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Clare Ultimo
Clare has been reading her poetry at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe for over 17 years. She has also read her work at The Bowery Poetry Club (Tone Poem series) The Kitchen, The American Museum of Natural History, Cornelia Street Cafe, Carpo's Cafe, The West End Bar and The Bottom Line. At the suggestion of Diane Di Prima, her work has been published in "The Paterson Literary Review". Other work has been published in The National Poetry Magazine of the Lower East Side, and other zines about town.

Fine Lines

These are my primordial celebrations,
My evergreen fascinations with sensual
elations, a fine line between masturbation
and the path the masters took.
I am trying hard to write the book that tells
the challenge true, the one that makes us 
look like heroes just because we tried to.

This is my whistling street festival 
my loud parade of investigation, 
my two big feet invention for travellers yet
to walk this path through time.
These are my insatiable misconprehensions,
my unbelievable directions for dreamers
yet to find their way.

Take your own inflections,
don't listen when they sit
you down and says it's not your time.
There is no line in the sands of rhyme.
Stop still to the sounds
Stand still and listen for signs.
Breath barefoot on new beats, 
get into your own show.
Bring your own pen, and mark the ticket
star
-2006

what I would have called him

I wouldn't want to sound pretentious.
I would have said "my friend Jack" 
if people asked me about him.

Actually, I would have liked to say 
"my boyfriend Jack"
If everything had worked out the way I wanted it to
then it would have been
"oh yeah, so my boyfriend Jack  
brought me rocks from Big Sur
no-  not because he's cheap-
because he knows rocks are transcendental spirits
and he knows I love them 
and of course because he was my boyfriend
he would have called me his "baby muse" or his
"truthful youthful angelheaded hipster"...
something like that.

And I would have a pet name for him
like Roamy or Fubberhead or 
Frenchie because we knew each other so long and 
were so tight that I could have stupid nicknames for him
and he would really like it
it would be as though I was the only person 
who could do that
except maybe for Allen Ginsberg or Neal Cassidy

though in public I would just call him "Jack", 
and sometimes "my friend Jack" 
so that people would never guess how
intensely intimate we really were.

but when he wasn't around and I was talking to my 
friends about him I would have said
"yeah, the much older guy with a pot belly 
who follows me around 
and writes me long love poems from Florida 
where he lives with his mother...you know
the drunk guy with the mother thing, 
the one with the thick wavy hair
who can really kiss...you know
the guy who wrote ON THE ROAD!"
 
And of course, I would never be taken 
on the road with him,
since he needed to do that kind of research 
for his books without me, 
and it would be better anyway 
when he got back and 
Of course, when we were alone then,
I would never call him anything but "Jack",
or sometimes "Kerouac" if I was trying to prove a point.

Calling him Kerouac would mean
that I was not just some kid with a crush on him
but a real woman who got angry
when he let her to walk to the subway alone at 3am.
which he would occassionally do when he
got really drunk.

Then there would be what I would call him 
when I was ready to break it off
because of course he would want to be my teenage idol
for all of his middleaged life 
and would never break off with ME 
so I wouldn't want to bring 
too much attention to that moment, 
I would just call him "Jack" then, 
"Jack, it's me" when he first picked up the phone
....and then I would call him
"My French Canadian roamin-eyed blue-eyed bum, 
"my movie star-lookin wordsmith extraodinaire
with a backpack and some trail mix,
"my powerhouse quarterback 
with a dime to call home in his pocket
to let his mother know he was allright.
When that time came, I would say
"my beautiful perfect older man lover, 
I got other roads to rail and besides 
I've got to go to college and get a real boyfriend
that my mother says doesn't look like my uncle,
and I love you Jack and especially 
everything you ever wrote
you big American icon with those big American icon arms...
and its not fair that your mother still thinks
I'm Allen Ginsberg's roommate
so this has got to end...be sensible
I'm just too young to be tied down
and you hate Jimi Hendrix anyway

"so Jack, let's be friends and when I call you
'my friend Jack', it'll be for real and forever
and I won't have to worry about sounding
pretentious in front of my friends
or feeling grungy sleeping on your dirty sheets
and then you can call your mother 
anytime (and for any reason)
even when I'm in the room.
-2006

dreams of Jack Kerouac
(for Clare at 17)

Sometimes I dream that Jack Kerouac was the preacher's son
innocent in his bluejeans 
eyeing me on Sunday, 
giving me his 
portion of the peach cobbler 
and waiting under the big clock in town 

so he could carry my schoolbooks home 
in the New England autumn,
almost dinnertime.

He would show me his secret dimestore notebooks 
and tell me about 
the ghosts of Pawtucketville
and how the devil looked at him under the tree 
by Mrs. Steinhorn's house 
and that he could read the longest words 
and the librarian 
was very impressed.

"I want to be a writer" he would say
by the gate in front of my house
and I would run breathless through the screen door
and think that I could keep a secret well 
and under clean sheets I 
would imagine his beautiful hands
holding me by the waist as we walked near the hill.

