Former Chicoan's poems offer quiet and captivating glimpses of small-town life
By DAN BARNETT
Bear Star Press, founded in 1996 and based in Cohasset, has as its mission the publication of "the best poetry it can attract" from Western and Pacific states.
The other day, publisher Beth Spencer wrote me about Albert Garcia, who "was born in Chico and grew up on a walnut orchard just south of Red Bluff." She has just published his new book, "Skunk Talk" ($14 in paperback from www.bearstarpress.com) which collects many of his poems previously published in anthologies and literary magazines.
Garcia, Spencer wrote, "fell in love with poetry while attending Chico State University (he was a student of Gary Thompson) and later obtained a master's degree from the University of Mon-tana. After teaching for many years at Sacramento City College, he is now dean of its Language and Literature Divi-sion. He lives with his wife, artist Terry Steinbach-Garcia (who provided the cover painting), and their three children in the small farming community of Wilton, where he tends fruit trees and a garden."
Garcia will appear at 7 p.m. Friday at Lyon Books in Chico to read from "Skunk Talk." The public is invited. If you think you don't like poetry because it's too difficult to understand, Garcia will change your mind. His conversational poetry is accessible but never trite; the words seem to flow effortlessly onto the page as they celebrate nature (figs and ficus and especially melons) and humanity (wives and children, gardeners and grandfathers).
One poem in particular, "August Morning," has pride of place in the book and, says Spencer, will be featured this coming spring by Ted Kooser, the nation's current poet laureate, in his syndicated column "American Life in Poetry."
The poem begins with sweetness.
It's ripe, the melon
by our sink. Yellow,
bee-bitten, soft, it perfumes
the house too sweetly.
It's early morning, and he poet has awakened: "What is happening in the silence / of this house?"
I wander from room to room
like a man in a museum:
wife, children, books, flowers,
melon. Such still air. Soon
the mid-morning breeze will
like tepid water, then hot.
And then the poet asks, amid the smell of sweetness: "How do I start this day. ... ?"
And, one might ask, how does one continue the day? What new relationships will be established, what relationships broken? The poem that follows, "I Watch You Paint," is my favorite.
The poet watches as the artist paints a man and a woman.
I see now
the man's hand
is on her shoulder. There
is wind. Her white dress
blows tight against her body.
I want to ask you
what is happening
but it seems
the wind is in you.
And then the poet realizes the man
... has the very expression
I sometimes get when I'm
You hate that look,
but there it is
in the man's eyes, ...
I haven't spoken
The man clearly
is losing the woman.
a darker gray
into the sky.
Finally, you sit back
and look across the room.
Then you glance at me,
and it seems
I haven't seen you in years.
I say the painting is sad.
it's not finished.
In another poem, the poet has some fun at his own expense. The title is also the first line.
The Day I Was Born
the shad were running.
On a slow green stretch of river
a man hoisted three pounds
of flapping, mouth-gaping silver
onto hot smooth rocks
the way God, I imagine, lifted
me from nothingness
and plopped me gasping
into Enloe Hospital, Chico, California. ...
I want to say something extraordinary occurred --
a cure for a disease,
the discovery of a new species.
But I've researched the date: nothing happened.
I've even made up the part
about the shad fisherman.
Sometimes one's lazy banter can carry on a bit too long.
"We're talking skunks. I say / I like the smell--not / the overbearing fog / left on a dog's snout, / but the gentle scent / they carry everywhere. // She says I'm nuts. They stink / plain and simple. She / wants more wine. ... // She won't look at me / and hums softly to herself."
The poems are wise and luscious, evoking what Garcia calls "days of ordinary wonders." Feast.
Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 2005 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.