Oct. 7, 2003

One Reason I Like Opera

by Marge Piercy

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Poem: "One reason I like opera," by Marge Piercy, from Colors Passing Through Us (Knopf).

One reason I like opera

In movies, you can tell the heroine
because she is blonder and thinner
than her sidekick. The villainess
is darkest. If a woman is fat,
she is a joke and will probably die.

In movies, the blondest are the best
and in bleaching lies not only purity
but victory. If two people are both
extra pretty, they will end up
in the final clinch.

Only the flawless in face and body
win. That is why I treat
movies as less interesting
than comic books. The camera
is stupid. It sucks surfaces.

Let's go to the opera instead.
The heroine is fifty and weighs
as much as a '65 Chevy with fins.
She could crack your jaw in her fist.
She can hit high C lying down.

The tenor the women scream for
wolfs down an eight course meal daily.
He resembles a bull on hind legs.
His thighs are the size of beer kegs.
His chest is a redwood with hair.

Their voices twine, golden serpents.
Their voices rise like the best
fireworks and hang and hang
then drift slowly down descending
in brilliant and still fiery sparks.

The hippopotamus baritone (the villain)
has a voice that could give you
an orgasm right in your seat.
His voice smokes with passion.
He is hot as lava. He erupts nightly.

The contralto is, however, svelte.
She is supposed to be the soprano's
mother, but is ten years younger,
beautiful and Black. Nobody cares.
She sings you into her womb where you rock.

What you see is work like digging a ditch,
hard physical labor. What you hear
is magic as tricky as knife throwing.
What you see is strength like any
great athlete's. What you hear

is still rendered precisely as the best
Swiss watchmaker. The body is
resonance. The body is the cello case.
The body just is. The voice loud
as hunger remagnetizes your bones.

Literary and Historical Notes:

On this day in 1955, poet Allen Ginsberg read his poem "Howl" for the first time at a poetry reading at Six Gallery in San Francisco. The poem begins, "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness.'' Ginsberg's friend and fellow writer Jack Kerouac sat on the side of the low stage, drinking from a jug of wine and shouting, "Go!'' at the end of the long lines. When Ginsberg was done, the audience exploded in applause, and Ginsberg left the stage in tears. Many consider the event the birth of the Beat movement. "Howl" was initially printed in England, but customs officials seized its second edition as it entered the country. When Lawrence Ferlinghetti published the book out of his City Lights bookstore in San Francisco, he was arrested and tried for obscenity, but he was found not guilty, and City Lights became the center of the San Francisco poetry renaissance of the 1950s.

It's the birthday of the Australian novelist Thomas M. Keneally, born in Sydney (1935). He's the author of Schindler's Ark (1982), also published as Schindler's List. It tells the true story of Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist who saved more than 1,300 Jews from the Nazis.

It's the birthday of the poet, essayist, and naturalist Diane Ackerman, born in Waukegan, Illinois (1948). She's the author of A Natural History of the Senses (1990). The paperback edition of her latest book, Origami Bridges: Poems of Psychoanalysis and Fire (2002), is released today. She said, "I don't want to get to the end of my life and find that I lived just the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well."

It's the birthday of cellist Yo-Yo Ma, born in Paris (1955). He gave his first public cello recital when he was five and made his debut at Carnegie Hall in New York at age nine. In 1998 he founded the Silk Road Ensemble, a group of musicians who combined classical music with folk styles from places along the ancient Silk Road trading routes. Their first recording, Silk Road Journeys: When Strangers Meet, came out in 2001. In 2000, he played on the soundtrack for the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. In October 1999, Yo-Yo Ma left his rare and precious cello—a 1733 model he nicknamed Petunia—in the trunk of a New York City taxicab. Luckily, he kept his cab receipt, and he got the cello back.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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