The Burning of Los Angeles: Poems

The Burning of Los Angeles: Poems

The Burning of Los Angeles: Poems

The Burning of Los Angeles: Poems

Synopsis

Samuel Maio's first poetry collection, "The Burning of Los Angeles", demonstrates impeccable prosodic skills. Invoking Nathaniel West, "whose visionary/ Foresaw the slow, smokeless burning of decay", Maio casts his own sardonic observations within neatly controlled lines and diction reminiscent of early Pound and Eliot. The poet's stance of an ironic observer, however, creates distance from the characters in his vignettes by the narrator's implied feelings of superiority. We enter a social milieu where lovemaking becomes a calculated form of narcissism, self-adoration on the make - a beautiful young woman undresses as "a wax model/ Self-sculptured and deftly rouged". In "The Real Thing" (ironic title, here) the couple is "conscious...of looking for the cameras". Looking through the lustful eyes of an ageing former beach surfer, at the Filipina whose "V" of long black hair "Points to the cleft showing above her bikini", we appreciate the details, but fail to care about the man. More poignant in its effect is "The Jack London Nuthouse", where the observer longs to "envision once more...The first time driving over the long bridge /A resplendent beauty awaiting him /Instead of the world's open nuthouse". The final section of the book, and the most autobiographical, draws the reader in completely. "Dark Woman Well" is a poem to be read with pounding heart. This remarkable memory/dream enacts a boy's ordeal of descent to hoist up a woman's corpse. This section, which comprises poems remembering the poet's father, and his unaffectedly skilled elegy for a writer friend, offers kinship to the reader as well.

Excerpt

The dwarf is the complete man:
WW II bombardier and Renaissance professor,
Club boxer and rare book collector.
He speeds the endless freeway in his Trans-Am,
Receives the praise of scholae for his estimate
Of the costumes and strumpets of the stage,
And is kept by his mistress, a fourth his age.
She’s rich (parents in west side real estate)
And inviting: long legs and dark hair,
Her eyes feign innocence, her mouth a pout,
Perfect for entertaining—she’s often sought
For dancing with more hula-hoops than anyone.
Just now she performs downtown, in Mexican bars.
Her agent/mother works to make her baby a star.
Her father she loathes for obliquitous attention.

But the dwarf sees only others seeing him,
Walking at leisure the Venice beach strip.
She totters above him on golden spike heels,
Resting her chin lovingly on his grey head.
He considers dedicating to her his next book,
Explication of child-porn texts del Quattrocento,
Written in Venezia, travel gratis a third NEH.
And after a life of studying Italian deceit
He knows nothing of cuckoldry? Friends she keeps
From his sight, especially the young comedian
Who mocks the little man with exact imitations.
Her svelte body undulates while she laughs
To the delight of this cruel Grimaldi, who bows
To her lace and bracelets, her fresh bikini wax,
The blue veins crisscrossing her right breast,
Her pale skin and black eyes, bulimic figure.

And the comic’s wife waits each night at home—
The pathos of the most stock commedie ridicolose!
‘Tis pity the dwarf spent his short youth other
Than reading Nathanael West, whose visionary
Foresaw the slow, smokeless burning of decay.

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