Sometimes I would dream that Jack
would treat me to rice pudding at the greasy spoon
near the factories and the lights were so blinding 
above the 
slippery booth that he would squint and look down
when he spoke.
both of us shy at seventeen
all the while heads silently bobbing 
across the formica table 
between us 
never touching

Sometimes I would dream that he was next to me on the bus,
just beyond eyeshot
watching me and pointing out the scenery
when I travelled vast over America with my friends on Greyhound
and he would say in my ear "the skies over Iowa
are like totems from God"
and I  would smile softly to myself
because I would know what he meant

The dreams were replenished with real boys
and poetry by my own hands writ in cheap dimestore notebooks
I bought myself
and my own clean sheets and subway rides
alone in the cold city night
still for that fated encounter
dreaming of a ghost, a spectre,
the luminous vibe of the unexpected
when he might appear.

On some grainy step
in Chinatown, a dirty brown jacket,
stained from sleeplessness and drink,
an empty bottle on the street
a look would link us to recognition
then conversation on the way to my house
where I would bathe him
and feed him pancakes with melted butter
his heroine of suffering city streets
the victory of a young girl's dreaming heart
my loyal muse,
and he would be a brave soldier 
steadfast and true for my art.
-2006

To Susi Upon Her Citizenship to the United States

I would like for you not to be an American
Ugly, persistent, botoxed,
The luxurious epitaph of millions...
I would like for you not to be one of them
The way they confuse themselves speechless
and watch cathode tongues feeding/eating
someone else's mind inside the glowing glass

I wish for you a true instead...another name
not constructed from small tight thoughts
pretending to need the spacious hearts of
strangers,. pretending the ingredients are pure.
Killing the bees, souping gas for breakfast links
I would like for you not to be American.

Another word for nothing 
pretending to be something
nothing pretending as hard as it can
that the truth is impossible
and anything real can be bought

My dear friend from afar
this America of mindless 
soiled in the technology of lies
a roll call of Johns and Janes...
a faceless tyranny and hopefully  temporary. 
A name they will call you, like
Willy or Tiffany,  John, Jane or George..
American...the ring that makes millions
turn around when the dinner bells sounds.

Welcome here, to where I was born
Welcome to these United States 
Where some of us may never sleep, where 
my grandfather believed  how streets were paved

Welcome to America 
Land of the Brave Enslaved.
-2007

They say things about Italians too...
Published in The Paterson Literary Review #29
(Dedicated to my father, Stephen)

I
In the middle of the antipasto, my Uncle Joe is smiling
singing 'A Vucchela' under his breath, arranging the
proscuitto like Michealangelo, only this great artist
sold bananas and placed olives down
on a big painted platter
like baby's eyes staring up at him with joy

I was little then but Uncle Joe hit 5 foot 3
in his Thom McAn's
smelled like coconut oil shampoo and Canoe
and seemed like he was the oldest
of a very large group much bigger than me.
They would say he jumped ship from Italy,
married my Aunt Lucy who was much taller
and always made the antipasto

This was noisy work, the house full of tomatoes
and meatballs
and stealing as many as you could
before they caught you
next to the huge silver pot, ragged with
millions of strands of spaghetti bubbling onward towards
the "scolabast" where the strands finally rest
drained and soft with exhaustion and my mother says
"OK, everybody can sit down now."

II
There is a place to be Italian, but it is not here.
In Italy, Uncle Joe's cousins don't have a toilet
they live in shacks he says and everyone laughs
or leans back
in folding chairs happy to be poor in Brooklyn.
"They don't have nothin' there" he says
and I felt lucky 'cause my mother bought
toilet paper every week. She was immaculate,
ironed underwear and sheets and taught me to
polish my saddle shoes daily.

This Italian is a hidden language, broken
with dreams and English.
all my uncles on the docks working for the Mob I think
getting into fights over dego names and guinea throws
the first gangsters making it bad for all the good boys
who worked for the Jewish cleaners and gave mom
their pay. What are they speaking to each other
huddled and silent with butts puffing in the cold city air
but that someday, someone will respect them?

All these men are named Frank,
Five cousins after my grandfather Francesco
on my father's side.
There would have been six if I was a boy
Each one, more handsome than the next,
four with blue eyes
even two finished high school.
"they took Grandpa for a German" pop would say
like he was proud of it
but they said stuff about us anyway.
"They don't like Italians," he said
"only hire us to do the dirty work."

III
This place where it was good to be Italian is a secret
between the aprons of tired women
drying eggplants in the sun
to sit later with oregano and olive oil
real tasty in a mason jar for when winter comes
in backyard lots on Sackett Street
where no one else wants to live,
Calling to each other
"Mamie, check on the peppers huh?" They're noisy
and stiff with juice on the edges of their hearts
embarrassed to hug you in public on Sunday.

Where the Irish nun said to grandma once
"Senora, aren't you in the wrong place?"
meaning in another language old women understood
Italians go someplace else, not here,
With a finger pointing to broken vowels
mama tells the story, returns what grandma said
"This a house of God? Then I in the righta place!"

Where it is good to be Italian must be another home.
Me? Americano, born Brooklyn, line of blood
not seen on skin, I guess just white, no big deal, right?
"They say things about Italians too, ya know", pop said
He carried that place inside where the wine is always red
where Caruso sang Margellena
where it was good to be Italian
and all the babies were poor
but their eyes were full of joy.
-1998
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