Could have been the Geisha I drew
with a blue crayon, the children and I
shared a green and a blue one
A man and his children drawing with crayons. A simple enough act. Yet right away, this seemed much larger, as if it were about to take on more worldly proportions. The father did draw a Geisha. That is provocative. Do you know ahead of time the progression your poems will take? Or do they generally surprise you?
Roberto Garcia: I am almost always surprised. I just wait and watch them unfold. There’s a wonderful novel (it’s been made into a film now) by Brian Morton called “Starting Out in the Evening.” The main character, Leonard Schiller, is a novelist whose technique is to follow his characters around until they do something interesting. I tend to do the same thing with my poems only I follow them around in my head. “Oh, dinner“ came about that way. I was drawn to the couple and everything they did was so interesting. The Geisha just bled out of the crayon. That was a bonus given to me by the muse.
Susan: “The Geisha just bled out of the crayon.” Now there’s a gorgeous line, Roberto. Is your muse a female or male? I think mine tends to vary from piece to piece.
Roberto: Mine too. It all depends on what I’m writing. However, I have to admit she’s usually female. Growing up I was surrounded by the beautiful voices of powerful women; my mother, grandmother, two aunts, etc. So I hear in “womanese”, if that’s even possible.
Susan: Oh, that’s lovely for a poet. Now I hate to be a nudge (actually I love being a nudge), but the Geisha comes up again in your second stanza: You write: “The couple next to us tried discreetly / to study my blue geisha, …”
A blue Geisha, no less. Very Picasso, or perhaps Matisse. Did you know they were rivals? At any rate, this 2nd appearance of the Geisha indicates to me, at least, that the Geisha holds something over this poem. That the Geisha is a force in the poem.
Roberto: I did know that actually! I love art and as a result I write a lot of ekphrastic poetry. Something artistic finds its way into many of my poems.
I suppose that what I found interesting or off about the couple and what had my poetic attention at the time was a kind of mysterious sadness. There was loudness to it like a bright color. Maybe the blue Geisha is a bridge between the speaker’s world of family and the couple’s realm of sadness and mystery. I was conscious of the couple the moment I picked up the crayon and I “followed” them and the speaker around to see what would happen.
Susan: That was how I saw the blue Geisha, too— as a life force when compared to the “observing” other couple (at the other table) who seemed death-like. You write:
The couple next to us…
their awkwardness, the woman, sad,
stared into each face at our table
I feel the poem is touching on things that are far beyond this simple meal, this simple act of crayoning with children.
Roberto: Definitely. I’m a firm believer that within the simple moments there are all kinds of wonderful complexities happening. There are critical moments of intuitiveness we pick up on as human beings (the woman looking at each of the people at the table, their awkwardness, etc.) and as artists one of our challenges is expressing that or the hint of that in our work. But not just in body language, emotively. Perhaps that’s too abstract an answer but I feel the poem works for that reason. That even though it’s plainly written it emotes what’s happening between the couple and the family. And the pulsing blue Geisha is this “invitation” or I don’t know “something” (I know I said bridge before) pulling it all together.
Susan: That’s how I see the Geisha’s role in your poem, too. As a bridge to a much larger concept or world or invention. As is the artist’s role, too, regardless of whether the medium being worked is words, paint, clay, whatever. It can’t be just a facile representation, and still be called art. And I don’t say this to sound lofty or obnoxious. But the differences are just huge. Monumental, really.
In this compelling poem you write:
And I thought I saw her memories, tragedies,
their emptiness on the legs of the wine…
“The legs of the wine…” There’s a phrase to carry you places.
Roberto: Agreed, not lofty, obnoxious or any of that. It’s more a conviction, an artist’s conviction.
As for “The legs of the wine…”, I love the way wine legs drip back down into a glass and so I took that expression a step further and turned it into a metaphor. There are lots of wonderful expressions for the phenomenon of alcohol evaporating and separating from the water in wine like tears of wine, church windows, and curtains. I feel as though it alludes to the shadows surrounding the woman in the poem quite well. Also, that image of a mysterious woman with a wine glass is timeless.
Read “Oh, dinner“ by Roberto Carlos Garcia
Monday Chat is a bi-weekly series in which Susan Tepper has a conversation with a Fictionaut writer about one of his or her stories.Susan’s new book From the Umberplatzen is a collection of linked-flash published by Wilderness House Press.