by: Frankie Metro
I can easily rally behind such a handle as Urbo-Natural Observation. Not necessarily because I made up the term, but because it’s applicable to Billy Burgos’ work in the poetry collection: EULOGY TO AN UNKNOWN TREE (Writ Large Press 2013). And that is to say that BB’s poems aren’t so much urban or natural in regards to landscape & setting, not so much outwardly observational- but urban and natural in reference to the situation, observant of the organic sprawl in the narrative/organic perception. All things rooted and tall are worth merit and mention. They spring from honest recollection and an astute sense of real character, an honest appreciation for lineage; not without maintaining a rather dolent outlook in-between-the-tender.
Tonight, like all the others before,
the tide will end up where I stand.
Some drunkard bobbing back
and forth in the darkness.
This tellurian dance along
the coal toned shore of night
that will construct the sand barricade,
churn up the dead and sequester
the nocturnal sea creatures.
all a reminder of the lament that
brings me here, of how soundly
opportunity leaves after
its one and only knock.
Divided into V. sections E.T.A.U.T.’s chapters read as one continuous poem when paired together…
I. “…HIDDEN IN THE BODY OF A FLOSS SILK TREE…”
II. “ MY FATHER STANDS HOLDING THE HANDLE OF A GIANT
MACHETE, LEANING AGAINST A TREE…”
III. “YET IN THE DISTANCE THE GOLDEN OAK LEAVES
BARELY SHINE THROUGH THE SOUP.”
IV. “THE WHIP OF THE WIND MOVES EASILY NOW AROUND
THE KNOBBY ELBOWS OF WALNUT BRANCHES.”
V. “CROWS PRATTLE OVER THE ARTHRITIC BRANCHES OF A
… as well as highlight the deciduous and palmated course of the book itself. The first section, dedicated to the floss silk tree, contains several poems set around funerals and dredged up memories.
On page 3’s Civil Savior, we find the contested memory of a father with a tremendous work ethic.
To my brother, his father
is not the active ether that
captains tornadoes, he does not
believe his father is either
spirit or deity. At best, his father
is a foolhardy protagonist
in the fables of a grieving son.
It’s one of those poems that made me exceptionally aware of my adoption. I hate the poem in a way, in that it skims over the fact that nothing but the trace of a man’s roots is better than never seeing a semblance. But I know this “foolhardy protagonist” all the same, (through my adopted father). And I can clearly see that my view of the father (figure)- son relationship is somewhat skewed because of such a dichotomy.
My brother asks me if I see him.
All I see is the fine dust that rises
from political jostling. I see a smokescreen
camouflaging the same shantytown
that he raised us in, only now
with a swath cut through
its malnourished center. I do not
see my father here. My father to me
is chlorophyll, the pin prick of genius
hidden in the body of a floss silk tree,
There’s sincere genius encased in the shedding-locus-standi of these poems. And like the changing seasons/shapes of allegories represented, everything plays out and gives way down to the nub.
Poem for Ostara
Moe’s Chihuahua ears
become stiff spicules when
he sniffs the cool breeze.
Something sinister sieves
through the potpourri
of raw mulch and plaited geraniums.
We drink it down from paper cups
with horchata flavored ice cubes
and paddle the nothingness
with multicolored double-dutch-ropes.
The girls jump side to side to
the snap-then-clap of rainbow rope,
turning the last of winter’s
dark trees into fractured demarcations,
giggling life into a culmination:
Section II. is affirmation and pledge to heritage- its newfangled significance. It flows from an internalized and dislocated Old River, a Belize of vague story cut through the varicose aqueducts of the sequential body. MY FATHER STANDS HOLDING THE HANDLE OF A GIANT MACHETE etc. is about cutting down, resurrection, and while this could lead a reader to the simple conclusion that the titular Unknown Tree is a bigger metaphor for the Burgos family, I feel like Eulogy could be an [under]cutting term for the overall concept of the book.
… These words linked together
by rondo verses . He fails to realize that
in the mind’s parliament, the conscience
is fascist ruled, it does not abide by a brain’s
judgement and psychobabble. So it plays like
a one-hit-wonder singing her love words in rotary
patterns while his insides hemorrhage and congeal.
On page 21’s, The House Against The Hill love is the meat of the middle inside the tree’s symbol, that which stands firm at the superimposed center, held up by the compromising hill of the failings and sins of our dead.
The house (strung along memory) is tied to the hippocampus under the paned light of age.
… It is the same
with memories of my father, there is
no sputtering finale or drastic ending.
