• Clare Ultimo
    Clare has been reading her poetry at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe for over 17 years. She has also read her work at The Bowery Poetry Club (Tone Poem series) The Kitchen, The American Museum of Natural History, Cornelia Street Cafe, Carpo's Cafe, The West End Bar and The Bottom Line. At the suggestion of Diane Di Prima, her work has been published in "The Paterson Literary Review". Other work has been published in The National Poetry Magazine of the Lower East Side, and other zines about town.

    Fine Lines

    These are my primordial celebrations,
    My evergreen fascinations with sensual
    elations, a fine line between masturbation
    and the path the masters took.
    I am trying hard to write the book that tells
    the challenge true, the one that makes us 
    look like heroes just because we tried to.
    
    This is my whistling street festival 
    my loud parade of investigation, 
    my two big feet invention for travellers yet
    to walk this path through time.
    These are my insatiable misconprehensions,
    my unbelievable directions for dreamers
    yet to find their way.
    
    Take your own inflections,
    don't listen when they sit
    you down and says it's not your time.
    There is no line in the sands of rhyme.
    Stop still to the sounds
    Stand still and listen for signs.
    Breath barefoot on new beats, 
    get into your own show.
    Bring your own pen, and mark the ticket
    star
    -2006

    what I would have called him

    I wouldn't want to sound pretentious.
    I would have said "my friend Jack" 
    if people asked me about him.
    
    Actually, I would have liked to say 
    "my boyfriend Jack"
    If everything had worked out the way I wanted it to
    then it would have been
    "oh yeah, so my boyfriend Jack  
    brought me rocks from Big Sur
    no-  not because he's cheap-
    because he knows rocks are transcendental spirits
    and he knows I love them 
    and of course because he was my boyfriend
    he would have called me his "baby muse" or his
    "truthful youthful angelheaded hipster"...
    something like that.
    
    And I would have a pet name for him
    like Roamy or Fubberhead or 
    Frenchie because we knew each other so long and 
    were so tight that I could have stupid nicknames for him
    and he would really like it
    it would be as though I was the only person 
    who could do that
    except maybe for Allen Ginsberg or Neal Cassidy
    
    though in public I would just call him "Jack", 
    and sometimes "my friend Jack" 
    so that people would never guess how
    intensely intimate we really were.
    
    but when he wasn't around and I was talking to my 
    friends about him I would have said
    "yeah, the much older guy with a pot belly 
    who follows me around 
    and writes me long love poems from Florida 
    where he lives with his mother...you know
    the drunk guy with the mother thing, 
    the one with the thick wavy hair
    who can really kiss...you know
    the guy who wrote ON THE ROAD!"
     
    And of course, I would never be taken 
    on the road with him,
    since he needed to do that kind of research 
    for his books without me, 
    and it would be better anyway 
    when he got back and 
    Of course, when we were alone then,
    I would never call him anything but "Jack",
    or sometimes "Kerouac" if I was trying to prove a point.
    
    Calling him Kerouac would mean
    that I was not just some kid with a crush on him
    but a real woman who got angry
    when he let her to walk to the subway alone at 3am.
    which he would occassionally do when he
    got really drunk.
    
    Then there would be what I would call him 
    when I was ready to break it off
    because of course he would want to be my teenage idol
    for all of his middleaged life 
    and would never break off with ME 
    so I wouldn't want to bring 
    too much attention to that moment, 
    I would just call him "Jack" then, 
    "Jack, it's me" when he first picked up the phone
    ....and then I would call him
    "My French Canadian roamin-eyed blue-eyed bum, 
    "my movie star-lookin wordsmith extraodinaire
    with a backpack and some trail mix,
    "my powerhouse quarterback 
    with a dime to call home in his pocket
    to let his mother know he was allright.
    When that time came, I would say
    "my beautiful perfect older man lover, 
    I got other roads to rail and besides 
    I've got to go to college and get a real boyfriend
    that my mother says doesn't look like my uncle,
    and I love you Jack and especially 
    everything you ever wrote
    you big American icon with those big American icon arms...
    and its not fair that your mother still thinks
    I'm Allen Ginsberg's roommate
    so this has got to end...be sensible
    I'm just too young to be tied down
    and you hate Jimi Hendrix anyway
    
    "so Jack, let's be friends and when I call you
    'my friend Jack', it'll be for real and forever
    and I won't have to worry about sounding
    pretentious in front of my friends
    or feeling grungy sleeping on your dirty sheets
    and then you can call your mother 
    anytime (and for any reason)
    even when I'm in the room.
    -2006

    dreams of Jack Kerouac
    (for Clare at 17)

    Sometimes I dream that Jack Kerouac was the preacher's son
    innocent in his bluejeans 
    eyeing me on Sunday, 
    giving me his 
    portion of the peach cobbler 
    and waiting under the big clock in town 
    
    so he could carry my schoolbooks home 
    in the New England autumn,
    almost dinnertime.
    
    He would show me his secret dimestore notebooks 
    and tell me about 
    the ghosts of Pawtucketville
    and how the devil looked at him under the tree 
    by Mrs. Steinhorn's house 
    and that he could read the longest words 
    and the librarian 
    was very impressed.
    
    "I want to be a writer" he would say
    by the gate in front of my house
    and I would run breathless through the screen door
    and think that I could keep a secret well 
    and under clean sheets I 
    would imagine his beautiful hands
    holding me by the waist as we walked near the hill.
    
