The marble game

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Title:
The marble game
Physical Description:
v, 25 leaves : ; 29 cm.
Language:
English
Creator:
O'Leary, George Jay, 1954-
Publication Date:

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Genre:
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )

Notes

Thesis:
Thesis (M.F.A.)--University of Florida, 1996.
Statement of Responsibility:
by George Jay O'Leary.
General Note:
Typescript.
General Note:
Vita.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
aleph - 002087427
notis - AKS5946
oclc - 35049285
System ID:
AA00003592:00001

Full Text









THE MARBLE GAME


GEORGE JAY O'LEARY




















A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF FINE ARTS


UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA


1996












ACKNOWLEDGMENTS


I wish to gratefully acknowledge Milton Haynes and the

late Ted Maggos for suggesting that I could make poetry my

pursuit; my first teacher, Donna Masini, for guiding me in

those years of particular uncertainty; Sidney Wade for

patiently encouraging me to write into the unknown; and,

especially, Suzanne Carlton for insisting that I find and

express the heart.




















TABLE OF CONTENTS


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS..............



ABSTRACT .....................



MIDWESTERN FOUNDATION MYTH...



ONE MORNING IN THE ETERNAL CI



DIMINISHING RETURNS...........



EARLY EVENING................


SUMMONING THE BEASTS.........



UNDER FOOT ...................



ARIA FOR THE INSOMNIAC.......


THE WET CELLS OF SPRING......



THE NIGHT STEVEDORE..........



LAST WINTER IN DUSSELDORF....



TOMPKINS SQUARE AT DUSK......


EXPOSURE TO THE ELEMENTS.....


PIAZZA NAVONA ................



TENEMENT NOTEBOOK............



EMPIRE STATE BUILDING........


LIFE-SIZE...................................












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TWO DOWNTOWN SYNAGOGUES ..................................18

FLORIDA IMPROMPTU .................................... ... 19

THE BROOKLYN BOOK OF HOURS...............................20

CHESS PIE .................................................21

DEAD OX FLATS............................................22

CLEARING OUT OF SEATTLE ................................23

ROOM ELEVEN ................. ........ .................... 24

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.............. ............... ................. 25


































iv













Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Fine Arts



THE MARBLE GAME



By


George Jay O'Leary


May 1996



Chair: Sidney Wade
Major Department: English


These poems are concerned with the unsettling loss of

certainty one feels when confronted with the distant and

the unfamiliar, and with the individual's attempts to

construct provisional, imaginative meanings under the terms

of that loss.











MIDWESTERN FOUNDATION MYTH


A cunning oracle withholds the best.
The tax on prophecy is not to tell
the founder of a city how his sister
became a cow, the very beast he wanted,
in his ignorance, to sacrifice to the god
who had raped her with bullish abandon.

The usual obstacles delayed her fate.
A serpent devoured the founder's noisy men,
so appeasing gods or laying out broad avenues
had to wait. He sowed the serpent's teeth
like kernels of corn. The newly germinated
brothers ran each other through with spears.

Five were left. They skewered bull snakes
in their root cellars; ripped open
the prairies with plows of molded steel;
razed silos and barns; routed the mainline
and spurs. They even strung a telegraph wire
so the coast could hear of their disasters.

Serpentine freight trains with slatted cars
hauled thousands of head to the market town.
They wound through the wooden labyrinth to feed
the slaughterhouses already bulging with slabs,
salted or on ice, since the first unblemished
heifer wandered onto that Great Plain.











ONE MORNING IN THE ETERNAL CITY


Almost aqueous the shade
on the Via Veneto. I waste
some time before examining
more bees woven into the corners
of the Barberini tapestries.
Outside the Ministry of Craft
workers agitate
their placards with the vigor
of a hundred washing machines.
I tell myself these men
are the lost-wax casters gathered
to protest a shortfall of bees,
and then I envy them a little.

In viscous English a fellow
bystander asks me what is happening.
He says he is a journalist from Chicago.
Says he lived there with a woman half his age.
Says they suffered "problems of communication"
when she found an even younger woman in their bed.
Says she got a lawyer and left him
half a million dollars poorer
so he moved to Rome.
Why not? he says.

