The Operating System

6th ANNUAL NAPOMO 30/30/30 :: DAY 19 :: SALLY O’DOWD ON TONY CURTIS

HAPPY POETRY MONTH, FRIENDS AND COMRADES!

For this, the 6th Annual iteration of our beloved Poetry Month 30/30/30 series/tradition, I asked four poets (and previous participants) to guest-curate a week of entries, highlighting folks from their communities and the poets who’ve influenced their work.

I’m happy to introduce Janice Sapigao, Johnny Damm, Phillip Ammonds, and Stephen Ross, who have done an amazing job gathering people for this years series! We’re so excited to share this new crop of tributes with you. Hear more from our four guest editors in the introduction to this year’s series.

Hungry for more? there’s 150 previous entries from past years here! You should also check out Janice’s piece on Nayyirah Waheed, Johnny’s piece on Raymond Roussel, Phillip’s piece on Essex Hemphill, and Stephen’s piece on Ronald Johnson’s Ark, while you’re at it.

This is a peer-to-peer system of collective inspiration! No matriculation required.
Enjoy, and share widely.

– Lynne DeSilva-Johnson, Managing Editor/Series Curator

WEEK THREE :: CURATED BY PHILLIP J. AMMONDS

Poets are fingerprints
A menagerie of textures
that leave a unique cultural-
impression on the world

The seven poets that I have the honor of curating for the week of April 16-22, are varied in tone, approach, inspiration–but all have a thundering presence that thrums the strings in your soul. They demand that you be present and feel whatever you will.

Throughout this week, readers will take a journey through waves of love, self-reflection, mourning, discovery, tribute, longing and acceptance.
To hear these poets speak life into their muses and perform their work, please come to our reading, Tribute, at Dixon Place on Monday, April 24th at 7:30 PM.

Phillip J. Ammonds, a Brooklyn native, is a founding member of the writing collective Writeous, with whom he has co-produced three chapbooks.  Phillip curates Rainbows Across the Diaspora, the queer text reading series at Dixon Place in New York City. Phillip also performs his work as Trinity Rayn, Drag Poet.  His work has appeared in the anthology Black Gay Genius: Answering Joseph Beam’s Call (Vintage Entity Press, 2013),HIV: Here and Now Project, Yellow Mama and The Operating System.

SALLY O’DOWD ON TONY CURTIS

T-1._Curtis001

“I wish I could be paid to think” 

Such is the only sentence I recall saying during my first encounter with Irish poet Tony Curtis in 1988. I was a 19-year-old studying in Paris on a semester-abroad program. My first time in Europe came with the life-changing fortune of meeting three generations of Dublin cousins. Tony is married to my cousin Mary.

I was sitting on the floor with Tony, Mary, and their four-year-old son, Oisin, with whom I have grown quite close over the years. If memory recalls, a fire kept us warm. While I don’t remember what Tony read, his presence — his ability to make a living as a writer, to achieve international renown as a poet – further emboldened my love of literature.

Throughout the years, our families have exchanged visits across the Atlantic and Tony’s books, too.  When my father, Jerome John O’Dowd, died on March 16, 2009 – the day before Saint Patrick’s day, we planned an Irish funeral. For my eulogy I read Tony’s poem “The Journey Home,” which he had written in memory of Mary’s father, Gus Canavan:

The Journey Home

Some mornings
from my window
I can hear,
high up in the mountains,
the bell the monks ring
to call them to pray
for who they were,
who they are,
and who they will become,
on the journey home.

And some mornings
I join them in prayer,
imagining my own journey:
how far I’ve travelled
with so much baggage.
But the higher I’ve climbed
into the mountains,
the more I have discarded.

Let me tell you why I’ve come
to this ledge on a mountain,
this window on the snow-line:
it is to meet the ghost
who lives inside me,
a man or woman I have not
seen for centuries, whose face,
whose voice, whose touch
I have forgotten,
but who knows my fear.
This soul who holds a bell for me,
that, at my last breath,
he’ll ring to guide me.

from Three Songs from Home, 1998

Nearly seven years later, on December 29, 2015, my mother Ruthie Holthouse O’Dowd died in our home in Fort Wayne, Indiana. As her death loomed, with my dad’s passing on my mind, I wrote a poem for the funeral:

Train Rides

I.

Mother and I hop off at summertime.

We’re home from a day at the pool.
The swing hanging from the maple
sways in the breeze
as we come up the back walk.

She makes me cinnamon toast
to tide me over.
Buttery-soft-sugary-warm —
I eat on the shady porch,
wiping my fingers on my bathing suit.
It’s quiet but for the flirting of birds
and boys on bicycles.

As my tummy warms to the food,
I feel the sensation of being clean
down to the whites of my toenails —
that’s what our days swimming do.
I watch her make dinner
through the window screen.

II.

We enter gay Paris,
mother and me.
The smells and sounds are new —
“World, how do you do?”
We eat cheese sandwiches
in the park by the Picasso museum.
We’re there to celebrate another year.
She writes,
“Soar on your swing,”
on my birthday card.

III.

Emboldened, I take the wheel —
life’s unqualified conductor.
Miscalculations lead us into a storm.
“Stay strong,” she says.
“Smile through the rain.”
“I’ll try, Mom,” I say,
“but it’s hard to mirror you.
At times my mind
is a box of dusty papers.
You are always in bloom.”

IV.

The train’s wheels approach
from the East.

In the living room,
on a hospice bed,
where the wingback chairs used to be,
she lies, barely moving.
“Wasn’t it fine,”
she says in her lucid moments,
letting each visitor
take her hand
for a requiem of block parties,
beach vacations and hockey games,
of Chuck Mangione’s trumpet
playing from speakers
on the neighbor’s front porch.
“There were grand moments like that.”

V.

She boards,
outside our house,
for the final ride.
I sprint alongside,
lengthening my stride to keep up.
Stay strong through the storm. 

Smile through the rain.

I say,
“Just one more time,
one more time,
the warm hand.”

The pavement under my feet
gives way to a field
of wild grasses and sunflowers.
The train curves at the bend —
I lose sight.
Her window has become
the screen window of my mind.

I know she’s waving.
I’m sure.

And so we find ourselves in April 2017. I am thrilled to participate in The Operating Systems’ Sixth Annual Poetry Month 30/30 by honoring Tony Curtis, the author of 12 books, who according to The Irish Times, “lives on the borderline between our world and the world of the Spirits.” His most recent book, Approximately in the Key of C, has just been published by ARC Publications. You can learn more about Tony and find links for purchasing his other works at tonycurtisirishpoet.com.

Sally O’Dowd is a corporate communications professional in the advertising and media industry. She self-published Creativity Is Risky: Free Speech in a Charlie Hebdo World, a multimedia e-zine dedicated to the fundamental human right to free expression. After her mother’s funeral, she went on to write a poetry series, Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and Other Tales of Love and Loss. You can find it on Literati Magazine/Medium here.

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