    Sometimes I would dream that Jack
    would treat me to rice pudding at the greasy spoon
    near the factories and the lights were so blinding 
    above the 
    slippery booth that he would squint and look down
    when he spoke.
    both of us shy at seventeen
    all the while heads silently bobbing 
    across the formica table 
    between us 
    never touching
    
    Sometimes I would dream that he was next to me on the bus,
    just beyond eyeshot
    watching me and pointing out the scenery
    when I travelled vast over America with my friends on Greyhound
    and he would say in my ear "the skies over Iowa
    are like totems from God"
    and I  would smile softly to myself
    because I would know what he meant
    
    The dreams were replenished with real boys
    and poetry by my own hands writ in cheap dimestore notebooks
    I bought myself
    and my own clean sheets and subway rides
    alone in the cold city night
    still for that fated encounter
    dreaming of a ghost, a spectre,
    the luminous vibe of the unexpected
    when he might appear.
    
    On some grainy step
    in Chinatown, a dirty brown jacket,
    stained from sleeplessness and drink,
    an empty bottle on the street
    a look would link us to recognition
    then conversation on the way to my house
    where I would bathe him
    and feed him pancakes with melted butter
    his heroine of suffering city streets
    the victory of a young girl's dreaming heart
    my loyal muse,
    and he would be a brave soldier 
    steadfast and true for my art.
    -2006

    To Susi Upon Her Citizenship to the United States

    I would like for you not to be an American
    Ugly, persistent, botoxed,
    The luxurious epitaph of millions...
    I would like for you not to be one of them
    The way they confuse themselves speechless
    and watch cathode tongues feeding/eating
    someone else's mind inside the glowing glass
    
    I wish for you a true instead...another name
    not constructed from small tight thoughts
    pretending to need the spacious hearts of
    strangers,. pretending the ingredients are pure.
    Killing the bees, souping gas for breakfast links
    I would like for you not to be American.
    
    Another word for nothing 
    pretending to be something
    nothing pretending as hard as it can
    that the truth is impossible
    and anything real can be bought
    
    My dear friend from afar
    this America of mindless 
    soiled in the technology of lies
    a roll call of Johns and Janes...
    a faceless tyranny and hopefully  temporary. 
    A name they will call you, like
    Willy or Tiffany,  John, Jane or George..
    American...the ring that makes millions
    turn around when the dinner bells sounds.
    
    Welcome here, to where I was born
    Welcome to these United States 
    Where some of us may never sleep, where 
    my grandfather believed  how streets were paved
    
    Welcome to America 
    Land of the Brave Enslaved.
    -2007

    They say things about Italians too...
    Published in The Paterson Literary Review #29
    (Dedicated to my father, Stephen)

    I
    In the middle of the antipasto, my Uncle Joe is smiling
    singing 'A Vucchela' under his breath, arranging the
    proscuitto like Michealangelo, only this great artist
    sold bananas and placed olives down
    on a big painted platter
    like baby's eyes staring up at him with joy
    
    I was little then but Uncle Joe hit 5 foot 3
    in his Thom McAn's
    smelled like coconut oil shampoo and Canoe
    and seemed like he was the oldest
    of a very large group much bigger than me.
    They would say he jumped ship from Italy,
    married my Aunt Lucy who was much taller
    and always made the antipasto
    
    This was noisy work, the house full of tomatoes
    and meatballs
    and stealing as many as you could
    before they caught you
    next to the huge silver pot, ragged with
    millions of strands of spaghetti bubbling onward towards
    the "scolabast" where the strands finally rest
    drained and soft with exhaustion and my mother says
    "OK, everybody can sit down now."
    
    II
    There is a place to be Italian, but it is not here.
    In Italy, Uncle Joe's cousins don't have a toilet
    they live in shacks he says and everyone laughs
    or leans back
    in folding chairs happy to be poor in Brooklyn.
    "They don't have nothin' there" he says
    and I felt lucky 'cause my mother bought
    toilet paper every week. She was immaculate,
    ironed underwear and sheets and taught me to
    polish my saddle shoes daily.
    
    This Italian is a hidden language, broken
    with dreams and English.
    all my uncles on the docks working for the Mob I think
    getting into fights over dego names and guinea throws
    the first gangsters making it bad for all the good boys
    who worked for the Jewish cleaners and gave mom
    their pay. What are they speaking to each other
    huddled and silent with butts puffing in the cold city air
    but that someday, someone will respect them?
    
    All these men are named Frank,
    Five cousins after my grandfather Francesco
    on my father's side.
    There would have been six if I was a boy
    Each one, more handsome than the next,
    four with blue eyes
    even two finished high school.
    "they took Grandpa for a German" pop would say
    like he was proud of it
    but they said stuff about us anyway.
    "They don't like Italians," he said
    "only hire us to do the dirty work."
    
    III
    This place where it was good to be Italian is a secret
    between the aprons of tired women
    drying eggplants in the sun
    to sit later with oregano and olive oil
    real tasty in a mason jar for when winter comes
    in backyard lots on Sackett Street
    where no one else wants to live,
    Calling to each other
    "Mamie, check on the peppers huh?" They're noisy
    and stiff with juice on the edges of their hearts
    embarrassed to hug you in public on Sunday.
    
    Where the Irish nun said to grandma once
    "Senora, aren't you in the wrong place?"
    meaning in another language old women understood
    Italians go someplace else, not here,
    With a finger pointing to broken vowels
    mama tells the story, returns what grandma said
    "This a house of God? Then I in the righta place!"
    
    Where it is good to be Italian must be another home.
    Me? Americano, born Brooklyn, line of blood
    not seen on skin, I guess just white, no big deal, right?
    "They say things about Italians too, ya know", pop said
    He carried that place inside where the wine is always red
    where Caruso sang Margellena
    where it was good to be Italian
    and all the babies were poor
    but their eyes were full of joy.
    -1998
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