And would I like to join him
for an espresso?
At the corner tabacchi,
the owner makes it nice for him
and they remember days in Alexandria.
(What happened to Chicago?)
And over coffee I could help him draft
a letter of appeal
to Dr. Carol Ludwig at the U.S. embassy
who has denied his press credentials
a third time.






3




I explain how the ruinous sun,
the death mask of Keats, the carabinieri,
and a Russian-born guide in the Vatican
are conspiring to limit my time
and I spin away from him
to fly off with the swallows
screeching toward the Villa Borghese.












DIMINISHING RETURNS


I

A new moon (no moon at all)
only appears to mend the cobblestones;
carriage rims clank, iron-bound as ever,
across the empty square. Let's face it.
I need something in my way to rub against.


II

For months I drew the phases
on my bedroom window with a bar of soap.
Night by night the edge grew sharper
as I honed it on the glass.


III

The idle carriage horse, sack-brown,
nuzzles a utility pole.
The moon has horns pointing west.


IV

Tap water. Fills the white enamel
basin with a masterful glissando.












EARLY EVENING


for Suzanne Carlton


Laughter and ice cubes rattle
with almost equal uncertainty.
Finger sandwiches, crudites
fan out on bone-white platters.

She asks: It's not too 'country,' is it?
and points to the black-eyed porch.
Its fresh red door admits us;
our heels report on the scuffed pine floor.

As one might thump the side of a barrel
or press a conch shell to his ear,
we inventory what is around us
and estimate what is still hidden.

And voices linger over the lawn
like the smoke of banished cigars.
Neither of us enjoys these affairs.
We'll be married here in the spring.












SUMMONING THE BEASTS


Wheeled miniatures from
the Mesopotamian city of Susa,
c. 1500-1000 B.C.


The lion reclines; the hedgehog
hunches his crosshatched spine.

Pale limestone figurines
rest on dark undercarriages:

slabs of bitumen coalesced
from asphalt, chalk and quartz;

rims chiseled sharp as blades;
nails for axles; rusted blunt hubs.

A typewritten legend explains
how the experts disagree:

either talismans or toys.
Flinging dirt, the hedgehog scurries.

across the oval of hot dust.
The lion chases, bewildered by jeers,

flattened by speed.
Remonstrant. Now rampant.












UNDER FOOT


Cologne, Germany


Standing with my back to the towering doors outside
St. Severin's basilica, I notice the paving stones
are laid in a circular maze whose outer edge is
solid black. I enter, trying to act nonchalant, and
find the path as regular and boring as a drain. The
interior is choked in black as well. Ein Geheimnis,
I mutter, and hear at the center of the word for
secret the one for home. Perhaps the dark stones
were the passageway, the light the barrier. Before
I can test this new hypothesis, a nun hurries by
and, without glancing at me, disappears into the
nave. I would not have asked her to explain the
labyrinth anyway. Years ago, Thelonious Monk
demonstrated the central comfort of static motion.
In the middle of a busy station, he slowly began to
spin in place without distracting the other
travelers hurrying past to catch a bus. Alone in
the maze, I turn and turn in the gray slurry of a
morning on the Rhine.












ARIA FOR THE INSOMNIAC


in memorial Glenn Gould, 1932-1982


North all night you drove
Your Lincoln Continental,
Reaching the tundra in time
For its anesthetic noon.

Sunglasses surveyed the permafrost
In homage to subtraction.
You thought only this extreme
North could rectify your music,

That whiteness so bleak
would demand an instrument
Of most elegant action
To articulate. You probed the keys.

Bach composed the aria
And thirty variations so that Goldberg,
On his harpsichord, might soothe
The insomniac Count Keyserling.

The grateful nobleman
Filled a goblet with gold coins
For Bach, who in turn loaned you
The nightly courage of obsession.











