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The Tarpon

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Recuerdo: Frank Llaneza
March 9, 1920 – March 18, 2010

of green waters

High jumping
ordinary man

Boca Grande the kingdom
Big mouth sin llanto
Big quiet eye

Slippery in salt froth
Silver in fresh agua

Clear quiet eye
Takes time to grow
Times time to see

Big fish do this
Breathe free
to leap horizons

Slap the castanets of rod and wave
Slip the line

Beneath the seabed
coral quiver:
Eulalia’s mandolin

Long stay:
Our Silver King!

Frank Llaneza, one of the pioneers of the premium cigar business, died two weeks after his 90th birthday. He was my uncle.
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Written by Lesley Valdes

March 23, 2010 at 3:39 pm

The Poet’s House

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Photos: L. J.Valdes

Here is Elizabeth Bishop’s house. The one she rented in Key West.
Someone else rents it now.
It sits across from the very, very run-down cemetery.

On the gate the sign reads: Should we have stayed at home? Wherever that is.
Impossible not to think of her One Art.
Lost continents, homes.

Written by Lesley Valdes

January 24, 2010 at 3:49 pm


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Sometimes at midnight she’d bake a cake.
A dropped spoon, the oven door,
her boyfriend’s: Linda will this ever be done?
Lissa’s: Should we get up?

Black-eyed Linda with milky skin
Black-eyed Linda, she loved Frank Zappa.

Curiosity got the better of us.
What treasures this time dragged
Four flights up: A pie safe? Oak chairs?
Linda spent weekends on her family’s dairy farm.
She spoke of it softly and with a halt.
She spoke like she walked, with hesitation.
The quietness drove Lissa crazy:

“She does it on purpose.
She makes you lean in close.”

Her people were Quakers. Didn’t put much stock in talk.
She wanted the world to slow down.
Both roommates played the flute.
They were friends first at the music school.
They snagged the top-floor in a brownstone.
It was too big for two —so were their characters.
A pianist might work.

Black-eyed Linda, lover of secrets
Black-eyed Linda, lover of hush.

The first time Linda took me to the farm, I was drawn
to the ham, tomatoes, corn at table.
Inside and out, the place was brown and flat.
The animals did not impress.
The only cow I knew was the one my mother drove through
to get eggnog. Everyone in Miami calls it The Cow.
The creature stands on top.

Black-eyed Linda with milky skin
Black-eyed Linda, she loved Frank Zappa.

After music school, she put away the flute.
Mastered botany. Went to The Sun
to write about the garden. Made fine stories. Made
fine homes. One for the ex-husband and ex-boyfriend
to live together. When Linda got sick they lived with her.

Black-eyed Linda in ill-fitting Wranglers,
Black eyed Linda with milky skin.

Before the brain tumor took her beauty,
Before the brain tumor took her life,
She wrote a children’s book about the farm.
Her cousin did the pictures.
A Morning Milking made The New York Times.

Linda had two weddings.
The first was a surprise.
She found a Mexican wedding dress,
a grassy spot by the art gallery,
two horses and my family to witness;
went home for the big ceremony.

Black-eyed Linda with milky skin
Black-eyed Linda, she loved Frank Zappa.

Odd hours, she would call.
Discoveries and stories and silence
that drove me into chatter _

Black-eyed Linda with milky skin
Black-eyed Linda, she loved Frank Zappa.

She was gone.
I found the cousin.
I didn’t know the man.
I knew his Maryland skies and haystacks.

“I remember –
“I miss her too, the artist said.
“You are so different,
“Linda didn’t talk.

“Let’s get this straight, he said.
“We weren’t cousins.”

Black- eyed Linda

Written by Lesley Valdes

January 4, 2010 at 3:18 am


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Photo: S.G. Valdes

The sidewalk split at 2029. Burst.
Walking by, I almost missed
the tree we fought about
three stories tall, two decades thick.
You would smile your inward smile to see
the tangled cords of pear, unfruitful, like the marriage.
Knobby, exposed
guarding the house, your pride.
When you left, Louise moved in, heard children in our room.
Had I said it was a nursery years before?
I don’t remember what you think of ghosts.
The couple who came after us have parted.
Solace in roots.

Written by Lesley Valdes

December 8, 2009 at 4:06 am


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When Philip Wu took us to the Chinese banquet, I wore the red dress of fine
wale corduroy plush as the belly of the spaniel you liked to say replaced you.

You took a Polaroid of Philip and me hugging, inarched. With our black shag
caps of hair we were siblings. Happy siblings.

He was your friend first. Every Thanksgiving, he came bearing pleasures:
diamond studs for small Johana, bouquets for me, Godiva for the table.

When dessert was cleared, he’d hop a chair and pour his heart into La Donna e mobile then a Chinese folksong.

He wanted to be known as an opera tenor not for his systems work at the bank.

One holiday he brought the big-haired blonde he wanted to marry and you
called her a gold-digger. The next year he brought a pretty girl from Taiwan nearer his age.
One day he disappeared. We followed every lead and got nowhere.

I lost my red dress.

I don’t remember if it got a rip or stain
or I gave it to Goodwill.
I miss its touch, the way it made me feel.

The darts in the bodice accentuated my good points
and my joyfulness. The skirt, cut on the bias, swirled.
Snaps ran from the Mandarin collar to my calves.
I wore it with snug leather boots.

You left.
You said you’d never marry again.
You did.

Written by Lesley Valdes

November 26, 2009 at 1:49 am

Agnes Repplier (1855-1950)

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Miss Repplier on Clinton Street

Agnes is stern.

Change one vowel I could have been a lamb.

Jane would have fit. Irony should have been expected

given Mother’s brain. Eight decades writing with a martyr’s name.

Spindle tall, uncomely, though a spinster’s life has gain.

The books exceed a dozen now. The essays are my pride.

My niche is small but I made it myself. In Philadelphia where

there’s always been a problem telling geese from swans. Penn’s Greene

Towne holds claim: Boston publishes.

God bless The Atlantic Monthly. Who’ll remember my

reviews? Mrs. Wharton, Mr. Gosse long gone. In Edinburgh, Mr. Andrew

Lang enjoyed them. His letters said so. And so much more about himself

in that blue scrawl. He was rude but he did value discernment. Pass the

cigarettes, dear. Mind the cat.

Written by Lesley Valdes

November 21, 2009 at 5:33 pm


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The sky is a Helen Frankenthaler.
The sky, the road, the steel green of Adirondacks’ spruce. The silver Jetta running 70 mph on the rain damp road.. I have the urge to touch the highway girdled with orange cones. To stop, kneel down and touch a road. At twilight this stretch looks soft charcoal.
I don’t sketch. I like the mess those crayons leave in the hand.

I like driving alone thinking of chiaroscuro. How to shade things.
Color obsesses. I make my artist daughter crazy with questions. How much yellow
sparks a seascape? Does this blue need white or rose?

Why can’t I drive into a Helen Frankenthaler? Like those kids who wandered into the wardrobe – some lives need Helen’s depths. Some colors tell us: Dive.

Not long after I was born, Helen applied paint to an unprimed canvas.
I salute all things unprimed.

I watched Helen on YouTube the other day. She was pouring viscous
color onto a canvas big as my basement. She had a brush like the one my father
used to paint the house. Industrial sponges. This has been done.
The point is not the pioneering — it is the joy
in the pouring and the placing.
In the dive.

Tonight’s sky is an early study: limpid shadows, a scribble of yellow.

Written by Lesley Valdes

November 12, 2009 at 9:38 pm