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Last updated April 25, 1999; first published to the web: March 6, 1997.
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Maria Jacketti

Objects of Poetry

   How do I write a poem? I've often wondered about that one, especially when the poems materialize elusively, and I think that I may never write another. But even after a very dry spell, the psyche, which at its core level really wants to sing, finds a trigger for the poetic experience. Maybe, it is an object crystallized in memory, some sense-luscious thing from childhood. From the archives of my young days, I remember many treasured objects: dolls, books, models, gadgets. In particular, I adored a red and black plaid jug. Now this was not your basic curvy moonshine jug, but something cylindrical, fat, and very space-age in appearance, except for its decoration, which also made it look quite parochial and familiar. Back then, I called it the "Scotch jug" because its plastic plaid jacket resembled the familiar roll of Scotch Tape, and my school uniform. Everything about the jug said 1960-something: something old, something dreadfully new. Now, entrenched in memory, it seems this jug could have contained nectar. However, I remember well the refreshments it held—nothing as mystical as the memories which have grown around it—but mostly lemonade prepared by my mother—sometimes tinted pink with maraschino cherries—and iced tea, and once in a while neon Kool-Aid. It was a manifestation of a flagrantly innocent time—nobody seemed to care about artificial colors, flavors, fragrances, or their underlying ideas. In fact, my generation thrived on myriad artificial things as we played Vietnam in our backyards.
   Today, my precious jug may exist somewhere: in someone else's garage or deep in a landfill; but wherever it is, it carries the energetic imprint of the lost refreshment it gave me. It is after all, a perfect poetry seed, something which connects me both spiritually and archeologically to a childhood which swirled and vanished into the great past. It's fascinating the way linear time can become a molten thing in poetry. And so when I retrieve objects like the Scotch jug from the depths of memory, I become molten, too, and less a prisoner of time.
   These days, I am trying to recover more of those seeds, mostly lost things. I want to try to preserve them for my daughter who will grow up in a much different age. It is not that I am interested so much in passing on heirlooms, but I would like to give her a sense of what my past was like. The things we take for granted, household objects, the junk artifacts of our lives, are extremely absorbent. They hold time, emotions, events, extinct music. And when they speak, I pray to be ready for them. Sometimes they chatter, moan, weep, curse, or holler like the unascended dead. Then they keep me up at night trying to find forms to fit their stories.
   These objects, however, don't always make poetry. Some are more comfortable in essays or vignettes or in some genre-less form. In fact, as I look over the notebook which currently holds all the poems I've decided to keep because they whisper some small truth, very few seem to have direct connection to objects; but one of my favorite early poems, "A Coal Necklace," was generated from just such an object-seed.
   To a certain extent, we are all by-products of our native geographies, channeling the vital chi of place, time and live object; sometimes in moments of raw awareness, I've sensed the geopathic wounds of maternal soil, and I am sure that my blood must contain molecules of coal dust. It was hard to grow up in Hazleton, Pennsylvania without some overt bond to coal. My Italian immigrant family quickly made deep roots in this cold, mountainous town at the beginning of the century. They were from Foggia, an agrarian blip in Italy's solar plexus, and no doubt they were accustomed to lavish sun, olives, green winters. And of course, they were farmers, not miners, but coal was the only stratagem for survival around these unglamorous Alps. They were not special; it didn't take very long for the family to experience Earth's wrath. Within a dozen or so years, my grandfather Jacketti was crushed by a large rock in the mines and instantly killed, leaving a house of orphans wondering what kind of future might rise out of the great black holes gouged out around them.
   My father ended up working at the breaker, where he stayed for forty-eight years. When I was eight, he gave me a coal necklace, a charm of sorts made by a co-worker. It was tear-shaped, polished to a high gloss and tipped with a bit of silver-filigree. I remember my father telling me—or perhaps my mother—that I should use it to remember him. At that moment, I realized that this touchstone contained a message: his lungs were mineralizing; he couldn't inhale without pain; in fact, he was going away breath by breath. I felt this in my bones; it had no articulation, but even then I sensed that my father had lived a life of small hope—one of unvoiced lamentations, and fury. This nugget of anthracite, which I lost, then found many years later, became the seed for this poem which explores our bitter legacy, and I believe, the legacy of many others.
   Hazleton today is a much different place, and coal has become a rather antique topic. The anthracite souvenirs that sometimes find their way into gift shops here look mass produced and soulless, compared to the small coal necklace, a shard from our deep would in the planet. A single solidified black breath of God, it continues to embody my father's burdens and our crushed dreams.
   Now I'm not so sure that "A Coal Necklace" is such a great poem by the standards of the powers-of-poetry-that-be. It still remains unpublished more than a decade after I wrote it. But I treasure it because of its ontological connection to my daily bread, the energy behind the words: a text of texts. Hindus call this substantive record akash, the finest, imperishable substance of the universe; and I hope, that above all things, the objects of my poetry when translated into words may reflect those akashic records. It is a funny business—being a poet. Almost any other vocation or avocation must be simpler, and outwardly more rewarding. But the deep lessons I've learned continue to sustain my breath, and I suppose that as long as I am writing, I'll continue to search for poetry in the ruins of the simple things we leave behind.
Copyright © 1997 Maria Jacketti, all rights reserved


Maria Jacketti is a poet, fiction writer, educator, and translator. She has translated A Gabriela Mistral Reader (White Pine Press), and the following collections by Pablo Neruda: Heaven Stones (Cross Cultural Communications),Maremoto, with Dennis Maloney (White Pine Press), and Garden Odes (Latin American Literary Review Press). A translation of Neruda's Cantos Ceremoniales, Ceremonial Songs will be published by Latin American Literary Review Press in 1996.Ms. Jacketti is a recipient of a poetry fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (1985) and holds a master's degree in creative writing from New York University. She currently teaches writing at St. Peter's College in Jersey City.

 
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