BETH RUSCIO, the daughter of actors and descended for generations from other artists, writers and vaudevillians, is also an accomplished actress, one-time playwright (co-authored with husband Leon Martell the play 1961 Eldorado) and published poet.   Her manuscript (a first poetry collection) RAUCOUS SPELL OF LIGHT is a two-time 2012 semi-finalist: for The Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award, and for The Perugia Press Prize.   Her poems Ladies Sketch Club On The Beach, Pacific Grove, California, 1890 and Of matchbooks, phone booths and the loss of Nickodells won second prize and first runner up in 2011 Beyond Baroque’s Best Poem Contest.  In 2007, The Los Angeles Poetry Festival named her an L.A. Newer Poet, and she has read her work at The Secret City, Library Girl, The Third Area, The Taper Auditorium as part of The Aloud series, and Beyond Baroque.  She is a long-time student.   Her wonderful teachers include David St. John, Suzanne Lummis, Cecelia Woloch, Sarah Maclay, Laurel Ann Bogen and Ellen Bass.    Her most recently published work is in Cultural Weekly, In Posse Review, Spillway, The Malpais Review, and speechlessthemagazine.

 

Summer Calling

            for John O’Keefe

One season, we play nuns, enough to get the feel,
novice actresses yoked to made-up vows,
we bore the marks of wool for weeks,

our skin mercerized in the sunny rehearsal heat—
black gabardine, white challis, black head kerchiefs,
the rubbed-raw badges the costumes chafed

onto our thighs, our wimple-rashed cheeks.
Tested, the long pent-up day of pretend vocation
no lesser devotion, we’re cut loose in a red clay field,

the cooling sacrament, dusk,
told to write loud on a clean red slate, we form a kick line
a cancan in reverse, receding as we curtsy,

singing close, a choir of showgirls
charming the fat moon to rise.   
We, of the cloth, gone the way of soft rags,

of unanswered rosaries, attend a July reunion,
and up we pop, in unison, as sisters do, forget time,
as if strings never untied from habits.   

First, we lift our pretend skirts, our elbows akimbo just so,
then without a sideways glance,
set about our magic-seeming backwards trot,

away from our attachments, the trapping world,
our silhouettes scudding like pirate ships
toward the smog rosy light

 published: IN POSSE REVIEW, Spring 2012

 

Of matchbooks, phone booths and the loss of Nickodells

In those days, when somebody famous 
yanked open the bar’s side door off Melrose,
spilling a rectangle of sunny rebuke
on us unknowns ripening
in Nickodells’s night-for-day ambience,
we looked up without looking up
slitting our eyes to the light.
We were dark-clothed theater rats
rehearsing all hours in our black box “empty spaces”
on our wage-less farce, our German Expressionism,
all our daylight savings eaten, not-from-around-here-pale,
funhouse sweaty with thirst to burn,
but seated in a place like Nickodells
in old Hollywood, on the slightly seedy side
down from local television station K-Cal
and spooned by the back lot of Paramount Studios,
in the hierarchy of regulars, we had rank. 
We wanted for nothing.  
Nickodells, with a name like loose change,
where dream makers on martini lunches
and newscasters like Jerry “from the desert to the sea
to all of Southern California” Dunphy
could tuck into one of the bar’s red leather booths
and dine in the cocktail atmosphere,
where here’s-mud-in-your-eye nobodies
could have a completely appointed experience,
exchanging numbers inside midnight blue matchbooks
that boasted of air-conditioning,
a smoky topaz back-mirrored bar,
Caesar salads tossed tableside,
shoe-string potatoes salty hot,
dark wood, dark corners, fifteen different bourbons—
back when one-upping the famous
automatically conferred class,
when drinking in the daytime
was the mark of a vivid, lush life,
when you could pick up matchbooks
by the handful, next to the cigarette machine
on the way to the phone booth
acting like you had somebody who loved you
dying for a call.

published: CULTURAL WEEKLY, December 2012

 

Anniversary Of A Crime

              Whatever makes her cry, like a wife.
                             John Allman     

Every year, the same gift—he calls me when rates get cheap,
wakes me after three, keeps me on the line for hours burning it up,
smoking like a mobster, until he’s parched white noise.
 No one hears anymore.   Deaf people
 all over the place.

Gone, I’ll bet, that cashmere suit of his, the color of snow
in a summer weight, brash as gold flapping on a clothesline,
so of course, I fell for it, let him bury his face in my strawberry hair,
threw all my cards in with his, the pair of us, honeyed and un-contrite—
what a confection of criminals we made.

Just that now, with dawn coming on so tarnished,
when he says, exhale turning to static,
Sometimes night’s the only shoulder I got left to cry on,
Jesus, he’s hard to take,
and the crime of it
goes way beyond whatever’s on the record.

published: THE MALPAIS REVIEW, Autumn 2010

 

Beth Ruscio 2013 at Moonday Poetry

 

 

2013 Beth Ruscio


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