Hailed by Demetria Martinez as “a masterful new voice,” Gina Franco writes fearless poems that refuse to blink before the reader’s expectant gaze. Her first collection, The Keepsake Storm, draws on a long tradition of storytelling and brims with long-limbed narratives that amble out of a western landscape, often revealing what we would rather not see: alarming family portraits, life’s little stings and decompositions at the hands of insects, the stories of friends and strangers who die too soon. Franco’s unflinching eye wanders into the surreal, as when a speaker sees her own tongue “writhe on the ground in front of me, murmuring, / dividing, becoming forked before it slithered off.” Such images appear matter-of-fact, almost expected, and render life’s literal terrors no less harrowing. Of this poet’s tumultuous inner landscape, Rane Arroyo writes, “Gina Franco interprets storms, unscrambles chaos, and honors wounds. Here is a poet to trust because of her sheer will to thrive, no matter what.”
Indeed, these poems seek refuge and redemption. “We waited through the night, the rain / pouring down over the blackout like a shroud” reports the speaker in “The Spirit That Appears When You Call.” Franco deftly inserts achingly calm moments in the most dramatic scenes, like pinpoints in a dark sky, as when one person writes to another, “How are you doing? How’s the weather? Did the rain stop?” Franco’s work has appeared in Crazyhorse, The Georgia Review, Black Warrior Review, and other journals. A native of Arizona and an alumna of Smith College class of 1997, Franco lives in Illinois, where she teaches at Knox College.
See also Gina Franco’s poem in the Alumnae Poetry section
Poetry Center Reading:
Fall 2007 (with Gail Mazur & Eve Grubin)
You want real? Draw your thumbs along
the backbones of fossilized fish
and press your fingers into the brush
of vertebrae, the singular eyes, fronds
of fins. See? Self-portrait. Osteichthyes fanned
in accuracy , bone hollows that are you
exactly, you perpetually, you
who thought yourself detached from sand,
salt, and cannibal rage. Now sit outside
this tank. Want in? Want to be sleek? Too bad.
But imagine being made that way. Whose reel,
you think wouldn’t relent before fish-
mouths, the O a cavernous word out of the belly
where God is mean and fresh?
A fish- an angel on the sill?
But what if you accidentally
knock it over? Is that okay with you?-
water slopped from the bowl
through to the sheets, where, deeply, you
are flying in our dreams, the dead
glass flopping around your head?
The whole thing reeks of disappointment.
This line of thinking only gets
you hung up on quiet, peace and quiet.
That’s you, resistant to change,
though sometimes you’re God and sometimes you’re
seafood, fresh out of the water, breathing your
big letdown, shocked to see what you’ve made.
Bagged, fell for it again. You look
to feed off something, and snag it’s eating you.
Say something, won’t you? True,
something like utterance has you hooked,
the gasp’s old motion was to blame.
Your little ocean heaves forth like a heart
bursting with insight, and while you want,
insensible, to be surprised, you think: flies,
it surely flies, neglecting that it seems,
only seems that I am I,
or that the wings of everything are mid-flight.
Here, after the piercing, comes a still small voice
drying over the rocks where we came up once
before, and found us, and turned back too late.
From THE KEEPSAKE STORM (University of Arizona Press, 2004)
FLOOD OF ’83 CLIFTON-MORENCI, ARIZONA
A rap on the screen, a boy she knows
leaning in the glare at the door,
and she, hearing the sudden plugging
of the church bells, must’ve looked
startled, for he straightened
and nodded toward the river’s ruins
where, he said, they might poke around
on a day like this, this Sunday morning.
His orange cap turns in his methodical hands
as they hike with the din of the bells
down to the old gym and crawl
through on of its busted eyes
into the crypt of the basement damp
where he grips her palm to palm,
and presses her towards a corner
until her mouth dodges his in a daze-
wondering, she can’t help it,
if somewhere she has seen this before,
so much vain reaching, almost in passing,
he laughing, and she too,
laughing, but gauging the tiles back
through the belly of the building
to the stark fact of the outside light,
the bells shifting above floodwater,
Red Cross shovels, sandbags, trucks,
all laboring while the toll from the tower
rises over the wet clay drifts.
She thinks of her father, devoted, among this,
maybe tugging his gloves, maybe worried
about typhoid and tin-dipped water,
or fishing through the barrels from helicopters
filled with government cheese and cereal,
how little room there is for awe-
you’re so pretty, Jesus, so pretty-
or disillusionment even as it breaks open,
and the fist in her chest stirs
toward the pigeons outside as she feels
his fingers, stiff, in her bra, and a fleck
of sun pierces through the basement panes,
death then beauty. Light, then shape.
From THE KEEPSAKE STORM (University of Arizona Press, 2004)
passed over the shadows and put our soles on their vanity which seems a body
America. At first I was alone, as when going home. The women I used to know were there on the sidewalks as they had been before. I had maps in my hands and at my feet, on the floor, my one long black bag rode with me past their faces garish blue, their faces mauled, made up, their faces splayed in the surfaces, passing, where I repeat myself too.
I like you. I do.
But the mall went a long way out so I began walking. I began talking to you, cousins. Someone has drawn you in soft dark pencil, fetish and leathered, lithe cousins. Someone has left a body in the sand grass, human, pale, horned as an antelope and socket-eyed.
Blades through the eyes. They gutted you.
Back towards where we came—to where we will come again—you will towards the cities, the escalating windows in the sun, the glass rivers cutting through our many middle-americas, that side, that side, that side, that side, that side, the sun drawn in the glass, the drowned sun and the drowned rising, sinking again, eddying against the bank. Towards the bank.
Mule. Someone crossed you.
See the sweet white flowers in the grass? They spread their faces, they lift their fair faces from the fields. They are horned; they are socket-eyed. They are negatives. They are precisely alike: like that, the body in the grass horns into the sun, my cousins. Like you. Like you.
From MiPOesias Revista Literaria