley Hopkins, Czesław Miłosz, Anna Akhmatova, Robert Hayden, Federico García Lorca, Sophocles.

When I was a boy, I would write out poems I loved by hand, to feel what it was like for them to move through me. I also spoke them aloud, and I still do. I walk around the house saying lines, breathing silences, letting it all carry me through. «The Lord survives the rainbow of His will.» «Touch me, / remind me who I am.» «I hear it in the deep heart’s core.» «I do not know / why yet I live to say, ‘This thing’s to do.'» «What did I know, what did I know / of love’s austere and lonely offices?» «I speak / because I am shattered.»

What would you say is the poet’s place in the world today?

Fasano: To recover the complexities and mysteries in a world that would commodify every soul to reduce it to one safe and predictable utterance.

People can follow my most recent project, a «living poem» for my son, on Twitter. And my website, which includes links to poems, books, interviews, and other media.

I’m a songwriter, as well. Three of my songs can be found at these links:

«The Light of the Other Side» – Joseph Fasano – YouTube
«My Goshen Home» – Joseph Fasano – YouTube
«The Wind that Knows the Way» – Joseph Fasano – YouTube


JOSEPH FASANO is a writer and educator. He studied mathematics and astrophysics at Harvard University before changing his course of study and earning a degree in philosophy, with a focus on philosophy of language after Wittgenstein. He did his graduate study in poetry at Columbia University, where he now teaches. Beyond his Professorships at Columbia University and Manhattanville College, Fasano is passionate about developing inclusive learning communities outside the walls of academic institutions. As an educator, his mission is to help each student synthesize diverse fields of study to develop a unique and informed voice, a depth of attention, and a capacity to break free of reductive mindsets.

Fasano is the author of the novel The Dark Heart of Every Wild Thing (Platypus Press, 2020), which was named one of the «20 Best Small Press Books of 2020.» His books of poetry are The Crossing (Cider Press Review, 2018), praised by Ilya Kaminsky for its «lush drive to live, even in the darkest moments»; Vincent (2015), which Rain Taxi Review hailed as a «major literary achievement»; Inheritance (2014), a James Laughlin Award nominee; and Fugue for Other Hands (2013), which won the Cider Press Review Book Award and was nominated for the Poets’ Prize, «awarded annually for the best book of verse published by a living American poet two years prior to the award».

A winner of the RATTLE Poetry Prize, he serves on the Editorial Board of Alice James Books, and he is the Founder of the Poem for You Series, a digital space offering recitations of listeners’ favorite poems by request. His writing has appeared in The Times Literary Supplement, The Yale Review, The Southern Review, The Missouri Review, Boston Review, American Poets, Measure, Tin House, American Poetry Journal, The Adroit Journal, American Literary Review, Verse Daily, the PEN Poetry Series, the Academy of American Poets’ poem-a-day program, and other publications. It has been widely anthologized and translated into many languages, including Spanish, Swedish, Lithuanian, Chinese, Russian, and Ukrainian. He is also a songwriter, and his songs and performances can be found on his social media platforms.


Blue Citadel is a column by Douglas Cole (Washington, USA). Novelist, poet, professor and translator.

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