There Is There Is There
Shakespeare’s Sister Press, 1992. Thirty-two poems. Photographs by Debra Jensen. Mostly poetry about Oakland, including a section called “Children of Oakland.”
Couched in the language of conversational speech, Offer’s short poems speak to everyday concerns, major and minor…Nelson Manela…ethnic diversity…the problem of aging parents…the realities of a twenty year marriage. Photographer Debra Jensen’s shorts of ordinary people are sprinkled throughout this slim volume of heart-warming, accessible poems…
“Help! What book store down here has it? I have twelve people who want a copy.”
MISTER TAYLOR’S STATION WAGON
From the Dining Room Window
Stuart plans a fence,
Pulls the drapes on our Sunday pancakes.
“If we wanted modern art we’d buy some.”
We let a bush grow but still
The thing hulks dull green,
Warped, one door wired shut:
A reminder of Soweto, Palestinian camps,
Mexican migrant labor barracks,
South of Market vacant lots,
And all the other places
We never wanted to see.
From Becca’s Bedroom Window
The Filipina follows anxiously
When Mr. Taylor totters to his escapemobile,
As though he might drive it away.
Not likely, the engine out, on the drive,
Covered with battered plastic.
Last year, for the “Anything Goes” cleanup,
His children cleaned his garage.
When I looked out he was dragging
Back to his four-flat treasure island
A 36-cup percolator, art deco,
Shiney clean. “Paid $15 for it,
For her church affairs,” he grumbled all day.
“No use to giving it away.
No use to giving it away.”
From the Kitchen Window
He can get out and in if he wants.
They think he can’t but he won’t
Pee in his pants if he can help it;
Though I have seen him with the guilty circle.
Standing at our sink, I watch him retreat
Behind his welcome wagon,
Zip down, pull out his portable piddler,
And let go the yellow stream against
An otherwise useless back license plate.
It runs into a crack in the driveway
As he pretends to sort his treasure hoard.
“He needs a toilet in his car,” says Kate.
From the Sidewalk
Just his head visible above the dash,
Warm in his hunting cap, snoozing,
He is with us and not with us,
Like a kid in a treehouse.
He can see the moms pushing strollers;
The Montclarion delivered; Buffy
Walking shambling, snuffling Sophie.
He can keep everybody out.
In his rusted, dusty, flat-tired getaway,
He can escape the Filipina, who,
Woman-like, expects him to pee in toilets.
He can listen to the radio, which still works.
Or turn it off and sit waiting
In the sun, watching the world, facing south.
[Print Peter Torciello, p.45, here.]
PROFESSOR ANITA HILL, JUDGE CLARENCE THOMAS,
THE SENATORS, AND US
The Professor said that the Judge said that his donger
Was longer than Silver’s. Horrified, mortified,
We tried to get our televisions and radios
To go away, stop following us around all day.
But they stayed tuned without remorse,
So in due course, we had to witness the man’s defense:
“It makes no sense to listen to her,” he said.
“I didn’t. Instead, think of her sex. Maybe she’s
A wanabee Judge’s girl, mad for love of me, an African-
American who is well-affirmed. You whites, pinks, and greys
Should stay away from the darker questions;
That’s my suggestion. Your skin isn’t fit to judge.”
He wouldn’t budge. It wasn’t his style. (Or hers.)
Senators (left and right) sweated, squirmed,
And yearned to be away from the media’s gaze,
Eighteen hour days, ambitious women, nasty reporters
And assorted spinning orators. Finally, they voted to vote.
Their ignorance noted, they decided to promise
Mr. Thomas a lifetime of Justice. Professor Anita,
Having retreated a thoroughly-Hilled Hill,
Still measures law at the head of her class.
Last and least, We the People of the Land of the Free
Wait to see what justice will fit
In a court where sits a man whose donger
(Pinocchio-like) gets longer and longer and longer.
Poems Recorded by the Poet, April 15, 2015
By the time THERE IS THERE IS THERE was published, I was 50 years old. Our older daughter was in Smith College and had spent most of a year being an au pair in Italy. Our younger daughter was starting high school after several years of being bullied in grammar school but also growing into her gorgeous lyric soprano voice in the Piedmont Children’s Choir. I had gradually gotten more into gardening, and started helping garden at the high school, College Preparatory School. One of my brothers, Neil Edmund Spitzer, had died of cancer, my first experience with a really close death. Oakland had had a huge fire, with 3000 homes lost, and then an earthquake. A lot of life had happened in the nine years since my previous book.
One of the things that happened was I had had a number of plays produced, including two musicals. As a result, a great deal of my writing time and energy had been drawn away from poetry, which explains the nine-year lag between books. After all, a song is a lyrical poem, so some of my poems were going into my shows.
However, some of the poems didn’t fit into shows. They’re about personal things, or things far removed from the subject of any of the plays. So after a while I had a book full, and I decided to use money from my other books to do another book.
One of the things you notice if you read THERE IS THERE IS THERE is a real awareness of the passage of time. There’s poems about people getting old—though not me, of course!—and one about Stuart and I being married twenty years. There’s a section on people pursuing the arts, not famous people, but people “keeping the light” of painting and dance and theatre for the world to enjoy, and for the next generations to have available. (Like people had done for me.)
I was continuing to parse out Oakland, and was proud of how well we had stood up to an earthquake and huge fire—in spite of the popular San Francisco columnist, Herb Caen, who endlessly purposely misunderstood and repeated Gertrude Stein, “There’s no there there”. By the time I wrote the cover poem, that seemed like one of the meanest, most meaningless things a person could say. And I certainly did take it personally. Oakland had been my home for 13 years, seven years longer than I had lived anywhere in my life. I was planted.