THE WET CELLS OF SPRING


That May the rain fell so long and hard on his roof of
terra cotta tiles, the patio of cracked slate, the
rusting chairs, that it lost its sonority. He clipped
every mention of rain from the daily Post-
Intelligencer with his old schoolboy scissors, blunt-
nosed but still surprisingly sharp. At night he
composed a letter to the editor with the cuttings
arranged according to size and weight and glued down
with a wheat paste he had once believed to be edible.
He read the cut-out rains aloud. It all took time.
Downstairs, an electric bus stroked the whetstone
avenue with balding tires; the pantograph sizzled and
sparked its own small lightning. His work was
finished; he wasn't going anywhere. White petals
clustered on the terminals of his battery. He had
always hated basic science.












THE NIGHT STEVEDORE


This evening the estuary gives a boat
So little trouble, its crew seems inferior
Or half asleep. The tug pulls even with the dock,
Then strains off from the interior.

A tug and barge will iron the water,
Even as they crease it, even as the great
And stubborn engines mastering the tide
Are hidden. The tugboat does not hesitate

Once it finds the channel to Fresh Kills,
Which, like any landfill, is problematic; it won't
ever settle. Half a moon attends the burial
Of salt-encrusted linens, best forgotten,

In heaps on the far side of the island.
Night sends only this unsubtle barge.
Cargo less sordid is too delicate for the hook
The night stevedore swings to unload the stars.











LAST WINTER IN DUSSELDORF


Unlike some fantasies, yours disconcert.
As I rehearse them on the outskirts
of your failing, my fingers won't sustain
legato, nor my breath inspire that pain.

I know enough to swab the ebony and head
down to the Rhine. (Not as you, in robe and slippers, fled
across the empty swanmarket.) I find the streetcar,
enter by the exit, uncertain how far

my ignorance will take me. Now it ascends
the bridge at the point where the river bends
its mongrel knee (where you once offered to pay the toll
with a linen handkerchief Clara had folded.)

Nine Fingers, why can't you recognize
the angel's theme? It's one of yours. The moat lies
in a coma under lindens you ignore.
to dream of Leipzig's Kaffeebaum, old scores.

What silenced your right hand? Mercury? The sling?
Was her father's admiration worth the sting
which you yourself inflicted? Carnival is weeks away,
but already deep in Altbier, you are lost for the day.

Florestan, Eusebius, how could you guess
the interwoven grief you would possess?
Only the idle wish they had a choice
of fingerprints, of speaking in another's voice-.

Your mother had no alternative. The tatters
of the Grande Arm6e returned and gave her
typhoid. You were shuffled to the stolid
Bargermeister's wife. Alone beside the Mulde

you organized a brotherhood of characters
so rarefied their music passed unheard
through Zwickau's doors. Yet what is human
decomposes in the pile of limbs, Herr Schumann.












TOMPKINS SQUARE AT DUSK


Lower East Side,
New York, May 1991


Against the headlit traffic on Avenue A
men whose white helmets are stoneproof but pitted
hunt down the kids who usually beg
spare change for falafel in Alphabet City.

Their coat of arms displays an upside-down
martini glass. Their necks are dirty and lean.
Safety-blue sawhorses fence the square
whose lawn and band shell are quarantined.

Swimming in a private pool, the Parks Commissioner
privately says the square will not reopen
until the infestation is removed. A kid
heaves an empty pint of vodka at the visored men,

who pummel squatters and the shipping clerk
coming home with his beef lo mein and grapes.
To protect and serve. The patrolmen mask
their badges with black electrical tape.











EXPOSURE TO THE ELEMENTS


Quickening its silvery drowse, I shook the vial
my father had brought me from the mine.

All day he and other men gouged the flinty
blood from palomino hills and melted

raw cinnabar to mercury so mothers might
gauge their children's fevers.

I saw my first slaughter in those hills.
My friend and I caught his father

as he fired a round of lead behind the ear
of the waiting cow and sawed a knife across her throat.

The midsummer dust wicked up her blood
like motor oil drained in a vacant lot.

I caught the disappointment in her eye.
She looked nothing like my mother.












PIAZZA NAVONA


Without a single address committed to memory;
without the familiar denominations
Of faith in coins and postage stamps;
Without the least itinerary;
Without a doubt, the novice is disoriented, free

To listen and nod as the fountain's water slicks its stone;
To accept the pool for its shallow delight
And its inarticulateness;
To measure these against his own;
To establish the dishonesty of weights and measures.

