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Marsha de la O

Marsha de la O

Marsha de la O lives in Ventura, California with her husband and daughter. She received an M.F.A. in Writing Poetry from Vermont College.


Black Hope

Black HopeBlack Hope

$12.00 paper | $22.00 cloth
ISBN: 978-0-932826-51-0 (paper)
ISBN: 978-0-932826-50-3 (cloth)
Publication Date: 1997
75 Pages | Foreword by Chase Twichell
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Winner of the New Issues 1997 Poetry Prize
Chase Twichell, Judge

"Hard luck, black hope, whatever it is that ‘darkens in us every day,’ this is just what Marsha de la O has willed into the light in these gorgeous, harrowing poems. I don't know what I admire most, her merciless intelligence or her merciful spirit. I know we are luckier for having these fresh and remarkable poems before us in the world."
        —Nancy Eimers

"Marsha de la O's poems begin where most others leave off. She writes with unsentimental clarity of power and desire, the struggle of the self to remain whole and to speak its disturbing truths. This is a book of crisis, resistance, and difficult grace."
        —Cynthia Huntington

"A poet such as Marsha de la O, when confined to the dark, develops infrared vision and a language that radiates its terrible knowledge. We may be afraid but we go with her, wherever she goes, beyond anywhere we have been, because she knows what she knows."
        —Deena Metzger

"Whether her subject is mental illness, the oppression of one human being by another, or the constantly-cast shadow of our mortality, Marsha de la O's resilient, unpretentious, sharply intelligent and unsentimental voice speaks to us of what we need to know. This is a disturbing and memorable book."
        —Chase Twichell, from the foreword


Black Hope

                        I have ended
my trip at the Motel Six where there are no
pictures on the wall because guests like plain
white, the better to empty your mind.
There is no silence on a narrow tongue
of land between the gentle roll of traffic
on Vandam and the great river of the freeway,
the I-5, with its invisible moons and daily tides.
No silence but mine, pitching a tune to match
the voiceless shrieks of the ants, one to
the other, as when they found water last night
in my shower stall, and called for back-up
with their wireless pulse, to carry
the globules drop by drop,
trying to amass and underground lake,
maybe under the asphalt of the parking
lot, a secret sinkhole, a wadi, black
hope that never dries.
                                               Last night
in the dark my room had a rattle
in its throat when it breathed. The light
is pale and soupy now. At the counter
a man discusses hope with the waitress, the force
of hope, how it can be utilized.
I wonder if the walls wheeze in my room
whether hope is there to hear them or not.
My bed has a rainforest bedspread, the rainforest
disappearing in Malaysia
so we're saving it here, covered with ropy
philodendron. I searched carefully
among the tendrils, the bird of paradise,
the epiphyte, looking for a flash of wing
or a single creature from the insect kingdom,
I found no one. I have to learn to respond
to absence, the way he hauled himself up on me
one morning like a beached whale and said,
Let's pretend we're in love, and I was thinking
It's water he wants, my mouth so raspy
dry I couldn't speak. Did I think
it would be easy, that the rainforest
would give up its secrets? It could've
been birds in the lower reaches
moaning through the ducts all night
nothing intelligible.
                                               The light begins
to burn the sky white, the moon still
lit like a dim lamp. Shall I drift
down the valley, or stay here with Mickey,
bearing down from the clockface
with his grin. I hate to go;
I'll never again see the waitress
who would marry for love. Never again
the prince of hope. Maybe he employed her
like his private secretary; maybe he'll hit
the daily double; maybe he carries a flask
in his pocket. I could drift back to my husband
who might be suffering, asleep, or aimless
without me. But maybe not. It's hard to know
which word applies. If any. Plumes
of smoke in an airless room–
after so many years we never dispersed,
floating above the world while
cigarettes blinked on and off.
                                              Love is polishing
the chrome on the coffee machine
and money is pressed up against the
glass when I leave. My problem is
I'm over-earnest like these ants struggling
with a potato chip in the parking lot,
each laborer exactly like the next.
Ants have no art. They're not dionysian,
make no music and never die singing.
The three labor on. The third is trying to help
but can't find the right place to lift. Sometimes
his efforts cause the other two to spin
sideways and down. Once he tilts the potato
chip up and the wind catches it like a sail.
Two times he clambers on top of the chip
and tries to lift it from there. He's a comedian.
He finally lets the technicians take over
and follows after, giving advice,
or maybe he's singing.
                                             I have to wonder
as I unlock my door if the ants who work
the dry side of the Coast Range are the same
as the ones in the Amazon. Inside I find
a little black ant on the porcelain.
He's carrying a tiny globe
of water. I am elated, half-suspended
with delight. He hesitates. Does he see me?
Could our eyes meet? I am water too,
I mouth at him, half bowing, in case he's
a statistician, a tiny black angel
from the depths playing the numbers
with a miniature flask and an endless supply.
Is he my guide–joker or god? Is this
my day for engagement?
The sun's steam-pressing the moon into vapor,
dissolving my tongue, tasting like everything,
like light. I've never been happy
like this before; I want to throw out my
arms, shout All ants are my brothers!
but I'm probably ranting and
he's so small.