Monday, January 7, 2013

           My island is trouble:
           I have found wet grass in my armpits
           and yellow paint in my navel since you left

So goes the opening stanza of Frank Lima's poem "Ode to Love."  I recently found a copy of Lima's Underground with the Oriole at the San Diego State University library.  I checked it out and rushed home to crack it open.  My excitement for Frank Lima's work has always been inspired by his book Inventory: New and Selected Poems, but I have never read his work within the context of an earlier collection.  

I was first given a copy of Inventory by Steve Dickison, Executive Director of the SFSU Poetry Center in 2000 or so.  I was an intern, and in the midst of a lull in the office, I was captivated by a brown grocery bag filled with books near a desk.  Stacked on top was a book cover with a portrait of Frank Lima painted by Elaine DeKooning.  Of course I had no idea who he was at the time.  The somber though dangerous look on the young man's face struck me immediately.  Steve Dickison caught me in this momentary freeze-frame and insisted that I take the book, and what a generous and momentous offering it was.

I've read Inventory countless times since, and I never tire of Frank Lima's zany and beautiful lines--always new, always fresh.  Early works like "Scattered Vignettes," "Mom I'm All Screwed Up," and "Abuela's Wake" taught me never to shy away from the details even when the violence and heartache in the work suffocates beyond belief.  How can one probe and sniff through the wreckage of  a family broken with such intensity, so originally?  And his love poems, those strange and infectious creatures:

        I will wrap myself in toothpaste every morning and bring 
        you your favorite coffee for I will be your cup
        how can I become famous when I am so distracted?

        There is a tiny creep in the room that steals my cigarettes
        I won't kill him because I'm in love and nothing else matters

                         from Ode to Love

Underground with the Oriole was a slender volume first published in 1971, and now, just thin enough to carry around in my secret pocket like a "frozen gas."

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