The stewards, unafraid, admit the day is out of hand,
Opening tall, pointed windows to release
The mass already in progress.
The guitar, low and resonant,
Steadies the chorus, also unafraid though quavering.

As the figures and inscriptions on monuments recede,
As the faces on the sundials are worn smooth,
The traveler learns how to command
As little as he can.
In the market he buys eggplant for its color alone.











TENEMENT NOTEBOOK


Scarred mantel clock: a gift for leaving.
Beveled mirror dug from the trash: its silver
thinning; nimbus showing through. No sun.
The fireplace cinder-blocked. The radiator
bleeding rust. Orange poppies in a fluted vase.

He came unshaven for dinner every Saturday.
Millie, who should have been his mother-in-law,
always made meatballs with a saccharine tomato sauce
she called gravy. The opulence of his cheeks,
the inorganic hardness of his eyes--the Times had captured
these. Days he pretended to be crazy, strolling
on the West Side in his dirty yellow bathrobe.
It was working.
He and Millie and her daughter Mitzi and their
three little bastards ate meatballs with
the door wide open so he could watch the hall.

Lukewarm rain in the mirror. Her steady
loss of memory. A doily tatted before the television.
Kitchen drawer: spare key to the police lock;
cellophane; green dice; left rubber glove; brass
knuckles from the son-in-law; first rosary.












EMPIRE STATE BUILDING


New in town, I don't yet know how
to keep my distance. When I read its name
beside the door, my head snaps back,
a hand salutes to shield my eyes.
No one can appreciate this monument
by standing directly underneath.

New terminology I rent with my rooms:
railroad flat. I bathe in the kitchen
next to the Slattery oven. At night I study
cloverleafs in the ceiling of pressed tin.
My balcony, the rusty fire escape, affords
a view of the Empire's torso if I lean.

It begins to follow me on walks:
in Washington Square, Astor Place, Mulberry Street.
Its colored floodlights, better than an almanac,
mark my holidays. I learn its spire
was meant to tether zeppelins. Queasy
after the eighty-six stories, I buy a calendar.

If you want to see Manhattan, move
across the river, under the L train's general
anesthesia, to Williamsburg, where rubble
in the foreground only heightens
the distant monument, saffron tonight
although the calendar is clear.











LIFE-SIZE


after Ted Berrigan


The hassled loafers of Mercer Street
Haven't any wool. Their new business
Is plain effrontery, an art.
To judge by the statue of him in the square,
Garibaldi never was strong enough
To draw that marble sword
Across his chest. The fuller the bundle
Of rage, the greater the risk
Its leather bands may burst.
We stumble on the cobblestones.
The sculptor wears a knockoff
Of Garibaldi's blouse
And drives a red Ferrari. He traded in
Life-size horses when the market was high.












TWO DOWNTOWN SYNAGOGUES


Charles Street, West Village


Cramped. Like a shoebox
stood on end.
For all but holy days
its doors are chained.
Then light from a dim chandelier
rubs the shoulders of black suits,
the suits of a diminished world.
Around the corner,
at an overpriced patisserie,
the worshippers of sycamores
and failing hearts
exchange their seasonal vows.


Rivington Street, Lower East Side


Two opposing triangles
realize the six-point star
in sooted limestone, faded glass.
As the garment trade went South,
so did many of the votaries.
A sculptor bought the empty synagogue
for its vaulted ceilings
but immediately had to weld
a blackthorn barricade
as a resistant strain
of junkies milled outside.
All of the kosher delis closed.











FLORIDA IMPROMPTU


The Atlantic is a good eighty miles away
and so is the Gulf. We don't see
either body as often as we could.
We learn to live like this, watching
two woodpeckers strike in the unmowed grass
at the base of our senile oak.
Each red topknot moves like a knife
clutched in the hand of a child.
Accidents happen on the calmest beach
to those who ignore the sign. A wave,
like the slip of a monstrous tongue,
betrays the swimmer with a hiss.
The birds don't fool us. I punch holes
in a can of milk with a screwdriver.












