rg cantalupo is a poet, playwright, filmmaker, novelist, and director. His work has been published in over a hundred literary journals in the United States, England, and Australia, and he is the winner of many writing awards.

He has studied with such luminaries as Yusef Komunyakaa, Galway Kinnell, Sharon Olds, Robert Haas, Brenda Hillman, Edward Hirsh, and Gregory Bateson among others and has a Dual-Genre MFA in Poetry and Non-Fiction from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and an MA in Literature from Loyola Marymount. 

A war veteran who was awarded three Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star with a combat V for valor for courage under fire, he is also an anti-war activist and environmentalist who has been arrested and targeted for surveillance by the FBI.

His books of poetry include No Thanks, Walking Water On Earth, The Art of Naming, and The Endurance: Journey To Worlds End.

His current residence is in the Los Padres Mountains in California where he, his four dogs, and his companion often spend long afternoons contemplating the serenity of trees.

 

 

The Art of Poetry

I usually get where I’m going
without knowing how I got there.

I’m driving, but it’s not me fighting
traffic, it’s someone else, someone

who’s infinitely better at such tasks.
No, I’m usually drifting along on a song

else where, listening to Bix Beiderbecke
on the coronet say, or Bechet on his

moaning clarinet. I’m here following a
burst of pure expression, gazing up

through the windshield at a splash of
wild, lime-green parrots, while my double’s

out there cruising through amber lights,
negotiating a horseshoe curve. And yet it

is in those moments, in that space between
habit and desire, that suddenly a phrase

will come, a cluster of sounds, a line or two
or even a whole poem, written in my head,

or scribbled on the back of a grocery list
as my other continues squiggling down

the mountain. You might think there’s
more to it than that, a kind of alchemy

to the way I multiply from one to three,
into this one braking into a turn, that one

watching a flight of green wings, and this
last one scatting to the notes of a sweet

horn—a magic say to how one street shifts
into another until—poof!—I am there!—

parked in front of a grocery store or a pet
shop. But, that’s not the way it happens

really. My pen simply rolls forward toward
some place I’ve never been before, (or I keep

revisiting), and I, I just go along, surrender
to the mystery

from Walking Water on Earth

 

The Art of Naming

for Ed Hirsch

                        1

And to think we could understand the
abyss by naming it, by holding it

in our palms like a winged bird, a canary
say, flapping on the murderous air--

to think after gazing into the face
of darkness we could catch the darkness

in a word, that in the black and white
imperfect spines of these letters,

a body could rise, and my words
reach back like arms to pull the dead

from their shadows. But no, my friend,
nothing brings the dead back so little

as a word. Better to shriek, scream,
howl, beat your fists against the earth,

better to spit at the diminishing sky
or hunt the killer down with a pink lily,

for when we look over the edge of nothing
an inexpressible terror steals our breath

and cuts off the air to clarity. Naming
it later will not capture what it was.
                       

                        2

In the streets we learn this early.
The brute force of the fist or club

smashes through our tongues, twists
our mouths into wretched sounds,

stammered groans. What starts out
as a word is ripped from our lips

unformed, wild, primordial. Words
torn from our chests fly out as cries;

words beaten into lies turn into fists
of stone; words pounded into shivs

sever lifelines far beyond our lives.
                       
                        3

Those I buried are beyond me now,
have always been beyond my reach

somehow. If I could call them back
with words I would. If I had a name

for the hand clutching my throat when
their fingers slipped out of mine,

I would’ve screamed it out and would
be screaming still in my dreams.

But what we name we hold dominion
over, as if we were small gods. It’s what

we can’t express that flares up inside us
unquenchable—the heart burning in

the midnight oil—the day flickering on
like a candle in our eyes—the voice

sounding not for words, but for grace

from The Art of Naming

 

No Thanks

for Yusef Komunyakaa

for the fire ants parading red
stripes down my forearm as I
radioed in grids for napalm
bombs. Their flaming edges
still serrate the black-pajamaed
shadows beyond my window
in this dawn’s early mist. No
thanks for the blue sliver of
freedom I sought low-crawling
through elephant grass as bullets
ticked off human flags. Between
the blades of a lover’s fingers I
still wake an arm’s length away
from Lonnie’s open mouth bobbing
in that stream. No thanks for the
white, shrapnel stars constellated
around my heart’s tattered colors.
There aren’t enough surgeries to
defuse them from my chest’s
black walls, nor enough names
engraved on my imploded eyes
to survive me from their ghosts.
Take back your phantom limbs, the
severed lifelines on my mother’s
palm, my wife’s unnamed, aborted
son. I never wanted their surrender.
Medal these untagged body parts
hurling through night patrols, these
blowbacks of fourth of July fire-
works ricocheting off hot LZs, my
unexploded mortars waiting for a
child’s foot to skip by. And don’t
ask me for the bruise of honor
shaped like an oak-leaf cluster,
nor the bronze star poured out of
a war criminal’s eye. I’ve offered
all I’m grateful for: You cannot
take what I will not kill to give.

from No Thanks

 

RG Cantalupo

 

 

2014 R.G. Cantalupo


 

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