There is only the center of him, the
engine that powers each vignette:
My father stands holding the handle
of a giant machete, leaning against a tree.
In another, he is holding my mother
close while dancing a soca song.
I am in the house against the hill.
There is pale sunlight from above.
There is no scathe or scale to measure,
no marker of time to weigh against logic.
only love softening at its faintest of centers.
Along with clear gestations of these images, Section III. examines how such memories can be perceived on the scale of aforementioned city (as opposed to the immediate house). Poems like The Woman At The Corner, The Fog Metaphor, and The Commission, lack the superlative arrogance you can find in other books on the market.
Filled with your common, interweaving testimonies of love, death, debt, and life, this group sets a tone of expectation vs. unexpected reconnection.
A cat named Terence from high school rolled out
of the darkness on deep dish 24 inch shoes, draped in
leather and denim. He wore brands like a NASCAR driver
and spoke of being a “businessman”.
That night Santa Ana winds fed a fire deep in the
Pasadena Hills. But brushfires didn’t make it here,
or even news of such. The winds barely filtered
through the shoulder to shoulder ghetto bungalows.
The only activity came from the Saturday drinkers:
high school kids and the graveyard shift workers looking
for a malt liquor fix filing out of the liquor mart, paper bags
(forty ounce size) in hand. The drink kept things moving briskly,
So you still paint them portraits and shit? Cause I could use
your services homeboy. You know…immortalize a nigga in paint!
It’s then that the fuse met its home on the dark corner. loud talk
became angry talk and the crowds knew then that it was time to
get ghost! A Chevy Impala sitting high on hydraulics, two
passengers out the rear windows in an argument with two other
men crossing the street, things getting uglier, darker and hotter.
As is evident, Burgos’ usage of enjambments and general catharsis add texture to the crisp precision. Section IV’s, Ritardando is a prime/punctuated example of such talent.
The first rains bring a thrumming
sound where there was none,
small pools filling in the pockmarked
slab, wounded sockets being bandaged
with bright gauze, signs of a fall’s last bluster.
The whip of the wind moves easily now
around the knobby elbows of walnut branches.
There is relief in being left nothing
but angle and sky. The quietness trails
each lance of the wind.
It reminds me that soon enough, my
words will leave me, my reflection will
slump away and I will be left with
nothing but my stubborn mind.
These are the natural order of things.
For whatever shit-faced reason, whether
it be physical or financial defeat, these
trees will overtake us.
Until then they pose up every which way,
listening to our minds power up against
one another like transistors, buzzing
about our tentative tenets and rebel rights.
They have known all along what we have
yet to figure out: we are their children.
The same as those pendulous leaves hoarding as
much of the sun’s color as they can carry
on their grand journey down.
Whether climatic or not is hard to discern; I do find it more comforting when Billy uses personism as opposed to speaking in the first person. Although the book is dedicated to whom I assume is his father–and even though when he speaks of his daughter’s encroaching adolescence and the hot comb dangling over her hair for the first time it makes me think of my own offspring (whose hair symbolizes the faint traces of an unknown biological history)–when he says we instead of I is when I feel reassured in the poem’s validity. This is a selfish standpoint, to be sure, but not far from what I perceive to be the author’s intention. The reader emulates the lesson. The author utilizes recently past events and deep introspection in a historical sense that doesn’t always allow room for the more “objective” reader. However, there are more than a fair share of accessible points in E.T.A.U.T. And enough mystery in between to garner more than a second glance/long stare/utter fascination… maybe even strabismic fixation if you’re so inclined.
FOREGO THE FUGUE FOR FURLOUGH
Amid his lengthy shedding fast,
my tarantula had forgotten how to hunt.
At the mouth of his sand loam, crouched
motionless around this indumentum
of used flesh as if guarding a new child.
Our faces pressed against the warm glass, we
watch two crickets shuffle cautiously between
Harry’s bristling crimson legs, almost inviting their fate.
In my heart a sorrow took root, a clandestine pity
for this lost instinct, something masculine and fatherly deflating.
My daughter narrates the silence, telling
me of her grade school drama. In my mind I picture a
rift that grows where young girl and woman part ways.
“I want to be a girlie-girl now, Dad.”
Under the hot lights, observing both lives unfolding before me.
Both appearing to be heading in purposeful directions:
Harry dragging his dispersed past into his darkened home,
given up on his thirst for the chase, welcoming famine and furlough.
My daughter, a curled ivy shoot that will not be held back,
growing and holding course against the wall of adolescence.
I can only shake my head and pray for fugue.