THE BROOKLYN BOOK OF HOURS


Rain maddens the crows
visiting Greenwood--summit
and cemetery.


"Gingkos do not mind
eating smoke." Saul the grocer
works on his English.


War memorial.
Once it has risen, the bronze
horse cannot come down.


Flatbush Avenue.
The Corn Bank has closed for good.
Sorry they missed you.


Red Hook scars: Reingold
in stubby bottles, chop shops,
.380 specials.


The radio screams
in French. Gold teeth. Frankincense.
Driver, are you sure?


Crows fly over the flood
and light at Coney Island
to strut on the sand.


Snow again. Late March.
Salt crests on our elk-hide boots.
Lightning. Muffled bells.











CHESS PIE


Helen Duprey Bullock,
historian of colonial cooking,
died in 1995, at 90.


An open-hearth authority,
Mrs Bullock once admitted
the chess pie is not
a handsome pie.

But when has history
tasted better? asks her
obituary in the Times.
It includes the recipe.












DEAD OX FLATS


No one had touched the bottomland
along the Snake River until Sameda
planted his gladioli. Bulbs

he shipped as far as Florida;
the flowers he left for his wife
to gather and sell to my grandfather

at 50 cents a dozen for funeral sprays.
The Latin root is gladius, for sword
grandfather recited every time

he drove us along the frontage road
as rutted as his memory. A Buddhist
high priest flew in from Japan to oversee

the wedding of Sameda's daughter. Grandfather
arranged the flowers, drank too much sake
and danced with everyone including Sameda,

in his black tuxedo and white carnation.
Flower of the flesh. Flower of the flesh.
The Snake stirred itself and swallowed

the sword lilies. Mr. and Mrs. Sameda
left Dead Ox Flats and returned to Japan,
to an elegance of temples, an absence of mud.











CLEARING OUT OF SEATTLE


I

Tuckwell flew into Mozart's third
concerto on the horn of a morning
glory pollinated with soot.

I practiced a lower criticism then,
compiling myself in two discrepant rooms
overlooking the drydock end of the lake.

At night, arc welders flashed along a hull
that required the coldest blue burn.
I supervised from a twin bed.


II

Flight displays the assembly of clouds
in exploded view--ultralight
machinery lubed in a bath of sun.

Mt. Rainier, the higher we scale,
looks all the more entrancing
for its glacial immobility.

I sit by the double-thick window
and stare as if for the final time,
in lacquered disbelief.












ROOM ELEVEN


after Anna Akhmatova


I

Yes, I detested those brown, ankle-high shoes.
The man in the store had lied; they did not
improve my marble game. What could they correct
with their boxy toes and chafing tongues?
When the other boys teased me, I went off
looking for puddles and broken glass.


II

There was no simpler way, not with a mother
mortally afraid of deformity

and drowning. I stood for an hour
up to my neck in the shallow end

of the municipal pool, in the rain,
waiting and shivering--the first lesson.


III

Isn't it easier to tell in this remedial light?
She simply wanted the best for me someday--
there is nothing wrong with that. I wear canvas
sneakers with holes in the bottoms and play
solitaire in motels. I drink domestic wine
and float on my back maybe once a year.











BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH


George Jay O'Leary was born in the Snake River town of

Weiser, Idaho in 1954. He was educated at the University of

Idaho and Washington State University and has lived in

eastern Washington, Seattle, Manhattan (Little Italy and

Morningside Heights), and Brooklyn (Park Slope and

Williamsburg).











I certify that I have read this study and that in my
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, as a
thesis for the degree of Master of Fine Arts.



Sidney Wade, C air
Assistant Professor of English



I certify that I have read this study and that in my
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, as a
thesis for the degree of Master of Fine Arts.



Debora Greger
Professor of Engli



I certify that I have read this study and that in my
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, as a
thesis for the degree of Master of ie Arts.



Michael Hofmanr.
Distinguished Lecturer, English



This thesis was presented to the Graduate Faculty of the
Department of English in the College of Liberal Arts and
Sciences and to the Graduate School and was accepted as partial
fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Fine
Arts.



May, 1996
Dean, Graduate School















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